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Natural Awakenings South Central Pennsylvania

Food and Your Mental Health

Oct 31, 2022 09:31AM ● By Cindy Beers
I have PTSD, which means I have really bad anxiety. I also have some depression, too. About 15 years ago, I started seeing a functional medicine doctor down in Philly for some really bad health issues I was having. The very first thing he told me to do was eat a lot of protein, which I did. Never really thinking about what I needed it for. I trusted him. Now I know why.


I was at a retreat for a week where the food was majority vegan. While this is OK, I had hardly any protein, and boy did I feel it. My anxiety was in full bloom, waking up in the middle of the night with panic attacks. When I got home and went back to my high-protein diet, I started feeling better right away. I did some digging and started doing some research (because I’m a geek like that).


What I found was there is a LOT of research done on folks who have anxiety, depression, PTSD, and stress and their diet. The bottom line is simple: if you are eating a diet filled with starch and carbohydrates, your mental health is going to suffer. Let me give you a great example: When I was really depressed, I would eat an entire box of TastyKakes Butterscotch Krimpets (yes, the whole box) and a 750 ml bottle of wine. At the time I thought it made me feel better, but in reality, it made things worse.


Now I’m not here to tell you to eat cleaner or healthier, but let’s take a look at what you can eat to boost your mental health. If you have anxiety, depression or stress (this also includes PTSD and trauma), you should be eating a high-protein diet. What does a high-protein diet look like? There is so much information and research done on this. I read three articles from mental health journals that all stated the same thing! High protein equals better mental health. So where can we get protein to help our anxiety, depression and stress? Here’s a breakdown of high-protein foods:


1)      Lean beef – there are 22 grams of protein in a 3-oz. piece of lean beef.

2)      Chicken – there’s 27 grams of protein in a 3-oz. piece of chicken.

3)      Salmon – salmon has 19 grams of protein in a 3-oz. piece.

4)      Eggs (and yes, eggs ARE good for you) – One large egg has 6 grams of protein.

5)      Peanut butter – 7 grams of protein in 2 tablespoons.

6)      Pasta (shocking!) – 1 cup of penne pasta has 6 grams of protein.

7)      Cottage cheese – 12 grams of protein in a ½ cup of cottage cheese.

8)      Lentils – 18 grams of protein in 1 cup of cooked lentils.


So, what if you’re vegan? Try these: Seitan (made with gluten and wheat), tofu/tempeh/edamame, lentils, beans, nutritional yeast, spelt/teff, hemp seeds, green peas, spirulina, amaranth/quinoa, Ezekiel bread & sprouted grain breads, soy milk, oats/oatmeal, wild rice, chia seeds, nuts/nut butter/seeds, protein rich foods such as  broccoli, spinach, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts, Fruits include: guava, cherimoyas, mulberries, blackberries, nectarines and bananas and mycoprotein, which is a non-animal-based protein derived from Fusarium venenatum, a type of fungus.


As you can see, you really have a wide array of high-protein foods, and you don’t have to cut out everything. You don’t have to cut out starches and carbohydrates, just cut back. Have a nice lean steak and potatoes, which is a high protein meal, just not so much butter and sour cream. Have the PBJ. Just do yourself a favor and make room for more proteins. If you’re looking for a protein shake, look at the ingredients and see what’s in it. You want to make sure it doesn’t contain a lot of extra chemicals. Look for one that is more plant-based. When researching plant-based protein powders, Vega Sport Plant Based Protein Powder really was the best that didn’t have any extra chemicals, it was all natural and had a lot of good protein in it.


I’m a foodie. I love food. I love to go out to eat and I love to cook. If you have anxiety, depression, PTSD/trauma, or stress, look at how you eat. Is a McDonalds burger or vending machine chips really going to help? Look at it this way, you buy gas for your car, right? You don’t put in vegetable oil to make it run. You put gas in so it runs properly. Same with your body. Your body is like a car. You have to take care of it. You have to give it the proper gas to make it run right. Feed it well. Feed it protein. Trust me, it will help your anxiety. It will help your depression. It will help your PTSD/trauma and definitely help with your stress.


Why is protein so important? Scientifically, high protein has amino acids that help your neurotransmitters work better, which help you feel better. PLUS, it helps to build and repair muscle, bones and organs. High-protein diets have also been shown to be helpful with reducing fat, losing weight, increasing satiety, or a feeling of fullness and retaining muscle.


There is a slight downside when it comes to a high-protein diet. Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., from the Mayo Clinic, states, "…many health issues may happen if you follow a high-protein diet for a long time. And researchers are still studying the long-term risks of high-protein diets that limit carbohydrates (carbs).


Some high-protein diets limit carbs so much that you might not get enough nutrients or fiber. This can cause problems such as bad breath, headache and constipation. Some high-protein diets allow red meats, processed meats and other foods high in saturated fat. These foods may increase your risk of heart disease and increase your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol. A high-protein diet may worsen how well a kidney works in people with kidney disease. This can happen because the body may not be able to get rid of all the waste products of protein that’s broken down.


Before you start on a high protein diet, check with your doctor to see if this is right for you.


Cindy Beers, previously the owner of Red Head Yoga, is a hypnotherapist and 500-ERYT yoga instructor in Mechanicsburg. For more information, visit This article is dedicated to the late J. Andre Garabedian, MD. You were the greatest.