COMMENTARY

Beans, Greens, and the Best Foods for the Brain

Bret S. Stetka, MD

Disclosures

July 07, 2015

In This Article

Are Plant-Based Diets Healthier?

Some data suggest that vegan and vegetarian diets are associated with improved mood.[7] But as previously mentioned, these dietary patterns can result in B12 deficiency, which has been associated with brain atrophy and developmental delay. Hence, supplementation is important in this population. Vegetarianism has also been linked with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, as well as increased healthcare utilization and worse quality of life.[8,9] These negative associations also could be due to the fact that it's harder to absorb nutrients like zinc, iron, and certain omega-3s from plants.

"The notion that the vegan diet is the healthiest diet on the planet is probably incorrect," said Dr Ramsey, before explaining that he just feels that we should approach meat in our diets differently.

The average American consumes over 200 pounds of meat and fish per year. "That's not sustainable for the planet," commented Dr Ramsey, "especially if you look at the amount of beef we consume. We want to help patients use beef and seafood more as flavorings on top of a plant-based diet." This type of diet echoes Thomas Jefferson's approach to nutrition, now en vogue with many nutrition experts: "I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that not as an aliment, so much as a condiment for the vegetables which constitute my principal diet."

A modest amount of meat in the diet has its benefits, including nutrient availability: Hemoglobin-derived iron is up to 40% more absorbable than plant-based iron. Unlike most plants, meat provides all of the amino acids necessary for protein synthesis. Dr Ramsey emphasized the importance of seeking out leaner, grass-fed meats if one has the means. Aside from the grim state of large-scale meat companies—the packed cages, animal cruelty concerns, the overuse of antibiotics—industrially raised animals reared on corn instead of grass have excessive intramuscular fat to a degree not found in nature, which is not as healthy for us.

"We want to get people off of this stuff," concluded Dr Ramsey.

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