Is our modern American diet to blame for the doubling of obesity and depression rates over the last 20 years?
It sure is, say Tyler Graham and Drew Ramsey. Graham, a leading health and fitness editor, and Ramsey, clinical psychiatrist make their case in "The Happiness Diet" (2011 Rodale, $25.99).
Their premise: Our country's food supply has changed more in the last 100 years than it had in the previous 100,000 years; how and what we eat has been rapidly and significantly altered and not necessarily for the better.
Sugars and refined carbohydrates, for instance, contribute to depression. Other "mood busters" they cite are industrial fats (made from corn and soy, high in omega-6's and very low in omega-3's), meats produced not on grass but grain, and vegetables picked unripe (and therefore lower in nutrients) and frequently shipped from a half a world away.
Cholesterol, surprisingly, ends up on the "happiness" essentials list. They postulate that dietary cholesterol has been given a bad rap (as have some saturated fats) and has little impact on a body's overall cholesterol levels.
Looking to increase mental focus? They suggest shifting your diet toward eggs, grass-fed beef and milk, brussels sprouts, grapefruit, lemon, berries and anchovies.
Sprinkled throughout the book are their Top 100 Reasons to Avoid Processed Foods. Reason 11: "The ingredient list for Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups doesn't include strawberries." Reason 78: "Residues of more than 70 pesticides have been found in individual boxes of cereal."
The "Label Decoder" section explains why you should be wary of terms such as "natural" (no legal definition); "no artificial ingredients/made with natural flavoring" (an even less regulated claim than "natural"); or "made with organic ingredients" (organic's good, but that claim means up to 30 percent may not be organic). In the "Terms to Seek Out" pages, you'll find: "U.S. grass-fed"; "naturally raised" (has to follow clear USDA rules); "no rGBH" (milk produced without the use of artificial hormones); and wild Alaskan salmon (Alaska does not allow fish farms).
If this book alters your ideas about healthy-eating and leads to changing your daily food plan, Graham and Ramsey help you out with tips for stocking the kitchen, two weeks worth of menus and more than 50 recipes.
Surprisingly, a book all about nutrients doesn't include nutritional information for its recipes. Since "healthy" animal and vegetable fats are part of this diet, few recipes come in at or less than 30 percent calories from fat. See if you're feeling happier and healthier after you make the Oven Roasted Cod.
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.