Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mental Health and the Vegetarian

For at least 17 years, I have been a vegetarian. I am now an ovo-lacto-vegetarian: I eat eggs and some dairy. I have to eat my eggs mixed in with a lot of spinach. I do not drink milk, but I eat ice cream and I am not a fan of a various flavors.

My friends are rather respectful of my diet. Many are helpful to determine what I eat and how I eat it. People that do not know me are clueless and frustrated. And forget most key and the chain restaurants. I just starve.

There are many reasons why I chose to become a vegetarian. I was an adult. I knew my body pretty well at that time. My family health history was less that perfect, the usual African American ailments: Diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure, obesity, stress, etc. And I had the layer of accepting my bipolar diagnosis at the time. With all the new medications I had to balance, I felt it was time to clean up my diet and leading to a healthier one.

I had always considered becoming a vegetarian, but I never knew how. So I did mine "cold turkey" -- pun intended. I ate no meet one day.


  • Physically, what happened was my hair started falling out, my skin was excessively dry, and my pallor or skin tone was gaunt. I did not have much weight to lose as I was already thin, but my stomach started extending which is a sign of starvation.

  • Mentally - separate from the mental health condition - I had cravings, but they were not horrendously bad. I also did not have the habit of eating a late night snack.

  • Economically - I was clueless at the cost of vegetarian food. Fresh veggies are best, but I did not know how to process them. The new veggie process foods were my staple and I never seemed to have enough. You can have two quick addictions: Sugar or salt. I had both and consumed too much of it.

  • "Bipolarly" - I was prone to huge swings in mood on a vegetarian diet. I tried everything to limit the pendulum magnitude. From Valerian root to Prayer, nothing seemed to balance the mood. Exercise was NOT a problem. Stress was a problem but not unmanageable until the next overload. That overload made me more sensitive to my female changes in my body. My bipolar was tied to my menses and at that time, sensitivity to that by physicians was ABSENT! Today there is an awareness, but NO EFFECTIVE TREATMENTS!

It took YEARS for a balancing.

How I found that balance ironically was having a major health crisis of seizure. Thankfully, I am a research scientist and I had my pulse on the literature. Glancing over a few scientific articles in peer reviewed journals, I found that Free Fatty Acids are VERY important components in the brain. I NEEDED THEM! A vegetable/vegetarian/vegan type oils cannot supplant the oils obtained from meat products, like Fish Oil, Cod Liver Oil, Eggs, Milk...

With HUGE reluctance, I reintroduced animal oils back into my diet. Eggs and Milk are as much as I can tolerate. I cannot take Fish Oil, even the processed DHEA oils, my stomach does not settle. But I saw a balance in my behavior, which is more important to me than worrying how "true", "real" or "authentic" I am to the cause of "Vegetarianism".

Some people have the genetic structure to cope with a complete vegetarian diet. I do not and I did not. Will I eat solid meat products. I cannot tolerate them physically. Organic diets have not worked for me. But vitamin supplements have, which have more to do with a product of age than dealing with Bipolar.

Do I have a problem with restaurants not attempting to have some basic vegetarian items or diversity on their menus. You bet I do! It is not that hard to create a nice concoction of meals, and yes, most of the customers eat poor comfort foods in my area. Adding soy-based or even mushroom based foods is not that tough. And a vegetarians taste bud palate on the tongue seems to appreciate the diversity of the flavors.

More and more the chefs who become "Molecular Gastronomists" are determining that immense flavor and the healthy phytols can be elicited through the standards of vegetarian cooking.

Yes, much of the vegetarian cooking practices come from Asian cultures. But there are other diverse cultural influences that can be built with a vegetarian influence: African, Brazilian, Russian, Mediterranean -- GLOBALLY one can build a vegetarian plan for a healthier diet.

I have a variety of health spices I use in my cooking that adds new flavors to my family's diet.

Lastly, there is a way to make it happen economically, BUT there is no point in choosing to become a vegetarian, when the stores in your neighborhood look at you with a blank stare. I live in a food conscious area, where food quality is great. But most of my friends live where there is gross food inequality and injustice. Freshness is lacking, junk foods are prominent and there are no "staples" like sugar, rice, flour, beans, etc. and let us not begin to speak on what leafy green FRESH vegetables are available for purchase... I believe that someone spoke about a "Food Gastromony" as coming BACK to the dinner table... In our current society, that has not happened and I am guilty of that.

However, how to fight against food injustice is another article. And, I will find a way to write it. But I will take suggestions.