Protein BLAST
April 14, 2011 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Eating lots of protein for depression, anxiety and mood swings? It's working. Anybody ever done this? What did you eat, and when?

Though I've never had serious depression, I tend to go through waves in my life where I experience a lot more anxiety and lower energy levels than normal. This can be stress induced or when I'm in life transitions. I've mostly moderated this with exercise, therapy, surrounding myself with friends and sunshine, having a wonderful life partner, and developing a network of support for myself.

My therapist told me a few weeks ago when I was going through these phases to try eating a lot more protein, in small quantities, throughout the day. I've been trying it out — though I wouldn't say it's solved all my problems, I feel more energetic when I'm eating more protein-- especially animal protein- eggs, meat, some milk and cheese, yogurt, etc. Nuts and protein bars work ok, too, but it's really the animal protein which give me a boost.

The problem is-- it just seems like A LOT of animal products to be consuming. I'm no vegetarian, but I'm not someone that is used to eating eggs in the morning and then meat again for dinner. It feels a little hard on my stomach, too. Sometimes I just want toast in the morning, but I'm making myself eat eggs because I've realized I'll just feel better throughout the day. But eggs every day-- ugh. Won't I have a heart attack?

I'm a female, 29, medium/large frame, pretty muscular and curvy, and I get a decent amount of exercise, though I'm not an athlete by any means. I'm in good health, otherwise. I don't want to go low carb, either, I'm not really into dieting, but I do like the idea of boosting my energy through protein and diet.

So how much protein should I try to be eating to keep my energy up and depression off my back? Has this worked for anybody else? What did you eat, and at what times during the day?
posted by Rocket26 to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 111 users marked this as a favorite
What you might want to consider, as well, is that eating more protein is often indirectly correlated with eating less refined carboyhdrates (processed foods), as you tend to get full more quickly. I've found that eating less refined foods has a direct correlation on my emotional well-being, which you may be experiencing if the protein is taking up more of your diet. Another way to do this is to eat more fiber, as well. When I eat more fiber, I eat less protein AND refined carbohydrates, and I feel pretty excellent. If I eat 40g a day of fiber, and my diet tends to regulate itself in very good ways.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:06 AM on April 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

Going on a fairly strict low-carb diet has always left me hopped up with energy. I'm not sure I can tell you why specifically, but two weeks of eating primarily lean meats, eggs, nuts and loads and loads of green veg always does me good. Like SpacemanStix mentions, you eat way less refined foods and way less carbs, and just eat way less in general, while amping up on fibre. Add drinking lots of water to that, it's a cluster of benefits.

If eating eggs first thing wigs you out, try having a cup of cottage cheese with tomatoes, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and a little drizzle of olive oil. Still healthy and low carb, with omega 3 in the olive oil, but reasonably light on the stomach first thing.
posted by LN at 8:13 AM on April 14, 2011

Oh, and to answer the last part of your question, here's what eating lots of protein looks like for me:

2 eggs, with cumin salt as a flavouring
1 cup cottage cheese, 6 cut-up cherry tomatoes, salt, pepper, drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Mid-Morning snack:
3 celery sticks, cut up
OR 1 green pepper, cut up

Great big salad with chicken in it
"ploughman's lunch" of deli meats, cheeses, olives, etc. (although be careful of salt intake)

Mid-afternoon snack:
1 handful toasted, non-salted almonds
celery sticks or green pepper or broccoli florets

meat and two green veg, of some description.

late snack, if watching TV:
1 cup ricotta with sweetener and vanilla extract
1 handful toasted, non-salted almonds

Water all day long, plus liberal lashings of coffee.
posted by LN at 8:21 AM on April 14, 2011 [11 favorites]

I think spacemanstix is on to something. When I stopped eating meat I gained weight, probably because I was trying to fill up on more carb-y things. I've noticed more low-grade depression/moodiness/lack of energy as well. The carbs are likely the problem more than not enough protein, but since protein is a dense food & you burn through it slowly, I've been making a conscious effort to increase my protein in recent weeks. In fact I joined April's MeFi team on healthmonth with an "eat enough protein" rule.

Breakfast = Bowl of Awesome (26g of protein): spoonful of plain greek yogurt, handful of walnuts & almonds, handful of dried cranberries, few spoonfuls of Ezekiel hippie cereal (kind of like Grape-Nuts)

Midmorning snack = cheese stick (7g) or banana (1g)

Lunch = hard-boiled egg & bowl of quinoa/black bean combo (29g)

Afternoon snack = the other of the cheese-stick/banana choice from earlier

So before dinner I've had 63g of protein already, plus breakfast and lunch are not a big deal during the week for me so I don't mind eating the same thing every day. My problem is getting enough protein into my kids, so dinner is still a challenge, but 63g of protein on the cheap-and-easy is tough to beat. I do notice a difference too, in my mood & energy. Hope some of this helps!
posted by headnsouth at 8:42 AM on April 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

I've always been healthier and happier on a low carb plan. I don't have any problem with a largely animal-based diet, though, so it's never bothered me. You can swap in a small amount of almonds, and avocado is filling, delicious, and chock full of good fats. But I believe that the net result of feeling better has more to do with not eating mounds of processed carbs* than specifically eating protein, so you can certainly go in for big salads (spinach and mushrooms with just a little turkey or chicken and goat or feta cheese, for example) and leafy green side dishes.

Quinoa is the grain with the most protein and makes a good substitute for rice and pasta (note: do not replace rice and pasta with the same amount of quinoa. It does not digest the same way and startling things can happen) as a sauce/flavor sponge. Cauliflower is my usual replacement for pasta as it delivers sauce in pretty much the exact same way.

*Actually, I'm starting to believe that (for me) it's the reduction in wheat products. I can get distracted and dive headfirst into ice cream or rice and feel few effects besides the blood glucose crash, but when it's bread or pizza or beer I have pain and gas and blah feelings.

Tim Ferriss's 4 Hour Body/Slow Carb plan has beans (but preferably restricted dairy) if you want to look around the internet and see what those folks are eating. That might be a place to start since the beans give you some respite from the more protein-intense Atkins/South Beach side.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:44 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are great.

I've noticed fueling up in the morning is essential, as I'd just been getting by on coffee and fruit or coffee and toast. So any breakfast suggestions like the Bowl of Awesome headnsouth recommended is a plus.
posted by Rocket26 at 9:01 AM on April 14, 2011

You're also probably avoiding a lot of products that contain sugar.

I generally get the impression that we are slowly finding out that (refined) wheat products, refined carbs in general, and sugar are Pretty Bad Things for everyone, not just those with Celiac or Diabetes.

I'm pretty slim and have absolutely no need to diet, but I generally feel much more awesome cutting out simple carbs and sugar.

I bet that in another 10-20 years, once the science converges and the lobbyists are overpowered, there will be some big earth-shaking announcements similar to what happened with Hormone Replacement Therapy for women, and we'll all freak out and change our diets, and a lot of big companies will go bankrupt.
posted by tempythethird at 9:09 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a breakfast of greek yogurt, fresh berries, and flax granola every morning. I will often have an egg as a snack, and I do a lot of fresh vegetables with hummus as well. For lunch every day I make a big salad that consists of mixed greens + protein (either black beans, garbanzo beans, or meat) + vegetables + dressing. I eat a diet that has practically no refined sugars and very little processed food in it. I have found that this makes the biggest difference in my mood and my energy levels.
posted by Zophi at 9:20 AM on April 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

I swear by low-carb to help with feelings of depression/moodiness. Without a doubt I think it works. A year ago I would have thought this was quackery.

I dislike the dogmatic approach that many nutrition freaks take but I think sugar is evil.

But eggs every day-- ugh. Won't I have a heart attack?

Unfortunately eggs have been demonized. I would not worry about eggs in the least. Eat them, and add some bacon (not sugar-cured) if you feel like it. Saturated fat has gotten a bad rap. I think both sides of the food debate will agree that abnormal LDL can be concerning. Even LDL is not fully understood because people that have heart attacks often have low LDL. Maybe they were on statins, I don't know. The rest of the numbers -- total cholesterol, triglycerides, etc. -- are questionable. High cholesterol is not a marker for heart disease, even if you were/are led to believe it is.

See here:

Some believe that C-Reactive protien may be a better indicator.

A lot of the low-carb crowd, especially people that have adopted the paleo lifestyle, do not eat dairy or legumes. I'm more lenient when it comes to these two things, especially peanuts and peanut butter. A lot of people would scoff at this and I understand why but I have to do what works for me or I'll go off the deep end. I fell off the wagon last Thursday due to a b-day party. I continued to eat carbs and I feel like crap. I have gained weight and I'm more moody. It's difficult for me to get back on the low-carb when I fall off. Today has been good so far. I think I'm back on the right path.

I know you don't want to go "low-carb" but try to eat fruit instead of toast and see how you feel. Berries and melon are low on the glycemic index. Try some berries and Greek yogurt (protein) in the morning as an alternative to eggs. Or a spoonful of peanut butter and some berries.

A typical day for me:

Breakfast: 2 eggs fried in butter, 2 or 3 pieces of bacon

Snack: a small handful of almonds, or cocoa dusted almonds, another egg if I feel like it -- usually hard boiled, or peanut butter on an apple. Apples are high on glycemic index and contain the dreaded fructose so proceed with caution. I don't care that much about fructose, a lot of people do. Read here:

Lunch: big salad with Spring Mix and baby spinach, feta cheese, grape tomatoes, red onion, red bell pepper, topped with chicken, steak, or eggs. Oil and vinegar.

Dinner: steak, chicken, or fish with veggies like broccoli, asparagus, or brussels sprouts. More salad.

Snack: more almonds or walnuts. Sometimes I'll have a sugar free Jello or No Sugar Added chocolate pudding with Reddi Whip. The choc. pudding has carbs, and is processed, so some people would say this is an inferior snack.
posted by Fairchild at 9:21 AM on April 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Breakfast, 4 days a week, prepared on Sunday night:

1lb meat (usually chicken or ground beef), cooked with onions and garlic and drained well
1 can spinach, drained as well as possible
1 can black beans, lentils, or black-eyed peas (rinsed and drained)
1 good handful cheese (optional)
6-8 eggs or equivalent egg replacement, scrambled with 1/3C half-and-half, seasoned liberally with salt and pepper + dash nutmeg and hot sauce

Heat oven to 350

Empty egg mixture into casserole dish (8x8 may be a little small, 9x13 is a smidge too big but it is what I use), nonstick muffin pan/cups, mini pie pans, etc. Dump in spinach, beans, and cheese, stirring until ingredients are well-distributed.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, until center of casserole is not visibly jiggly. There may be a little browning around the edges, but avoid browning the entire dish because it makes it tough when it cools.

When cool, cut into four servings and put into fridge. I put mine into four tupperware containers for taking to work for breakfast. I grab a container in the morning, and keep cottage cheese in the work fridge. I like mine warmed lightly with a layer of cottage cheese spread over the top. That's why I use very little cheese in the casserole itself.

Be careful of cereal, as it's predominantly carbs and all but the superhippie stuff is sugar-sweetened - and serving sizes are smaller than you think. And it is generally made with wheat, if that turns out to be a concern for you. I like fruit and yogurt and granola, but it's not actually a healthy or especially filling breakfast.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:37 AM on April 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

One serving of the original (not later, sweetened) Kashi GoLean cereal with milk has 13 grams of protein per serving. By comparison, two eggs have 12 grams of protein.
posted by Houstonian at 10:38 AM on April 14, 2011

I have kind of a weird schedule, so I end up eating my first meal around 11 a.m., and then not being able to eat again until 6 or later. After weeks of eating big bowls of oatmeal and getting starving, I finally figured out that a protein-packed breakfast will keep me going for a long time.

My new favorite is 1/2-1 cup of frozen spinach, 2 medium eggs, and 1/4 cup of cottage cheese. That's 23 grams of protein. Sometimes I add some pieces of ham, which adds another 10+ grams. Medium eggs have nearly the same amount of protein, but less fat and cholesterol than larger ones. This sounds complicated but cooks in the time it takes my coffee to brew.

Cottage cheese is great, especially if you get the stuff without guar gum, carrageenan, or other weird thickeners. I buy the full-fat version and it's so tasty, and seems more filling. I like mixing it with chopped apple and celery. The fiber plus protein is super satisfying, and it's sweet enough to feel like a treat.
posted by apricot at 10:54 AM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't worry too much about the animal protein, as long as you're getting enough fresh veggies. I've been eating a very low-carb diet for the last six years, and I feel much better than I did when I ate lots of rice and potatoes rather than meat and dairy. Paradoxically, I also eat much more good green stuff than before, as that's where a lot of the variety in my diet comes from!

As for breakfast ideas: breakfast burritos are quick, easy, filling, and simple to change up. A basic high-protein idea would be two eggs, cheese, a bit of meat (bacon, sausage, chorizo, ham, chicken, whatever) and half a can of black or pinto beans. Scramble it all together in a pan, and wrap it in a tortilla when done. You can throw in sauteed veggies, salsa, hot sauce, or whatever else for flavor, too.

Also, don't underestimate whey protein powder. There's a reason why weightlifters swear by the stuff: it's a cheap and powerful source of good protein, and it's easy to enjoy on the go. If eating eggs in the morning bothers you, you might try starting your day with toast and a protein shake instead...
posted by vorfeed at 10:57 AM on April 14, 2011

I like to use the GoLean cereal to make Fruit and Nut Bars; I have whole wheat toast with peanut butter most mornings, then have a Fruit and Nut Bar about mid-morning to keep my blood sugar up. The bars have a lot of protein and fiber, and they taste good enough to make me feel like I'm having a treat. Be sure to bake them for the full 30 minutes or they won't hold together.

I disagree with Lyn Never about the yogurt, fruit, and granola breakfast; if you use homemade granola and unsweetened low-fat yogurt, it can be a very healthy breakfast. The devil's in the details when it comes to granola; it can be a sugar and fat bomb, but you can also make it very healthy with olive oil, nuts, and no-sugar-added dried fruit.

I would be careful about the saturated fat in all the animal protein people are suggesting here. You need to take care of your heart, as well as your mood and energy levels. A little fat will help keep your blood sugar up, but you don't want to be eating a lot of bacon and full-fat dairy. I believe the current recommendation is for no more than 5 egg yolks a week if your cholesterol is in the normal range.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:05 AM on April 14, 2011

Also, I love cottage cheese, but it has an alarming amount of sodium in it. If your blood pressure is on the high side, you might not want to chow down on tons of cottage cheese.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:08 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hey, I am the same! I go really low carb because I have another 10 or so pounds I want to lose (for my vanity's sake, I'm well within the normal weight and BMI range, but I have a really small frame). I agree with everyone else that not only do you have more pep because you're eating protein, but you're probably also eating less bad carbs (I include any kind of bread, pasta, rice, and processed foods in this category as well as the obvious sugars).

I eat rolled up salmon smeared with cream cheese for breakfast if I'm tired of eggs, but not every day because it's a big fish. Greek yogurt, especially 2% Fageh, with toasted walnuts is sooo good too.

For snacks I like edamame with garlic salt, almond butter on celery sticks, hard boiled eggs or egg salad, tuna salad (mainly just tuna with a bit of mayo and a LOT of hot sauce), avocado with hot sauce and cilantro AKA hillbilly gaucamole, and Blue Diamond flavored almonds.

Don't be scared of fat. If cutting out sugar and carbs gives you more energy, then you're probably a little insulin sensitive and run better on a high protein diet.
posted by slightly sissy tea hound at 11:53 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

WorkingMyWayHome, I am a nurse and work in cardiac care. The recommendation for five yolks a week, and to cut back on animal fat, is what we are supposed to recommend to our patients. It's never been proven as fact that animals cause heart disease. If anything we should be telling our heart patients to eat less cereal. Cereal and other processed foods are more dangerous to cardiac health. I do not want to sound like I'm coming off as antagonistic, and I don't claim to know all of the answers, but animal protein and animal fat is not the enemy. Please don't let the American Heart Association or the Food Pyramid tell you otherwise. Some people can tolerate "carbs" better than others. Some people have problems with binging and a low-carb way of life helps to curb binging. It's easy to binge on carbs and fat (doughnuts). It's difficult to binge on fat and protein (steak).

Why would you need to keep your "blood sugar up" after your peanut butter and toast? Because that toast (processed carb) caused a spike in insulin, then you crashed, and then you eat a Fruit and Nut Bar (made with processed cereals and brown sugar) and then you will have another insulin spike, which by the way causes the body to store fat. If you had bacon and eggs you probably wouldn't need a Fruit and Nut Bar and would be satisfied until lunch.

Sorry, I'm afraid I might sound like one of those dogmatic nutrition freaks that I dislike. I'm not making a judgment call on your nutritional choices. You probably are a very healthy person, and it's none of my business, but it's not true that we should follow this egg yolk and animal fat advice that is not grounded in science.
posted by Fairchild at 11:54 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I eat breakfast at about 6:45 a.m. and have a snack about 10:00 a.m.; the time difference is the reason my blood sugar is low by that time. As I said in my comment, the toast is whole wheat (100%), so it should not cause an insulin spike.

Sorry, Fairchild, I'm going to take the advice of my doctor, my mother's GP and cardiologist, my boyfriend's doctor, and, yes, the American Heart Association, over that of an anonymous person on the internet. Please memail me if you would like to continue this conversation so that we don't derail the thread. Thanks.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 12:17 PM on April 14, 2011

Banana Cheerio Quickfast - Great for a super fast morning meal

•1 to 2 scoops of chocolate protein powder
•6 to 8 ounces of water
•4 to 6 ice cubes
•1 banana
•3/4 cup cup or original cheerios
•Mix in a blender on medium for 1 minute. Pour into a tall glass. Enjoy!
posted by iNurtureTheOdd at 12:59 PM on April 14, 2011

Check some of the low carb Asks for other menu suggestions. Even though you're not intentionally eating low carb, that sounds like it's kind of the end result of upping your protein. Low carb threads and websites will probably have useful food and menu ideas that will fit your protein criteria. I'm eating low carb for the health and weight loss benefits and love it--I'm much less hungry and have more energy. I am (mostly) a vegetarian, so I'm eating low carb with dairy, eggs, and nuts, and some fish. Full-fat Greek yogurt, scrambled or hard boiled eggs, cheese, nuts for snacks, lots of green vegetables, cottage cheese, salads, some legumes -- chick peas, black beans, lentils, etc. Huge amounts of broccoli and cauliflower. I've added flax seeds to my diet -- the omegas may also help meet your goals.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:31 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you tried fish oil? For me, 150 mg Wellbutrin SR + fish oil sufficient to get 4 grams of EPA&DHA per day is more effective than 300 mg Wellbutrin SR, as well as having far fewer side effects. And you don't need to pound the protein to get the effect.

If you haven't tried it, start by taking enough fish oil to get 1 gram of EPA&DHA per day for a couple of weeks. If you don't notice much effect, increase slightly. Repeat until you notice an effect or get up to (wild-ass guess here, IANAD) 5 grams without noticing any improvement. (Again, IANAD, just someone who's struggled with depression for 30+ years.)
posted by Lexica at 7:01 PM on April 14, 2011

I can't get enough of cottage cheese and tabasco
posted by jockc at 7:24 PM on April 14, 2011

Lexica (and anyone else who might be taking controlled/extended-release medication), you reminded me of something I'd never heard anywhere else but might be worth checking with your pharmacist: when my husband was on XR ADD medication, he was told to eat some fat at the halfway-mark of his medicine, as it helped the extended-release chemistry of the drug. That might be an unadvertised feature of the fish oil.

But I also sleep/feel better when I take fish oil, so there's that too.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:21 PM on April 14, 2011

Definitely: the tryptophan in many protein foods gets converted into serotonin, which makes you feel good. If you don't eat enough tryptophan, you don't have enough serotonin.
posted by gjc at 8:56 PM on April 14, 2011

Another step healthier would be swapping the eggs for egg whites, albeit it might be four egg whites instead of two eggs. The yolk is where the fat and cholesterol in eggs come from. The whites are almost entirely protein, and nothing else.

The diet example you gave doesn't seem ridiculous, except the "ploughman's lunch" isn't at all healthy; swap in something else, and have that as a special treat now and then, if you really really like it.

Consider some fish now and then, or adding fish oil in, as dietary Omega-3 (and the other essential fatty acids) aren't present in many other foods.
posted by talldean at 6:58 AM on April 15, 2011

Dietary cholesterol is only a concern for a very small percentage of people. Even high blood cholesterol is not necessarily a bad thing - it is oxidized LDL that creates atherosclerosis, and that is formed in high-sugar environments and is aided by membranes rich in polyunsaturated fats. Egg yolks are good for you, as is animal fat and protein. Eat up! There's a reason eating this way helps you feel better.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 1:02 AM on April 16, 2011

Yard eggs are healthier. Chickens are relatively low-maintenance. All they need is a coop, some company, and a bit of yard to roam. Depending on what you use to build your coop, egg-laying chickens can be cheaper than store-bought eggs.

Sometimes when I'm feeling down, I go watch my chickens for a while. Find them a whole grain diet rather than crumbles or pellets, and between that and foraging for bugs and weeds all day, they will definitely be laying eggs that are better for your health. You can even feed them a lot of your table scraps. If you or your landlord aren't interested, check your local craigslist in the "farm and garden" section for eggs and save your old cartons!
posted by aniola at 11:18 AM on April 18, 2011

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