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Episode 17: Improve Your Mental Health Through Food | Nutritional Psychiatry with Dr. Uma Naidoo

Posted by Manoj Perumal on

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About This Episode

Improve Your Mental Health Through Food | Nutritional Psychiatry with Dr. Uma Naidoo

In this episode of Discover with Dr. Dan | Proactive Health, Dr. Dan meets with Dr. Uma Naidoo to discover the benefits of eating certain foods that optimize brain and gut health. Dr. Uma is an accomplished author, chef, and nutrition specialist. Her background in psychiatry helps her close the gap between mental health and gut health. Tune in to the episode to learn more. 

How Brain and Gut Health are Linked 

Dr. Uma is a highly respected nutritional psychiatrist and is well known for her work at Harvard, as well as for her publications. She is an advocate for eating well to improve body and mental health by consuming foods that reduce mental stress. Dr. Uma discusses multiple studies that show how mental health is affected by different foods and lifestyle factors. Things like anxiety, depression, and behavioral aggression can all either be helped or hurt by foods consumed. Noting that the gut and the brain are connected, Dr. Uma examines, “They actually start off from the same exact cells in the embryo and then form these different organs and then the gut and the brain remain connected throughout life by the 10th cranial nerve– the vagus nerve.” For this reason, Dr. Uma focuses greatly on helping people understand that diet affects more than just weight gain or loss, that it impacts how humans think and comprehend the world. With this information, she has determined the best foods to consume for optimized mental health. 

Foods to Eat and Avoid

In a world with so many food options and varying prices, Dr. Uma understands how lifestyle shifts don’t simply happen overnight, and changing one’s lifestyle is no easy task because it takes a great deal of effort and patience to make lasting changes. Dr. Uma suggests starting small with simple changes and building upon those little victories step by step. When it comes to adjusting one’s nutrition to improve mental health, Dr. Uma explains that the best foods one can eat are plant-based and packed with vital nutrients. Fruits and vegetables that create a rainbow of color on the plate are the most effective for mood and mental wellness. Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and arugula have shown to also support mental health. Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids are also great for brain function and these can be found in some seafood, chia seeds, walnuts, and flax seeds. Adversely, on the topic of foods to avoid, Dr. Uma clarifies, “Processed junk foods, which have additives and stabilizers and colorants and dyes, preservatives, added sodium, also disruptive to our emotional health. Processed vegetable oils that are often found or used in fast food restaurants because they’re less expensive actually are pro-inflammatory.”

Nutrient-Dense Options for People in a Rush

For those who are wondering how to start their journey to mental wellness, Dr. Uma offers some practical advice to help those who have busy lives and struggle maintaining a balanced diet. Making breakfast can be difficult for anyone struggling with their mental health or for those who find themselves constantly rushing out the door. Noticing how meal preparation has greatly improved her daily routine, Dr. Uma suggests that everyone should try meal prepping, especially for breakfast. Meals such as overnight oats, chia pudding, and cupcake tin frittatas can be easy foods made in advance and stored in the fridge. For snacks, she suggests making homemade trail mix full of oats, nuts, dried fruit, and pieces of dark chocolate. Her greatest healthy lifestyle tip though is making food at home to save money and calories. Even though eating out at fast-food restaurants is cheaper upfront than grocery shopping, in the long term it is cheaper to buy fresh, frozen, and canned foods which can be prepared at home. “Now the easy thing, if they’re in the fridge, you know that they’re there to grab. And then prepping things like something for a salad for the family, having your greens, just chopping up some veggies on the weekend, having them in your fridge so that all you have to do is put it together for a stir fry, a salad during the week.” Ultimately, the choice to optimize mental health and bodily health is up to each individual. This can be achieved with patience, conscious cooking, and informed grocery shopping. 

To learn more about improving mental health through diet, check out the Discover with Dr. Dan | Proactive Health podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Tuesday.


Dr. Dan Gubler: (00:09)

Welcome to Discover with Dr. Dan | The Proactive Health Podcast. This podcast is sponsored by Brilliant, an innovative proactive wellness company. Brilliant helps people live a healthier, happier life by discovering and using bioactive compounds from plants to formulate products to help them discover and unleash their innate brilliance. See for more information. Today we are delighted to have on the show, Dr. Uma Naidoo, a Harvard trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef and nutrition specialist who penned the recent book, This Is Your Brain On Food. She founded and directs the first hospital-based nutritional psychiatry service in the United States and is a director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and director of nutritional psychiatry at MGH Academy, while serving on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Uma is a regular expert resource for media and has appeared in publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, Goop and more. And in appearances, including ABC News, Live with Kelly and Ryan and Today. And a little bit about her amazing book, the description is as follows.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (01:26)

Did you know that blueberries can help you cope with the aftereffects of trauma? That salami can cause a depression or that boosting vitamin D intake can help treat anxiety? When it comes to diet, most people’s concerns involve weight loss, fitness, cardiac health, and longevity, but what we eat affects more than our bodies. It also affects our brains and recent studies have shown that diet can have a profound impact on mental health conditions ranging from ADHD to depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, OCD, dementia, and beyond. A triple threat in the food space, Dr. Uma Naidoo is a board certified psychiatrist, nutrition specialist, and professionally trained chef. In This Is Your Brain On Food, she draws on cutting-edge research to explain the many ways in which food contributes to our mental health and shows how a sound diet can help treat and prevent a wide range of psychological and cognitive health issues. Packed with fascinating science, actionable and nutritional recommendations and delicious brain healthy recipes, This Is Your Brain On Food is the go-to guide to optimizing your mental health with food. To learn more, go to So Dr. Uma again, we’re so excited to have you with us, such a pleasure.

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (02:45)

Thank you so much Dr. Dan. I’m excited to be here and thank you for advising me.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (02:48)

Oh, my pleasure. So let’s talk about nutritional psychiatry. That’s a word that I would venture our listeners don’t know about. So what is nutritional psychiatry?

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (03:00)

You know, Dr. Dan, it’s really the use of healthy, whole foods and nutrients to improve our mental wellbeing. Very simply put. And it really is not about 10 milligrams of Prozac or other medication versus 10 blueberries. It’s really about how we integrate both in order to really achieve mental fitness, which has become so important, especially during the times of the pandemic where many more people are just struggling with things like insomnia, worsening mood, or a level of stress that is unbounded in these times. So I think it just behooves us to start paying a little bit of attention to how we could tweak that with more tools than just medications. And that’s where food can be really powerful right at the end of our fork.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (03:45)

Okay. So the phrases, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” and, “You are what you eat,” is that accurate here?

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (03:56)

Absolutely accurate. Certainly in the perspective that we have to eat, we eat meals every day. It’s something that we’re doing as part of our lifestyle. So why not use that to the best advantage, especially for brain health?

Dr. Dan Gubler: (04:09)

Right. I travel a lot in Asia. I’m a natural products chemist and I discover compounds in plants and it’s interesting going to these places in Asia. I was sitting at a really small, couldn’t be called a restaurant, it’s this really small mom and pop shop. And I noticed in normal places, the waiter owner will come up to you and say, “What do you want to eat?” This owner of the restaurant came up and said, “How are you feeling today?” And the person said, “Well my back is hurting,” or whatever, and they went back into the kitchen and made something there. So I found that that was really, really interesting.

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (04:50)

That is fascinating. I love that.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (04:53)

So when it comes to food, so we eat food, it goes into our gut. So how does that impact our brain? You would think that it’s, it goes into our digestive tract, provides energy to the body and is excreted. So how does that affect the brain?

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (05:13)

Absolutely. So it’s not something that’s necessarily, for one thing, Dr. Dan, those of us who went to medical school, maybe a few decades ago, wouldn’t have really learned about the gut microbiome because the science is newer. Yet between 2013 and 2017, there have been about 13,000 new publications of the research on the gut brain access and gut microbiome. Why is that significant? Because it’s newer science, it’s emerging. And it’s revolutionary and exciting, but what it also has taught us in the mental health realm is that the gut and brain are far part in the body. That they actually start off from the same exact cells in the embryo and then form these different organs and then the gut and brain remain connected throughout life, by the 10th cranial nerve, the vagus nerve. And the vagus nerve essentially is like a bi-directional superhighway. The line for chemical messages to be transmitted back and forth all the time.

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (06:15)

The other thing that we don’t often put together is that the lots of medications that people know about called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac or Zoloft to others, but more than 90% of those receptors are in the gut. So when we understand that we have realized all of these systems communicate, and then for pandemic times, it’s important for us to know that about 70% or more of our immune system is in the gut as well. So when you put all of these facts together, you think about if you eat something, it gets digested. It begins to process the moment you start eating it. When it gets broken down in that gut, right, and then the gut, we now understand that our microbiome, 39 odd trillion microbes have five different kinds of leads. And then they’ve been there to help support us. They’re there to help our physical health, mental health, our immunity, our sleep, our circadian rhythms, our hormone balance, all of these different things and so much more.

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (07:15)

And the food products that we eat can either help really nurture these gut microbes or they can, there are good and bad ones there, but we can measure the good microbes or the bad guys. And a healthier choice of food really will help the good microbes to thrive and do their function. When they function well, we feel good. We feel balanced. We move on with life. We might even lose weight, but when we are eating less healthy foods, the bad microbes are fed. They overcome the good microbes, and that’s when toxic substances start to get produced. It’s a setup for inflammation in the gut and inflammation in the brain. And that’s the loop that connects the gut and brain, but also the part that brings in mental health.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (08:00)

Wow. So what do bad bacteria like to eat versus what do good bacteria in the gut like to eat?

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (08:07)

I know you’re not going to be surprised by this one, but I bet, I bet a few people don’t realize that these, the things I’m about to mention also impact your mental health. I mean, we know about type 2 diabetes and gaining some extra pounds during COVID, but things like processed and ultra processed, refined sugars in foods actually have been associated with depression and anxiety. Processed junk foods, which have additives and stabilizers and colorants and dyes, preservatives, added sodium, also disruptive to our emotional health. Processed vegetable oils that are often found or used in fast food restaurants because they’re less expensive actually are pro inflammatory. So they can be leading to more inflammation in our body and disruption in the gut. Things like artificial sweeteners actually worsen symptoms and an upgrade for us and several other things, but those are the top ones for us to start thinking about.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (09:06)

Interesting. Wow. That’s fascinating. So when it comes to good bacteria, are they producing neurotransmitters that then go to the brain or are they interacting via like a signaling pathway? Signal transduction or –

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (09:22)

So they are basically working in the gut microbiome, simply put. They’re interacting with the breakdown products of food. So good product to be formed by those microbes would be something like short chain fatty acids. And then they begin a whole cascade of interactions and neurotransmitters also involved the way that we want to think about it, Dr. Dan, is that those microbes function optimally when they are fed well. And so all of the signal and transduction pathways, all of the biochemical reactions going on, all of the chemical and chemicals and neurochemicals being produced, neurotransmitters, everything is also associated with environment within it. And that’s where food comes into, comes into play.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (10:07)

Wow. So a lot of our listeners are wondering here, what types of food should we eat for good mental health?

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (10:15)

Absolutely. So, you know, I’d like to start by helping people understand that it’s not an overnight plan. I know that we sometimes want a quick fix. We want to feel better immediately, especially if you’re not feeling good. But really eating for a better mental health is a slow and steady process. So any step away from sort of what we’ve often called the standard American diet is going to be good for our mental health and our physical health. So you can start with something super simple. Things like adding a ton of plant-based vegetables and fruit to your diet. So think about your dinner plate or your lunch plate, add a lot of colorful vegetables because they bring back fiber, polyphenols, which are important for your gut, important antioxidants, great anti-inflammatory substances. Think of the colors of different vegetables. And you want to add more of those in because they also bring back fiber and fiber supports your gut. It’s, in fact, we’re often counting protein grams, but we should be worried about the fiber we’re eating cause it’s important for our health.

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (11:13)

Another important one is leafy greens because things like folate, leafy greens, low folate levels are associated with depression and low mood and actually loss of brain cells. So the more folate and leafy greens we eating in our diet, I think kale, spinach, dandelion greens, and arugula, whatever you enjoy, the greener the better, and those actions support better mental health. Then you can think of things like omega 3 fatty acids, which you could get from sockeye salmon. They actually have been shown in clinical trials in humans to improve depression and improve anxiety. So food to add right there. But if you don’t eat seafood, you can also get it from plant-based sources. Chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, and several others. Those are the short chain omega threes. So benefit. And then all the other groups of foods like prebiotics, which we often overlook. Prebiotics are in things like garlic onions, the allium family ,leaks, bananas, oats, and more.

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (12:11)

So those actually, again, are great for your gut. And I like to say happy gut is a happy mood. So as we think about feeding these microbes, you’re actually uplifting your mood and you’re balancing your anxiety. Now you can also get, many people may take probiotics as a supplement. But if you don’t, you can actually eat a lot of fermented foods. So kimchi, miso, kefir, kombucha, all those things, and many others you can add in fermented foods too. So those are just some starting points for you. Spices is another big, easy one to do, but these are all things that you can start doing.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (12:46)

Wonderful. Yeah. With fermented foods. It’s interesting. I was reading some papers on what they’re calling psychobiotics now.

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (12:55)

Yes. Yeah, absolutely. It’s, I’m very excited about this sort of emerging science that’s coming up surrounding whether we can actually use food groups to form positive substances and maybe move away from certain medications, but use food and the byproducts to actually support our gut health to improve our mental health. So it’s all coming out. It’s all being studied as you know, but it’s very exciting.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (13:22)

So you mentioned spices, what certain types of food that use a lot of spices, like Thai food, Indian food, could those potentially be a little bit better when it comes to nutritional?

Dr. Dan Gubler: (13:36)

Sure. So, when I say spices, I actually mean the type of spice that you can add into things. Certainly certain cuisines use more of those spices, but sometimes certain cuisines may or may not prepare it in the most healthy way. In the sense that we, studies have shown that when we prepare food at home, we consume fewer calories, even if we’re not following a special diet. So there’s something to be said for maybe you don’t cook with tumeric, but you can add it to tea, or soup, or a smoothie. But if you do cook, you can start incorporating those in. So you’re right. Certain cuisines use more of those spices and they may be healthier, but I always have a little bit as a chef, always have an eye out for, I’m not actually sure how they’re preparing it and as I see it so, I just want to point that out to people. But things like turmeric and saffron have been studied in depression. Oregano has good results in terms of depression. So these are things you can sprinkle on vegetables, or you can add into the food that you’re making and so many more. So what I do in each chapter in my book, because I talk about different spices that have been linked to different conditions, and then don’t overlook herbs because they can make great teas. Like passion flower, lavender can be very calming to the system in a tea.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (14:55)

Wow. Sounds like a great read. I look forward to reading it. So when it comes to foods, there’s frozen foods, for instance, frozen blueberries, frozen green beans versus the fresh stuff you get at the store or farmer’s market. Is there any difference in a bioactive compounds these nutritional, these nutritional psychiatric compounds? Yup –

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (15:21)

Absolutely. So I think it’s actually something that people, it’s important for people to know both from being cost-effective and actually being nutrient dense is that frozen foods in the US are flash frozen. So they frozen at their peak. And so if you’re getting say, frozen blueberries, or frozen cauliflower, broccoli, they’re actually really good for you and may be more cost-effective if you buy a large frozen bag for the family. They are less fragile and they don’t necessarily go bad because they’re frozen and they’ve been nutrient dense. So I, if you can’t, you don’t have access to farmer’s market or you don’t see a vegetable that you like, definitely consider the frozen. But then there are also some other cool things like wild blueberries have twice the number, twice the amount of antioxidants. So if you see those in your frozen section, pick some up. There’s all these neat little things that you learn as you go through it.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (16:15)

What about organic versus non-organic foods? Is there any research there?

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (16:20)

Yeah absolutely. So because we know that the foods that are basically related to chemical use and glyphosates and things like that, that are basically, essentially been shown in several studies to be not so great for us. Organic is generally preferred, but I also understand not everyone has access to that. So I’d like to guide people around the use of frozen foods, which can be cost-effective, but also when they’re buying fresh produce to look at things like the environmental working group has two lists, the dirty dozen list and the clean 15. And what that does for, if can actually find it, look at it on your phone, it gives you guidance around the things you should try to go organic. So strawberries are one good example. They often at the top of that list of the dirty dozen list so maybe think about that. But then you may not have to get on the clean 15. You can save some money by getting those nonorganic. And if you don’t have access in that way, in some of these options, like a side of salmon is too expensive, you can get those as canned foods. So canned oysters, canned muscles, canned salmon are great brain foods. They’re rich in Omega threes. They have zinc. All good for you. And you know, so plant-based proteins like legumes and lentils, which can be canned or large bags, which are cost-effective as well. So there are ways to balance this out and still eat for your better brain health.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (17:51)

Wow. So that’s wonderful. I think a lot of times we might feel bad that we don’t have access to farmer’s market. And so I think it’s comforting from the information that you gave that if we’re buying these things, regardless of where we’re getting them, we’re still getting some of these vital nutrients that help with nutritional value. Wonderful. So what foods should we not eat then when it comes to mental health and nutritional psychiatry?

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (18:20)

Absolutely. So you won’t be surprised by some of them, but many people don’t realize that there’s actually evidence that all of these food groups and foods actually worsen mental health symptoms. So the added, refined sugars are not just associated with type 2 diabetes and obesity and are associated with worsening symptoms of just to name a few depression and anxiety. Artificial sweeteners, unfortunately, are disruptive to that gut microbiome and worsens symptoms, and actually can worsen symptoms of things like anxiety. Then there’s trans fats. Trans fats in certain studies have actually been associated with worsening behavioral aggression. So something to think about there, and then these processed, ultra processed sort of junk foods and fast foods have a lot of preservatives and colorants and dyes and stabilizes that are not great for us and actually impact our mental health. So go down and then processed vegetable oils is another big one. And they’re often used in fast food restaurants because they’re less expensive to use and they are unfortunately pro-inflammatory so they really set up a body’s inflammation, something we want to be a little bit careful of often. So those are just at the top of the list and there are more that I go through in the book,

Dr. Dan Gubler: (19:38)

Wonderful. Good guidelines. So when it comes to good food for mental health, and you mentioned a lot of them, are there different types of food we want to use for anxiety and depression versus ADHD, OCD? Is there, are there a nuances there or is it kind of general?

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (19:55)

So there are nuances and tricks that you can make in every chapter. So the way to think about the book is that it’s really intended to be a guide towards your better mental wellbeing. So it’s meant to be a guide for your better wellbeing. And essentially, for example, let’s take anxiety. Anxiety is actually worsened by artificial sweeteners, whereas in a different condition, it may be that the artificial sweeteners are more disruptive to the gut causing a problem there. If you look at OCD, there are certain foods that will make those symptoms worse. So we know that MSG and other glutamates can be problematic for people, but there’s an example where there may be glutamates in some regular foods that you’re eating and naturally found in tomatoes and mushrooms, but if you have OCD, you might want to be a little bit careful about that because they could worsen your symptoms. So there’s those nuances and in each chapter on the different, on the different foods, but they’re also, if someone was just listening today and wants to start making some healthy changes, you can go to those large food groups I mentioned because there’s really good evidence around a colorful rainbow of plants that you can add to your diet, those leafy greens and those types of things that you can start to do immediately.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (21:16)

Wonderful. So I’ve been thinking a lot. There’s, diets are all the rage right now, and they always have been. Mediterranean, paleo, bean diets, juice diets, a traditional low fat diet –

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (21:30)

Cookie –

Dr. Dan Gubler: (21:30)

The cookie diet, right. So are there certain diets that are better than others when it comes to nutritional psychiatric health?

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (21:42)

You know, Dr. Dan, and I think you’ll appreciate this from your science and research background is that over time it’s become so highly personalized for individuals because the gut microbiome is like a palm print. So it really has become more personalized and that being said, I think that the most amount of evidence is associated in depression and anxiety and other mental health conditions, which with the overarching Mediterranean guide, what I add nuances to that about are some people don’t eat certain seafood or certain meats, then you want to think about how do you make the plant-based version of that diet really good for the person and their mental health? The other caveat or nuances really around mental health, someone may be struggling with their weight either from side effect of medication, or because they say so severely depressed and not able to exercise. So in instances like that, I’m really careful about personalizing how they take in their carbohydrates when they’re trying to lose some of that weight, because just saying to them, “Sure, eat healthy whole grains,” which I know a part of the Mediterranean diet, you might want to tweak that and really use things like TCR, which is therapeutic carbohydrate reduction, in terms of helping individuals really understand maybe for that phase, that eat lower glycaemic fruit like berries, and seed fruit, because it’s a healthy food. And really be a little bit careful about where they get the carbohydrates sources from so that they can help lose some weight as they are improving their mental health as well.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (23:17)

Okay, wonderful. So a lot of people want to eat healthy, they want to eat good food, they want to prepare food, but they’re running, they’re coming and going. And a lot of times we end up just grabbing something real quick, something convenient. So is there any tips you would give our listeners on quick and easy nutritional meals? I know you mentioned a few things that you can do, but what can I do if I’m limited time, go, go, go? How can I be healthy?

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (23:44)

Absolutely. One of the things I’m going to suggest is a simple thing, which is some meal preparation, and this will help you, whether it’s yourself or your whole family. Just taking a couple hours out of your week when you either get your groceries or you get your food, however you obtain it and just prepping something. So one big thing is prepping breakfast. A couple of things I like to make – either a batch of, batch cooking, things like overnight oats for the whole family, so that it’s a nutritious, fiber-dense breakfast. And then you just top it with blueberries and cinnamon and it’s easy. Chia pudding, which can be made in batches for the whole family and contains like literally two ingredients. Chia seeds, great protein and fiber, great source of Omega threes. Coconut milk, great fat for your body so you can add that in and little servings that the family can have during the week. And now the easy one for breakfast is instead of making a huge omelet, make your omelet mixture and bake it in a cupcake pan. So you have many frittatas for the family and by batch cooking that you can freeze them and throw them in the fridge overnight. And you have something ready, made that’s nutritious. Even boiling up some hard boiled eggs, just make sure they’re pastured. They”re a better source so that you get less inflammatory and good for you. So those are, batch cooking is one of the easy things that we can start with so that you have things. You can also do that with little snack mixes for the family, just put together some whole walnuts, almonds, some dark, super dark, extra dark chocolate chips. Make your own little quarter cup granola mix baggies for a snack. Having fresh fruit on hand. Apples, clementines, berries.

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (25:27)

Now the easy thing, if they’re in the fridge, you know that they’re there to grab. And then prepping things like something for salad for the family, having your greens, just chopping up some veggies on the weekend, having them in your fridge so that all you have to do is put it together for a stir fry, a salad during the week. And the other big one that I like is sheet pan meals. So cooking, say you eat chicken and you wanted some roasted two or three types of veggies. You just cook it for the whole family on a single sheet pan, easy clean up, sprinkle on your spices and avocado oil, bake it in the oven and you have an entire meal. So it’s about thinking, how can we get to that much faster with a little bit of preparation is sometimes with preparation and planning and less time that day spent chopping vegetables and creating stuff, but just putting it on a sheet pan or assembling the salad or something like that. Those are just some of the tips, but chapter 11 of my book, I walk people through because I know it’s hard. I started cooking later in life as well. And setting up your kitchen, how to think about your grocery lists, how to get to be more effective with how we eat. Well we all have to start somewhere.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (26:42)

Right. Oh, wonderful, brilliant suggestions there. You mentioned dark chocolate. There’s a lot of going back and forth that dark chocolate is a brain food. Well, it’s not because it’s loaded with sugar. Dark chocolate that has very low amounts of sugar, can that help to improve mood, cognitive function and mood?

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (27:03)

Yes. Yes. So dark chocolate and we’re not talking about candy bar chocolate here. We talking about extra dark, all natural chocolate. I usually try to have people stop and go higher. So 80% or darker but you can stop lower and say 65% and get your palate used to darker because not everyone likes it. But here’s the thing. It contains magnesium, serotonin. The way that it’s made and processed, it’s a probiotic. So it’s a really great food for us. So it’s also the type that doesn’t have a lot of attitude. Isn’t it? So think about it that way, but pari it with a strawberry or a piece of Clementine, and it’s a great treat for you. But it’s also good for your brain because I think that when we think about treats, we don’t want to think about treats that a bad for our brain so that’s a good one. And so chocolate, I really support. It helps stress and it helps depression. My only caveat about it is if it impacts your sleep because of the caffeine, just be wary of that, have a piece earlier in the day.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (28:05)

Okay. What about coffee? Coffee is an interesting one as well.

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (28:10)

I love coffee. I love coffee. And the health benefits speak for themselves. I think with coffee, it’s two things. Moderation. Having it early in the day. So studies of anxiety looked at people having 400 milligrams or less a day tolerated it okay. If you drink a cup of coffee and you feel jittery, that’s not for you, so you might have to switch to decaf or get off completely. And it’s also, the second thing is what you add to it. So often people are adding in a ton of sugar and processed creamer and stuff like that. Then it becomes less of a healthy choice, but coffee on its own is fine. It’s really about moderation, having it earlier in the day as well.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (28:54)

Okay. So in this realm of nutritional psychiatry, there’s several papers that I’ve read about socioeconomic status that some people can’t afford. There’s been interesting study saying people can’t afford to eat good food, and it is interesting. A lot of times grabbing a fast food, something, and a carbonated drink can be cheaper than cooking good food. So how do we overcome that? What can we do for people of all different? So we all can eat healthy.

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (29:26)

Sure. So, you know, it’s interesting, Dr. Dan. I used to think the same thing until I learned food costing at culinary school, and I’ve therefore worked with the patients and families showing them how getting either a, from a better supermarket, getting a rotisserie chicken for your family, say you don’t cook or buying a whole chicken and cooking it with some vegetables is actually much more cost-effective than buying a fast food meal for your whole family over X number of days. And it really worked out the cost for people to show them and prove it’s actually much cheaper to either buy that rotisserie chicken or cook the chicken on your own at home. So how can we all do it for ourselves? First and foremost, I think that it’s learning some tricks in the supermarket. Paying attention to where to save on the organic and buy regular produce. Choosing that center aisle for things like canned beans, canned salmon, canned mussels, and where you can get brain food, but it could be canned and could be that you can get these at Walmart.

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (30:30)

And they’re very inexpensive, the canned salmon and things like that. And you can still be feeding. You can add that to something that you cook for your family, in a stir fry and get a healthy meal out of it. Same thing with legumes and beans. Large bags, inexpensive. Can cook for a large family, great source of fiber nutrients and plant-based proteins. So there’s a good way to add it in there and get those frozen fruits, like we mentioned earlier, it’s another way to do it. What I would like people to consider is that drinking plain water, filtered water, if you can get it or having a good source of water is easy hydration versus the carbonated, artificially sweetened drink, which sometimes can be three to five dollars and that fast food meal, I would just challenge you to look at the costing behind it. And any one of us may be stuck traveling, who knows, and grab one of those. It’s not a judgment thing. It’s how can we think about the rest of the time? Could we rethink that and make a slightly better choice for our brain health?

Dr. Dan Gubler: (31:32)

Wow. So that’s wonderful that perception there really isn’t accurate when you look at the hard numbers

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (31:39)

And you’re like, certainly yes, that is, I have studied food costs of things like certain fast food meals. This is just something simple from the supermarket that you can buy and cook or get partially ready-made.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (31:50)

Right. So, so what about lifestyle? We’re creatures of habit. Trying to change the lifestyle can be hard if I want to change and start this approach in order to improve my mood, improve my life, improve my relationships with those around me, what would you recommend to start to move that lifestyle needle towards the healthier end of the spectrum?

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (32:11)

Yeah. Well thank you for saying lifestyle, Dr. Dan, because nutrition really does, is part, really part of lifestyle now. And we need to be thinking about it that way. So I personally think it starts small. Just a single, right now today, you can make one single habit or change to what you’re doing that is better for you. Maybe for someone, that’s drinking enough water, maybe for someone else it’s, “I can maybe not get that. Should we donut for breakfast?” And think about, “Could I batch cook some oats tonight, or could I do the chia pudding or something that replaces it. What can I change one thing that I’m doing today?” Even that is a good, positive thing. I think that where people get trapped and tend to experience failure is when they try to change ten things at the same time. Start small, start with one or two things that you can do.

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (33:01)

And maybe you can add tumeric with a pinch of black pepper to a stir fry, soup, or smoothie today. Right there it’s, brain-healthy spice that is going to give you a lot of benefit. So, and maybe you’re going to the supermarket today and you can buy more vegetables, fresh or frozen. Just a simple thing that you can do right now, or maybe you’re ordering a salad for lunch, add more veggies to it, have the dressing on the side, get a vinaigrette instead of a creamy ranch dressing. While creamy ranch is delicious, it’s it’s unfortunately a lot of the time, if we have at a restaurant might be processed. So just go with the healthier choice, right? Have the salad, have tons of veggies in it, have your protein of choice, whether it’s salmon or chicken, whatever it is you eat, maybe you have chickpeas cause you are vegetarian, whatever it is, you can do it and just have a vinaigrette instead of something else. So we can, if it’s on our mind and we’re thinking about it, we can make a small habit change even today.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (33:57)

Wow. This has been absolutely fantastic. Sure. Appreciate it. Are there final thoughts that you would give our listeners?

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (34:04)

Just that really, Dr. Dan, that it’s in our control, unlike a prescription pad where I’d been on the receiving end of receiving a medication when I had cancer. And so I know what it’s like. So it’s, you have to take your medication and you feel a certain way, but nutrition is within our power. It’s all autonomy. We should feel empowered and realize that our brain health is really at the end of our fork. It’s how we are eating that’s affecting our brain health. And if you think about it that way, you’ll, you know, you know, make some, some better choices.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (34:36)

Wow, fantastic. Such actionable information today. Thank you again, Dr. Uma. Amazing information. So grateful that you would join us.

Dr. Uma Naidoo : (34:46)

Thank you so much Dr. Dan. I appreciate it.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (34:48)

And thank you to our listeners. This is Dr. Dan signing off.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (34:53)

The information presented by guests in this podcast is their sole opinion and in no way represents the views of Discovery with Dr. Dan | The Proactive Health Podcast or Brilliant. This podcast is for informational purposes only and does not replace professional medical care. Please consult with your medical doctor before making any changes in your lifestyle.

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