Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement at Cleveland ClinicDr. Uma Naidoo, the MoodFoodMD
THE 6 PILLARS OF NUTRITIONAL PSYCHIATRY
Eat the orange and skip the store-bought juice! In other words, eat a whole food as often as you can as the store-bought juice has no fiber and a lot of added sugars. Another way to quantify this is the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of your diet should focus on whole, real foods with plenty of fiber (your gut and brain’s best friend!). The remaining 20 percent allows you some flexibility.
Different colored plant foods contain different brain-boosting nutrients, termed phytonutrients. Resveratrol, EGCG, ellagic acid, polyphenols, and carotenes are key examples of phytonutrients that act in very specific, anti-inflammatory, pro-health ways across various parts of the body. They are the compounds that give a vegetable or fruit its color—so when we eat a kaleidoscope of radiant colors in foods, we are offering ourselves a plethora of functional micronutrients for a healthier body and brain.
Leafy greens include spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens, arugula, romaine, and dandelion greens. Ideally, I advise having 4-6 cups a day (it’s doable—I promise!). Greens contain folate, an important vitamin that maintains the function of our neurotransmitters, the consumption of which has been associated with a decrease in depressive symptoms and improved cognition.
“Most serotonin is made in the gut, so your gut is very important to your mood!”
An important aspect of mental wellbeing is mindfulness and the capacity to acknowledge how things make you feel—food included—and act accordingly. If you feel cranky or exhausted and need a nap hours after a sugary breakfast of pancakes and maple syrup, keep that in mind next time you’re choosing your morning meal. If something doesn’t make you feel good after eating it, it is probably not good for you. Pay attention to your mental health symptoms in response to various foods and use this body intelligence to guide you.
Our minds are with us for the rest of our lives. To optimize our mental health in a lasting way, it is important to create sustainable dietary and lifestyle changes rather than falling into quick fixes, caloric restriction, or miracle diets. Staying consistent is a great way to achieve a sustainable and longitudinal nutrition plan.
Many turn to consuming caffeine as a source of energy, often fraught with sugars, processed creams, and flavors, causing an inevitable spike in stress and subsequent crash in energy. I recommend consciously hydrating with water throughout the day as a natural source of energy. Water, quite literally, powers our cells, lubricates the joints and comprises our tissues. Think of water as important as the carbs, fats, and proteins we consume.
FOODS TO AVOID
Processed packaged foods that we find on the shelves of the grocery stores, with lengthy ingredient lists and expiration dates, are typically packed with additives like sugar and omega-6 fatty acid, which both feed the bad microbes in the gut for worsened inflammation and, therefore, stress. These foods are also devoid of brain-boosting vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Did you know that there are about 280 other names for the sneaky sugars found on food labels today? While you expect these to be found in cakes, pastries and baked goods, boxed cereals, and granola bars, you don’t think of sugar in ketchup, salad dressings or even pasta sauce. Sugars can even be found in more savory items like fast-food French fries! The hyper-palatability of these foods may initially please taste buds, but they ultimately wreck havoc on gut health, exacerbate inflammation, and overwhelm the body with more sugar than it needs, which all in all can create increased anxiety and uneven mood. Because sugar is a substance that has an addictive effect, the less we eat over time the less we will crave. For those really looking for a sweet, I recommend reaching for a handful of blueberries or a square of extra dark natural chocolate!
The industrialization of the food industry has led to the development of highly processed, inexpensive oils created from the byproduct of the system's most abundantly grown crops. These include corn, grapeseed, soybean, sunflower and palm oil. Through processing, these oils become incredibly high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and ultimately devoid of anti-inflammatory omega-3. Excess omega-6 fatty acids in the diet contribute to an excess of inflammatory molecules throughout the body, especially in the gut and brain. These oils can be avoided by reducing one’s intake of packaged foods, and by choosing anti-inflammatory alternatives like extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil when cooking.
These are added to foods and beverages and marketed as “healthier options,” but a study showed that people who consume artificial sweeteners, mostly via diet drinks, are more depressed than those who don’t consume such beverages. Also, several studies have demonstrated that artificial sweeteners can be toxic to the brain, altering brain concentrations of mood-regulating neurotransmitters.
RECIPE: DR. NAIDOO’S MOOD-BOOSTING GOLDEN MILK
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp raw honey
Pinch of black pepper
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg