Psychiatrist Dr. Drew Ramsey, the guy who brought the world incredible catchphrases like “You can’t fail with kale” and “Some people are big pharma – I'm little farmer”, is back with some incredibly interesting data on the relationship between mental health and diet.
A new branch of nutritional psychiatry is emerging, and while some are talking about the compounds in food as a way to treat and prevent mental illness, Dr Ramsey wants to go straight to the source and relate real food to brain health. “Supplements frighten me a little bit,” he says, in an interview with Splendid Table. “They're totally unregulated. You want a scare, go to the FDA website that looks at recalls of natural supplements. It's terrifying.” Key mind and mood boosting nutrients that can be gained from food include long-chain omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium, calcium, fiber, and vitamins B1, B9, B12, D, and E.
Research shows that when you eat a more traditional diet like a Mediterranean diet or Japanese diet your risk of an illness like depression can decrease by as much as 50 per cent. The first clinical trial on this has just reported that a Mediterranean diet (plant-based, with seafood, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fermented dairy, and oils, augmented with some red meat), can treat major clinical depression. Ramsey points out that people think about their hearts, and diabetes, and cholesterol when they plan their food, but there’s not enough focus on brain health and the organ that is your biggest asset.
Ramsey recommends starting by growing a few small herb pots in your kitchen, on a windowsill, in the fire escape (don’t tell the fire marshall), or in the garden and incorporating them regularly in your meals to instantly increase nutritional density. “You see a lot more spices in the Mediterranean diet and fresh herbs; these are a very, very powerful medicine that have always been used to treat illness,” he says. Eat crunch vegetables, create meals with lots of different colored vegetables, and eat lots and lots of seafood – sustainable is best for you and the environment, so do some investigating into a good fishmonger in your area.
The right foods really can boost brain function and minimize mental illness, so start seeing your fork as a valuable intervention tool.
Drew Ramsey's book is Eat Complete.
Drew Ramsey: For about ten years we've had very strong correlational data showing that, for example, when you eat poorly your risk of depression and illnesses like depression just go up 70/80 percent. And when you eat a more traditional diet like a Mediterranean diet or Japanese diet your risk of an illness like depression can go down by as much as 50 percent. And so that's now led to the first clinical trial that is just being reported showing that a Mediterranean diet augmented with some red meat actually can treat clinical depression, major depression disorder. And it's a very exciting moment for nutritional psychiatry. It's a time when we have more science that tells us food should really be part of the conversation when it comes to our mental health. We are facing an incredible mental health epidemic. I've been in New York as a psychiatrist now for 16 years and the amount of distress and the amount of mortality that we're seeing is like levels we've never seen before and we need as many tools in our toolbox and food is very much there, both from just common sense. We all know that to feel right we need to eat right, but then also backed up by now an incredible amount of science showing that a core set of nutrients actually have very clear data that can help in the prevention and the treatment of illnesses, again, like depression and dementia. So we want to encourage people to eat those foods that have most of these nutrients and then help them do that is really part of a mental health care plan.
We think about a lot of illnesses when we eat, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and it's always struck me that really the illness you should be worried about or the organ you should be worried about when you're eating is your brain because that is by far your biggest asset. It consumes more of your energy in your food than any other organ you have. And so focusing on the nutrients your brain needs guide you to a slightly different set of foods that if you focus on just things like calories or saturated fat or preventing something like cancer. And so it's an exciting moment as the data begins to catch up with common sense.
The diets that seem to do the best in terms of brain health are traditional diets. So, for example, the most science is about the Mediterranean diet. Mediterranean diet is a plant-based diet. You're going to see lots and lots of nuts and seeds, whole grains, you're going to see seafood, you going to see meat and dairy treated differently. I mean it's interesting that all Mediterranean diets, Greek yogurt, for example, they have some dairy and fermented dairy products and meat, but they're used more as flavorings. You don't see what we see in a western diet of a giant steak and a baked potato. You see a lot more spices in the Mediterranean diet and fresh herbs, these are very, very powerful medicine that have always been used to treat illness.
And so one of my favorite interventions is helping people do like even a little herb pot on their fire is scape or in their front yard because you can just walk out in the morning, grab some chives, grab some basil, chop it up, have it with yours scrambled eggs. You've just increased the nutrient density of that meal and you've made it a little bit more like the Mediterranean diet. What you're going to see is in the Mediterranean diets mainly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. You're going to see, again, a lot of crunchy vegetables, a lot of rainbows on those plates and lots and lots of seafood. I mean that's really one of the main differences if you look at a Spanish diet, all those tapas with little anchovies and a little bit of squid and a little bit of octopus where we're getting these very, very nutrient dense seafoods that, again, we know how these molecules that are so important for brain health.