Dr. Uma Naidoo has a wonderful new book called This Is Your Brain on Food: An Indispensable Guide to the Surprising Foods that Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and More (my Amazon link)
Her big bold message is this “Until we solve nutritional problems, no amount of medication and psychotherapy is going to be able to stem the tide of mental issues in our society.” This is something I wholeheartedly agree with!
I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Dr. Naidoo and we talked about the benefits of fermented foods and social anxiety, vitamin D and anxiety, dietary sources of polyphenols for ADHD and much more:
- A 2015 study, Fermented foods, neuroticism, and social anxiety, reports that people eating fermented foods saw a reduction in their social anxiety and neurotic traits
- Dr. Naidoo recommends unflavored kefir (which can be used to make a creamy dressing), miso, fermented vegetables and kombucha (watch the added sugars)
- I mention kombucha as a source of fluoride (watch if you have issues with fluoride)
- Vitamin D and anxiety: we discuss a 2019 study, Effect of Vitamin D Supplement on Mood Status and Inflammation in Vitamin D Deficient Type 2 Diabetic Women with Anxiety: A Randomized Clinical Trial
51 women with type 2 diabetes and vitamin D deficiency were randomly allocated to receive one oral pearl of 50,000 IU vitamin D3 (26 women) or a placebo (25 women) fortnightly for 16 weeks
Anxiety score changes were significantly lower in vitamin D group than the controls
- Dr . Naidoo recommends these sources of vitamin D: egg yolks, salmon, mushrooms and sun exposure (sun through a window doesn’t count)
- Dietary polyphenols and ADHD: We talk about a 2018 study, Rationale for Dietary Antioxidant Treatment of ADHD
Dietary polyphenols… have antioxidant capacities as well as immunoregulatory effects and, therefore, appear appropriate in ADHD therapy.
- Dr. Naidoo recommends these sources of polyphenols: berries and other fruit, vegetables, extra virgin olive oil.
- I’m fascinated by the fact that polyphenols “act as a low-dose toxin that trains the body to mount an immune response in a process called hormesis” (there are many geeky gems like this in the book)
- Dr. Naidoo shares the story of her 36 year old patient with severe anxiety. He was a binge eater and also had a history of alcohol abuse. Vitamin B1 (250mg) was every effective for him…“In animal studies, thiamine appears to reduce stress-like responses because it protects the hippocampus”
- We talk about chamomile tea and how it helps with sleep. There are some cautions if you’re on a blood thinner prescription or going to have surgery. Pregnant women should also avoid it.
- Dr. Naidoo shares a delicious Golden Milk recipe with tips on how to use turmeric (one her favorite spices and inspired by her grandmother’s cooking) with black pepper. You’ll find this in the recipes section.
- Dr Naidoo also shares one of her favorite comfort foods – a yummy lentil soup recipe called dal in south Indian cuisines. It’s a great source of fiber, plant-based protein and is very affordable. And really healthy when cooked with vegetables and spices like mustard seeds, ginger, garlic and turmeric. She shares a tip to improve the flavors – making tadka (listen to the interview below, enjoy and be inspired!)
It’s a wonderful book that I highly recommend if:
- you are new to nutritional psychiatry and the power of food
- you are a seasoned foodie and want to geek out on mechanisms and the science
- you want to learn about foods and nutrients (all science-based) specifically for depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD and insomnia
- you are a practitioner and want to learn and share a wonderful book with your patients or clients
I read it cover to cover and picked up so many gems. I also loved reading about her memories of cooking with her Pinetown granny (Pinetown is just outside Durban where we both happened to grow up)!
We do have a few professional differences of opinion that I feel I should mention:
- I am not in favor of canola oil and I’d switch out the recipes that call for canola oil with olive oil
- I have a difficult time extrapolating high-fat diets in rat studies to concerns about saturated fat consumption in humans (given the nature of the rat chow in many of these studies)
- I’m more concerned with portion-size of carbs than I am with portion-size of healthy fats (and typically recommend full-fat coconut milk, and chicken and turkey with skin-on)
- I find grass-red meat to be beneficial for my clients with anxiety and mood issues
- Many of my anxious clients cannot tolerate any caffeine and I consider 14 alcoholic drinks a week for men and 7 alcoholic drinks a week for women to be excessive
- I prefer stove-top and oven cooking to using a microwave.
This is the official book blurb:
Did you know that blueberries can help you cope with the aftereffects of trauma? That salami can cause 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 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.
Uma Naidoo, MD is board-certified psychiatrist (Harvard Medical School), professional chef (Cambridge School of Culinary Arts), and nutrition specialist (Cornell University). She is currently the Director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), where she consults on nutritional interventions for the psychiatrically and medically ill; Director of Nutritional Psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital Academy; and has a private practice in Newton, MA. She also teaches at The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts.
Dr. Naidoo speaks frequently at conferences at Harvard, for Goop audiences, the New York City Jewish Community Center (JCC), and Ivy Boston. She blogs for Harvard Health and Psychology Today and completed a unique video cooking series for the MGH Academy which teaches Nutritional Psychiatry using culinary techniques in the kitchen.
Let us know what you think in the comments below and be sure to leave Dr. Naidoo a review once you read your copy!
Feel free to post your questions here too.