Dr. Uma Naidoo - This is your brain on Food
Dr. Uma Naidoo is the ultimate triple threat – she’s a bestselling author, a renowned professional chef, and the Director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. After pursuing her passion in medicine through a fellowship in Psychosocial Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Dr. Uma started to conquer her love for cooking by completing both savory and pastry classes at the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and at the Culinary Institute of America.
Uma not only graduated as a Professional Chef from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in Cambridge, MA with High Honors, but she was also awarded the coveted M.F.K. Fisher Award for Outstanding Scholarship and Innovation. In 2020, Uma published her book, Your Brain on Food – integrating her professional accomplishments in medicine, psychiatry, nutrition and cooking. Dr. Uma is full of valuable insight into the impact that food can have on your mood, your mind, and other mental health conditions, and I’m confident that this conversation will give you new tools to improve your performance and longevity — let’s go!
Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Uma Naidoo
Michelin-starred chef David Bouley described Dr. Uma Naidoo as the world’s first “triple threat” in the food as medicine space: She is a Harvard trained psychiatrist, a Professional Chef with a diploma from Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, and Nutrition Specialist. Her niche work is in Nutritional Psychiatry and she is regarded both nationally and internationally as a medical pioneer in this more newly recognized field. Featured in the Wall Street Journal, ABC News, Harvard Health Press, Goop, and many others, Dr Uma has a special interest on the impact of food on mood and other mental health conditions. In her role as a Clinical Scientist, Dr. Naidoo founded and directs the first hospital-based clinical service in Nutritional Psychiatry in the USA. She is the Director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) & Director of Nutritional Psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital Academy while serving on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. Dr Naidoo graduated from the Harvard-Longwood Psychiatry Residency Training Program in Boston during which she received several awards, some of which included a “Junior Investigator Award” (American Psychiatric Association); “Leadership Development for Physicians and Scientists” award (Harvard), as well as being the very first psychiatrist to be awarded the coveted “Curtis Prout Scholar in Medical Education”. Dr Naidoo, has been asked by The American Psychiatric Association to author the first academic text in Nutritional Psychiatry.
In addition to this, Dr Naidoo is the author of the upcoming title, This Is Your Brain On Food, to be released August 4th, 2020. In her book, she shows the cutting-edge science explaining the ways in which food contributes to our mental health and how a sound diet can help treat and prevent a wide range of psychological and cognitive health issues, from ADHD to anxiety, depression, OCD, and others.
Dr. Naidoo’s new book is extremely timely due to the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has created. From a recent article from the Harvard Health Blog, Dr. Naidoo explained, “With people eating more at home than ever before it is important to understand the connection between food and our health. It’s hard to cope with being quarantined and not reach for your favorite salty, crunchy snack because of boredom or feeling on edge. A few pretzels or chips are okay, but many people may not be able to step away from eating the entire bag once it’s open. Also, if you’re already feeling blue, the quick fix of cookies or cake will ultimately make you feel worse. Processed foods and shelf-stable items like baked goods contain a lot of simple carbohydrates that create a yo-yo effect on our blood sugar, which can drive anxiety and worsen mood.”
Dr. Naidoo went on to offer some helpful tips to aid us in making better decisions at home. How then can we mindfully make good food choices?
Make a schedule or a daily meal plan. A schedule is more predictable for you and for everyone in your household.
Consider apps to stay connected around a meal. Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime with family and friends. Share recipes or even cook virtually together.
Plan for groceries. Try to buy fewer processed, high-salt or high-sugar snacks.
Load up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins.
Save money. Skip the high-sugar soda and juices; instead flavor water with edible citrus or berries.
Plan and enjoy an occasional comfort food for a weekly treat — pick a day and enjoy whatever you want, just not all your favorites on the same day!
Manage your environment. If candy is simply not in the cupboard, then you can’t eat it.
Did you know that blueberries can help you cope with the after-effects 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. Now more than ever our food is something we can control. Foods can boost our immunity which is also linked to levels of depression and anxiety; studies also show a link to insomnia, dementia and beyond.
This Is Your Brain on Food is the definitive book on eating for mental health, from the go-to expert on how food impacts the brain. It will help you use your diet to fight depression, anxiety, trauma, OCD, ADHD and more by teaching the science behind the gut-brain connection.
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. During her time at CSCA, Uma juggled her studies with her day job at the hospital, yet still managed to graduate from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts Professional Chef’s Program in 2012 with the MFK Fisher award for innovation. Uma has found a unique way to combine her passions for food, nutrition, medicine, and science into an impressive career that continues to soar.
Congratulations Uma on your continued success! For more on Dr. Uma Naidoo, please visit www.umanaidoomd.com
B: Berries and Beans
R: Rainbow colors of Fruits and Vegetables
I: Include Lean proteins and plant-based proteins
N: Nuts (almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts and cashews)
F: Fiber-rich foods, fish, and fermented foods
O: Omega-3-rich foods
D: "Dairy" or Vegan probiotic (yogurt and kefir, certain cheeses) "
Berries and Beans
Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries all make great additions to your day and double as a dessert. Eat berries that are in season. When you buy fresh berries, make sure to eat them soon — good ripe ones won’t last long, even in the fridge. At times of the year when fresh, ripe berries aren’t available, frozen berries are fine to use as long as you make sure they do not have added sugar or other additives. Beans, legumes, and lentils are important staples for your brain. A healthy source of nutrients, vitamins, and fiber, beans, legumes, and lentils are easy to prepare and can be a main course or an appetizer, can be added to a salad, or can even be made into a dessert.
Rainbow Colors of Fruits and Vegetables I always encourage my patients to eat as many different col- orful vegetables as possible. From red cabbage to radicchio to green and yellow bell peppers, expand your palate and maximize the range of nutrients that are beneficial to your brain. This is particularly true of micronutrients, like vita- mins, polyphenols, phytonutrients, and flavonoids.
The same applies to fruits! Berries, apples, and citrus all come in a wide variety of colors. Just be careful not to overdo it with sweet fruits like grapes and cherries. Even though I want you to chase color, don’t forget the most important color: green. Though eating a broad range of colors is great, you have to make sure you’re getting enough dark, leafy greens. My favorites are arugula, romaine, Bibb lettuce, endive, and bok choy. I also love to add microgreens when I can find them; they add a flavorful nutrient-dense punch to my meals.
We’ve covered many kinds of antioxidants throughout the book, including berries and the polyphenols in colorful veg- etables we’ve just discussed. Dark chocolate is a great source of antioxidants, as long as you stick to the dark stuff and make sure that it doesn’t include too much sugar. While cocoa and chocolate are delicious — and as a chef I was trained to use Dutch-process (alkalized) for flavor—as a nutritional psychiatrist I know that natural or non-alkalized is best for the highest antioxidant levels, and that’s what I’ve specified in the recipes in this chapter.
Many vitamins are crucial antioxidants. You can get vitamins from a broad range of dietary sources. This is one of the most important reasons to eat a diverse diet. But get a recommen- dation for a multivitamin supplement from your doctor; this is a great way to make sure you’re not missing anything. Include Lean Proteins and Plant-Based Proteins Well-sourced lean poultry, seafood, and occasional grass-fed beef are good choices to ensure you are getting plenty of protein and the essential amino acids that your brain needs to function. For plant-based sources of protein, organic tofu and tempeh can be enhanced with spices for flavor.
Nuts have healthy fats and oils that our brains need to func- tion well, along with vitamins and minerals, for example, selenium in Brazil nuts.
Eat 1⁄4 cup a day (not more — it’s easy to overdo it with nuts!) as a snack or added to your salad or vegetable side dish. Nuts can even be combined into a homemade granola or trail mix that contains much less sugar and salt than store-bought versions.
Fiber-Rich Foods, Fish, and Fermented Foods Beans, legumes, lentils, fruit, and vegetables are great sources of fiber. Fiber is important as a prebiotic, can help keep your weight down, and decreases inflammation in the entire body. As we discussed earlier, in chapter 2, fish such as salmon add healthy omega-3s to your nutrition plan. Fermented foods like kefir, miso, and kimchee are great for your brain and gut since they’re a natural source of active- culture bacteria.
Oils While you want to avoid an excess of saturated fats and other unhealthy oils like the omega-6 oils used for frying, you want to ensure you’re getting enough healthy fats from sources like olive oil, avocados, and oily fish. Even with healthy fats, be aware of portion size and try not to eat too much. All fats are calorie dense.
We’ve talked about omega-3s at length throughout the book, so you know well by now to ensure you’re getting plenty of them. The most important source of omega-3s (especially docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid) is oily fish, like salmon, mackerel, and tuna.
Omega-3s (largely alpha-linolenic acid) can also be found in plant-based sources—chia seeds, Brussels sprouts, walnuts, and flaxseeds to name a few.
Dairy (Yogurt and Kefir, Certain Cheeses) Yogurts and kefir with probiotic cultures are great for your gut, providing you with helpful bacteria and protein. Grass-fed dairy products are better options for you and your brain. Remember that certain conditions, like ADHD, can be aggravated by dairy, so be aware of its negative effects.
Spices are a no-calorie, guilt-free way to boost flavor in all your food while adding beneficial brain effects as well.
In particular, spices like turmeric, black pepper, saffron, red pepper flakes, oregano, and rosemary should be part of your brain armor.
Beyond sticking to these foods, the rules thin out a bit, but there are still useful guidelines. The most important is that you never be afraid to push yourself. I have had many patients with fairly narrow diets, out of either comfort or convenience, who learned they had been missing broad swaths of nutrients and eating pleasures once I gave them a prescription to branch out. If you see new and interest- ing vegetables and fruits at the grocery store that you’ve never tried, don’t be afraid to buy them. Commit yourself to making sure they don’t turn moldy, forgotten in a crisper drawer, and search through recipes in cookbooks and on the internet to find a way to integrate them into your diet, even if just once. As long as you stick to the principles of healthy eating we’ve been discussing throughout the book, you really can’t go wrong, and you may end up discovering a new favorite food!