How to Calm Your Mind with Food

Audio only version

March 6th, 2024
Dr. Uma Naidoo

Show Description

The latest episode of The MindHealth360 Show is a replay of an event done in partnership with The How To Academy and features Harvard Nutritional Psychiatrist Dr. Uma Naidoo. In this interview, Dr. Naidoo discusses the importance of food to mental health and healing as well as lessons from her new book, Calm Your Mind with Food, where she lays out both science and practical advice for using food as medicine for mental wellbeing.

Dr. Naidoo tells us about the major advances made in understanding the gut-brain connection, which explain how food and its digestion in the gut directly impacts the brain, mood and anxiety levels. Dr. Naidoo explains how the brain and gut initially derive from the same tissue during foetal development, and stay connected by the vagus nerve through a bi-directional communication pathway. She tells us that when food breaks down during digestion, some of the products are good and support healthy brain function, while others are toxic and lead to inflammation in the gut and brain, causing mental health symptoms. Psychological stress can change the make-up of the bacteria in the gut, encouraging the growth of bad bacteria and the reduction of good bacteria, and food can change brain function depending on whether it is healthy or unhealthy.

Dr. Naidoo talks about the foods to avoid (ultra-processed food, lots of added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and trans fats) and foods to seek out (healthy fats, clean proteins, fibre-filled vegetables and legumes) to maximise mental wellbeing. She talks about how different diets can be adapted to personal requirements and preferences, and how moderation and substitution work better than trying to cut out guilty pleasures entirely. We also discuss intermittent fasting, helpful supplements, and Dr. Naidoo’s CALMS acronym for what to look for at the store.

Michelin-starred chef David Bouley described Dr. Naidoo as the world’s first “triple threat” in the food and medicine space: a Harvard trained psychiatrist, professional chef graduating with her culinary schools’ most coveted award, and a trained Nutrition Specialist. Her nexus of interests have found their niche in Nutritional Psychiatry. Dr. Naidoo founded and directs the first hospital-based Nutritional Psychiatry Service in the United States. She is the Director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) & Director of Nutritional Psychiatry at MGH Academy while serving on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. She was considered Harvard’s Mood Food Expert and has been featured in many media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal. Dr. Naidoo is also the national bestselling author of This Is Your Brain on Food. In her books, she shows the cutting-edge science explaining the ways in which food contributes to our mental health and how a diet can help treat and prevent a wide range of psychological and cognitive health issues, from ADHD to anxiety, depression, OCD, and others.

Learn about:

  • How the gut-brain connection means that the food you eat directly impacts your mental health
  • How having a “leaky gut” can create inflammation in the gut, leading to inflammation in the brain and mental health symptoms
  • How ultraprocessed food, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and trans fats harm brain function
  • How eating foods full of fibre, such as legumes, whole grains, and vegetables nurtures your gut and brain
  • How vegetarians and vegans can adapt diets to get brain boosting nutrients without animal products
  • How supplements like nutritional yeast, omega 3, and vitamins B12 and D can further improve gut and brain function
  • How the CALMS foods (vitamin C, ashwagandha, liquids and calming teas, magnesium, and spices) can serve as a “cheat sheet” for what to look for when grocery shopping

About Dr. Uma Naidoo

Podcast guest photo

Uma Naidoo, MD is a 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, 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.

Show Notes