Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Dr. Uma Naidoo, a renowned nutritional psychiatrist from Harvard. She recently published a fantastic book titled “Calm Your Mind on Food.” This conversation is right up my alley because Dr. Naidoo’s personal experiences, including her battle with cancer, have driven her to explore the connection between food and mental health on a deeper level. We discuss the impact of certain foods on depression and anxiety, with no surprises there – sugar, gluten, and other additives can agitate us. Interestingly, did you know that there are over 200 names for added sugar?
Dr. Naidoo does an incredible job of breaking down complex concepts and providing practical takeaways, all while removing any sense of shame or guilt. Instead, she focuses on empowering us to identify and address the root causes of our depression or anxiety, one step at a time, without overwhelming ourselves. In a world that’s constantly loud and chaotic, Dr. Naidoo’s approach helps us slow down and make realistic changes that fit our unique lives and demands. I hope you enjoy this enlightening conversation with Dr. Uma Naidoo.
- This is Your Brain on Food
- Calm Your Mind on Food
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- [00:02:26] Light Bulb Moments
- [00:06:03] Navigating Improvement
- [00:09:00] Anxiety and Zoloft
- [00:12:59] Nutrition and Mental Health
- [00:21:42] Gut-Brain Connection
- [00:27:24] Alcohol and Anxiety
- [00:34:23] Dehydration
- [00:38:55] Oils
- [00:46:03] Alzheimer’s and Dementia
- [00:51:27] American Diet
[00:02:05] Gabby Reece: What I’m curious about is. You go, after your education, you maybe thought your practice was going to be one way. And how did you adapt, and what gave you the courage to say, Oh, wait a second, I need to bolt. I need to have an adjunct to my practice and talk about these other things.
[00:02:26] Uma Naidoo: Firstly, Gabby, it’s great to see you again and thanks for hosting me on your podcast. Love your message as well. I think the biggest thing, there were two sort of big moments kind of light bulb moments for me. One was as a young resident still learning psychiatry and learning the medications, a patient challenged me and that really taught me to integrate nutrition into what I was saying because he was accusing me of causing him to gain weight. And I knew from the stats and the medical record that even though I was prescribing an SSRI, which can cause weight, um, it wasn’t, he had just started it. He was already a little overweight, et cetera, but it taught me an important message.
He was drinking a very large cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee. And I asked him what did you put in your coffee today? And when he told me that it was more than a quarter cup of processed creamer and eight sugars, he wasn’t thinking, he was just repeating what he asked for at the counter. And I was able to share the nutritional information with him.
By showing him the calories but showing him that they were empty calories. And it was a light bulb moment for him as I slid up. He, I taught him something that he could easily change. I have a, so he was consuming this guy before he even ate breakfast. It taught me that if someone is equipped with the information, especially if I’m prescribing a medication, which could cause weight gain, it was really important for them to understand that.
And it got, it started me on a path and a journey. And another light bulb moment was later in my career. And I was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer and was experiencing my own anxiety for the first time in my life. And I was trying to decide, facing these medications that I was about to accept, but also understanding the side effects were very scary.
I had this moment where I thought to myself, I do this every day. I help people with how to eat and how to adjust their lifestyles. I hadn’t had a moment to think and I decided I was going to lean into it. And so I unexpectedly became the blueprint of my work because I proved it to myself that by adjusting and tweaking a relatively healthy diet, none of this is perfect, but I was able to manage my side effects so much better and those two things really for me solidified the importance of allowing people to explore this work and have it as an option for them.
[00:04:51] Gabby Reece: Yeah, it’s interesting that you had to go through something that not only made you better at helping other people, but probably even more empathetic about dealing with anxiety and fear and you deal with patients that have really serious. I know that was, an incident cause you’re dealing with a scary thing like cancer, but just giving you that perspective that maybe people feel.
[00:05:14] Uma Naidoo: That way all the time, what was so humbling about it? Yeah, because that’s an excellent point. Two things were very humbling. One is being on the other side of the prescription pad or the online prescription. So however, we, people accepting their medications these days. But that was very humbling to be in a position where I was really having to understand the side effects and decide for myself and comply and all of that.
But the other part was that it took me, that, this work is real. There’s a lot of evidence behind it. I was seeing it in my patients, but when I proved it to myself, I think that was, What was a very cementing experience for me and really, for me, made it come alive even more and made me bolder about bringing the message forward to be able to help more people.
[00:06:03] Gabby Reece: How would a person approach either improving or, navigating steps towards improvement? Because I think people sometimes feel You know, they don’t know what to do.
[00:06:16] Uma Naidoo: I agree. So, I’ll quickly show you a cover of the next book, which we’re sending to you as we get as we get the hardcover copies.
[00:06:23] Gabby Reece: Yes, because I read your, this is your brain on food and I really love it. And I’m going to, I want to talk about that as well, but.
[00:06:30] Uma Naidoo: Thank you. So, the short answer, Gabby, is that during my, during COVID, All the points you mentioned were what we’re impacting people. The most devastating effect was also on their mental health.
So not just the physical impact of those who suffered COVID or lung COVID or any of those symptoms. It was also that we know research is showing that anxiety and depression are at their height after COVID. And I decided to write the book because that was what I was seeing. In my patients, being, being working throughout COVID and just seeing how they were navigating this new world with their families, with trying to meal prep, with working from home, then with the hybrid model, with the angst that was coming from the news, then the vaccines then, sometimes mixed messages, whatever it was, people were struggling in different ways.
And that, unfortunately, that emotional toll is still showing. In people, because there’s so many more people, including young folk who are just suffering with anxiety. Where do you start? I often will say to someone, what’s bothering you about what you’re eating or drinking? Because sometimes it can be a beverage, sometimes it can be a lot of soda or even an energy drink that’s, pumped with sugar.
And that’s often a good way to stop the conversation because someone has identified. Maybe, ice cream that they’ve started eating every night during COVID. And I can find a place to start working from because they’ve identified for themselves as bothering them. And that’s often one place to start because I don’t like people to feel deprived.
So, I want them to feel like we’re filling up that nutritional psychiatry plate for them with more foods and more options. But often it’s the habit that’s bugging them that we have to start to pivot on and maybe find a replacement. Can you have a fruit based dessert? Can you have a piece of dark chocolate with, Clementine, something like that?
[00:08:29] Gabby Reece: Are you saying that people will come to you and say, and by the way, I have this thing that I’m feel a little beholden to this ritual or this thing that I’m medicating with, like an ice cream or something. Cause that is right. That’s a temporary kind of, yes, it’s a
[00:08:44] Uma Naidoo: way to.
[00:08:45] Gabby Reece: OoH, for a second, do they internalize that and say, I know this practice.
[00:08:52] Gabby Reece: I don’t want to do this. I feel bad about it. So, they, you’re saying intuitively people really have a sense of this already.
[00:09:00] Uma Naidoo: People often, so it’s mixed in my practice. Some people come in just presenting with the anxiety and feeling. desperately anxious and what can I do? Can I get, Zoloft?
Can I can I work with you with nutritional practice? I’ve had this happen. But on the other hand, some people come because it’s a nutritional lifestyle and metabolic psychiatry practice. Sometimes people come in with I know this is bothering me. I’ve gained a few pounds. I’m not sleeping well.
My husband and I are drinking, two glasses of wine a night when we usually only had one glass on a Friday night at dinner. Whatever, it’s a varied number of things and it often includes things that people are drinking as well. And those people intuit that something is wrong. Maybe it’s a habit.
Maybe it’s too much. Maybe it’s, I’m not eating enough of their vegetables or taking a healthy lunch to work like they might have been doing. And they then come in with that bothering them. And that’s often a really good place to say If that’s one thing we can start to work on while we build out a plan, because what I’m noticing now, because of the uniqueness of each of us in our microbiome, the plan for each person is slightly different.
So, what you may need to eat is not necessarily going to be the same thing as the next person. And the science is evolving around, around food as medicine as well.
[00:10:15] Gabby Reece: I think it is interesting though, that we. if we can be honest with ourselves and have that practice. And you said something really important.
I went through this with my husband. He I’d say about 16 years ago, stopped drinking alcohol altogether. But what was interesting because of the sugar and alcohol, people don’t realize that we then are managing a sugar addiction, which I always think it’s funny. They serve donuts at AA. I always, it’s like one for the other and my husband doesn’t eat desserts but let me tell you that first kind of six weeks.
He wanted dessert because he was, he realized that, okay, that alcohol is a no go and then it became a giant bottle of Pellegrino, something in lieu of something else. So, I just want to bring that up because I think we do get attached to habits or rituals. Or that a certain feeling and it’s easier if we can find that substitution that you know doesn’t impact us so negatively.
I think it really is a really helpful tool.
[00:11:16] Uma Naidoo: I love what you said because I have an example that occurred during COVID where I was able to work with more than one person to had was working with an executive and he was used to having a martini when he went out to his business meetings. So, he would look forward to that.
And maybe his business meetings were, three nights a week, but now he was at home and he started, he and his wife started to either have a glass of wine or mix a martini. So, he was able to work with him because he was so used to this habit of actually using a sparkling water like Hello, Greeno.
And pouring it in chilled, using the special martini glass that he had with the, I think he had a twist or some olives or something in it and actually have it for most of the evening, just sipping the water and enjoying it. And once, maybe a couple times a week, have it, have the martini if you wanted it.
But it was more that he realized and what switched for him in his head was he really liked the idea of holding the glass and the chill effect. And honestly, he. He wasn’t, although he had gotten a little too used to them, he was able to switch out of that and he did it carefully. But it’s so important to be able to replace a habit that someone enjoys in this case it was the aesthetic of holding the glass and all of that feeling with something that was healthier for him.
[00:12:35] Gabby Reece: Yeah. And I think that’s important. I, and you said it, you don’t want people to feel deprived. And I feel like our psychology never works well. We get fixated on the very thing that we say, oh, you can’t have that. And so, I really think that’s an important part of getting people to make shifts. And I appreciate that. Your focus is, integrating, bridging nutrition with mood.
[00:12:59] Uma Naidoo: Yes, nutrition with mental health and mood is, mood and anxiety are the leading, issues that people are dealing with right now.
[00:13:08] Gabby Reece: Would you say that’s I often wonder too. Because we do have a, never a pause because of technology, right?
There’s always one more email to answer and one more text, um, and then also everything’s very easy. If I want something, I can order it and deliver. I wonder from your point of view in a world that’s gotten very easy and also easy to occupy our minds maybe with things that don’t support our mood or mental health.
How much of it. It’s almost if we had to put our phones away or work a little more for something, we would almost maybe feel better. Like somehow all of this ease is actually working against our biology.
[00:13:53] Uma Naidoo: I, I agree with you on that point as well. One of the other things that occurred the last few years is how easy it was to get food delivered.
[00:14:01] Uma Naidoo: And how easy it was to have that replace the tension. Many of us may have been feeling about how many meals do I prepare? I’ve got now, kids are. back from college, families were back together because of the situation in COVID. And sometimes there was a lot of stress around meals because parents or whoever was preparing the food were now doing multiple meals instead of what was usually, an easy pattern that they’ve gotten into.
One of the things that I like people To understand about food is to find something that they either like to do that replaces that habit of just, hitting the button on the phone, hitting the app that they’re going to use and getting something delivered, maybe even replacing a recipe. Say they like Mexican food.
Is there a version of that? One of the dishes they like that they can do more healthfully at home. It’s not so hard. You just get a few spices, we can order, we can still order stuff online, but we order the groceries online, or we learn to get stuff from the farmer’s market, because I think. Almost changing a little bit of the mindset around that becomes important and people feel that when they even get the children involved in food preparation or food shopping and choosing those colorful vegetables and choosing something different to eat maybe a vegetable they haven’t tried or fruit they haven’t tried, it becomes more of a family involvement and it becomes more of a group task That can be enjoyed.
It doesn’t have to feel like a chore. So, changing the mindset around that ease, I think is very much, we tend to be an impatient nation because things are easy for us. We can order stuff online; we can order it on our phone and things are pretty much on our doorstep.
Without much time. So, stepping back a little bit from that and realizing that some of those things are not helping us, if you’re if you suddenly need something for your computer and you’re, getting onto a podcast and you need it delivered from the stationery store. That’s very different.
But, food and beverages and even in some places in certain instances, alcohol can be easily delivered. So, we need to it. We need to figure out our way around this and decide what’s best for our health. And that has to be an internal decision that someone comes to. Often, it’s hard to tell someone that because they don’t always want to hear it, they’ve got to come to it.
[00:16:22] Gabby Reece: Can we talk about specifically You know, let’s call it the class of anxiety and depression and even, ADHD, there’s some very specific things. And again, I’m honoring that everyone is different, but things that show up that can really impact this. So maybe we could just start with good old fashioned sugar.
Nobody wants to talk about sugar, but the thing is it’s not only real, it’s also in everything. And how many words, how many what are there I don’t know how many numbers of names for sweeteners.
[00:17:03] Uma Naidoo: Yeah, it’s actually, the last time I checked the repository had 262 other names used for sugar on food labels.
My favorite is brown rice syrup, because people associate brown rice with the healthier grain, and its actually brown rice syrup is simply sugar. So I think that’s an excellent point because I ask people to read that on their food labels and look to see if the food label is huge and they don’t recognize the names like a ton of sugar and that but knowing where the hidden sugars are becomes important and often it’s savory foods.
So, tomato, store bought tomato sauce, ketchup, salad dressings. Yogurts, fruited yogurts. People think blueberries are super healthy. Dr. Nigel said then they get a fruited yogurt, but a half cup can have up to eight teaspoons of sugar. So, someone understanding that four grams one teaspoon of sugar is four grams is important cause our food labels are using grams.
But our recipes have pounds and ounces and teaspoons and cups and things like that. So, someone just looking at a food label and knowing that they can calculate in what, even a protein bar. Oh, this is a so called, this is a favorite protein bar or something that they’d like, or they think is healthy.
And they look at it and it actually has so much sugar, even though it has other actually relatively healthy ingredients. And so, it’s all a, learning, what those options are.
[00:18:23] Gabby Reece: I think it’s especially interesting because you have people who now they’re trying, but that you just said they have 260 names for sugars.
And so, I think people either one of two things happen, either they go, okay, the middle of the store is out. I’ll make my own dressings at home. I think I know primal kitchen ketchup has no added sugar. And I have one of my teenage daughters is complains about it. But if you just started your six year old or five year old with ketchup like that, they wouldn’t know the difference.
They wouldn’t know. But I do, it’s like this idea of trying to really support people through not feeling overwhelmed. Oh, what can I eat? There’s nothing I can eat. There’s nothing easy. I’m going to but the fact is we were never really supposed to eat
[00:19:07] Uma Naidoo: that stuff. We weren’t supposed to eat that stuff, and I think the point that you made is actually excellent, because the more times we can offer someone in real time, offer them a solution, like a ketchup with no sugar or salad dressing, three ingredient vinaigrette, you can make in a mason jar, you have these ingredients at home provides a solution that is easy for them, so they don’t feel as overwhelmed a couple of things about sugar, I think people don’t, Realize that sugar actually directly impacts neurons and impacts the brain.
So, the more sugar we consume is really not helpful for us. We have to consume sugar. It’s part of our natural need in the body. And a nutrient we need. But we can consume it from fruit, from other foods that get broken down in sugar. But we just don’t want those added sugars. The other thing I think that people don’t realize is that, there’s been research and you alluded to it earlier on that showed that, cravings for sugar taps into the dopamine reward pathway, which is the same pathway that say, a street drug like cocaine activates.
So, it can easily become something we get too used to. Unfortunately, food manufacturers figured out way back that, when the low fat pieces came in, I think it was, certainly decades ago, they reduced the fat, but they added back in sugar to flavor up food. So little things like that, and then the development of things like high fructose corn syrup have not helped us because they had so many foods.
You’re right, food is not intended to, if you think about how our grandmothers, our great grandmothers baked or cooked, that they were using natural ingredients. They were not pumping things up with either artificial sweeteners or tons of, cane sugar and stuff like that.
They were baking in a slight and cooking in a very different way. And we have to We teach ourselves because the food industry is not really going to do that. Then they’re not going to tell us the amount of sugar they can have the label, but it’s up to us to get educated.
[00:21:12] Gabby Reece: So, you mentioned something that I just want to go back to you. You talk a lot about neuro inflammation, neuro oxidative stress, neuro plasticity emotional immunity and reinforcing the gut brain access. So, it’s really. Getting people to understand the pathway from the brain and the gut and how interconnected it is. This is something that you spend a lot of time sharing and talking about with your patients.
[00:21:42] Uma Naidoo: One, one of the mechanisms in nutritional psychiatry that helps us understand this connection between food and mood, food and anxiety, food and mental health overall, is this gut brain connection. And it’s one of the mechanisms.
For example Many people don’t realize that the gut and brain arise from the exact same cells in the human embryo and they divide up and form organs which are far apart in the body, but they remain connected by the 10th cranial nerve called the vagus nerve and the vagus nerve allows for two way delivery.
Messaging of these chemical messages and neurotransmitters between the brain and the gut all the time. Now if you take that a step further you realize that people know about serotonin and they call it the happiness hormone much of the serotonin about 90 percent of it is made in the gut as well as where the receptors are located So we start to realize that where the where our food is being digested is also Where there is where these, neurotransmitters are hanging out, they all interact with the trillions of microbes and I’ve got these microbes on a day that we are eating healthy foods and healthy fats and healthy salads and lots of fiber broken down to.
Products in the gut, which is short chain fatty acids, which actually lower inflammation, fend off oxidative stress, et cetera, and really feed and nurture the microbes. But on dates, it’d be going through that fast food lane and upsizing the fries that we buy because they. It’s engineered and they actually have sugar in them.
They, they engineered to be hyper palatable. So, we are upsizing, we’re finishing the front. And if that’s what you’re consuming, then, the breakdown products of those meals actually more toxic to the gut environment and the lining of the gut, which is a single cell lining thin. And that’s when you start to create damage over time to the gut and set up inflammation and oxidative stress, et cetera.
The damage to the gut then can lead to things like leaky gut. So just a simple breakdown of how this gut brain connection explains that food mood connection and just an important understanding we need to have.
[00:23:48] Gabby Reece: I think that’s so helpful. And I love your take on, because we have.
I don’t even know if they can count trillions, in our microbiome and it’s Oh, feeding the good, not feeding the bad. I don’t think they really know. So, it’s listened, try to eat good and let’s see what happens. But I found and I’m curious. Your take on this. For example, if I am eating weird food, like I’m off the rails a little bit, or sugar, I see that becomes a more powerful calling.
And, someone said to me once maybe you’re feeding those elements, those That group in your microbiome, they’re becoming more powerful. They’re asking and requesting because I guess the notion is you have this telepathic communication from the gut to the brain and the gut is like, Hey, let’s get more of that sugar because those guys are powerful.
And sometimes I think when we can look at it that way, like we’re not bad people, we’re not lazy, we’re not getting it. It’s no, we’ve got some really powerful things happening inside us calling for these things. We just have to ride it out and, eat and not drink certain things to let the other elements of the microbiome build up.
I don’t know. I think if people realize there’s that little battle going on in there. There’s a battle and a balance.
[00:25:04] Uma Naidoo: You’re absolutely correct. Those good microbes are the ones that eat the salad and the healthy fats and are happy. The bad microbes are the ones who are like, those French fries and all that sugar and that ice cream.
That’s when they thrive. And when they thrive, they actually upset the balance by taking over. And that’s when they form these toxic substances. So rather than label we and Get upset. I think you’re right about that, because it’s so easy to for these things to bother us. Rather, we think about it as look, it’s a battle between these microbes, and it’s how we decide to feed them.
There are things that are, part of how our brain works, like stress precipitates habit circuits in the brain. So If we are very stressed and we’re reaching for ice cream or reaching for whatever that so called treat may be, unfortunately, those treats mistreat the brain, so it’s a delicate balance, so we feel stressed, we start to eat that, but then, like you said, either the microbes are like, oh, I want more of that, or the brain signals the stress precipitates this habit, so I want to go The following night and I get two cups of ice cream, a little bit more different flavor.
It starts to set us up that way. If we just understand those things a little bit and see that, do we build in, a mindful practice? Do we get, find a recipe which I have actually, and this is your brain on food, where we made an ice cream just from bananas, and you can actually make a chocolate flavor by adding something good for your brain, which is cacao nibs and natural cacao and make it a chocolate flavor.
So, there are ways to get around this by having the thing that you crave but making a better version of it. For me. What I find with my patients is that interrupts that circuit, where they’re like I’ll have only half a bowl tomorrow, it ends up being a full bowl or two, because your mind is looking for it, your brain is looking for it, your body is looking for it.
And so are the microbes. They, they are craving it too. So, you, that is correct. And I think the more that we just can help ourselves understand that the more we can maybe shift our habits
[00:27:05] Gabby Reece: a little bit. Yeah. I read years ago that book 10 percent human, and basically it implies that we’re here to serve the microbes and, we’re kidding ourselves if, we think that we’re, hosting them. It’s we give them a place to live and they’re calling the shots on some, on a lot of levels.
[00:27:22] Uma Naidoo: And yes, this is true.
[00:27:24] Gabby Reece: I, and in a way I, it’s not, it’s always about personal responsibility, but. When we can understand how powerful it is to get these systems in place, we can, I think we can really support ourselves.
And what about alcohol? Maybe we could just I don’t really alcohol it’s in, I find it very interesting because I grew up in a culture, I grew up in the West, in the Caribbean and like islands, alcohol is. It’s very cultural. So, I didn’t really take to drinking alcohol too much, but again, we, I’ve navigated with my husband.
It’s socially almost weirder if you never drink. How do you get people to enjoy their lives? And where to put alcohol in all of this.
[00:28:09] Uma Naidoo: Yeah, I think that it’s one of those topics where it’s very much a personal choice, but it has to be an informed personal choice. I don’t think that we can.
If someone is struggling and running to problems that we have to step in, especially as a psychiatrist, step in and have the conversation that’s hard, which is, what can we do to help you with this? And that’s never an easy conversation. And sometimes, to be honest, people are not ready for it.
How I guide people is on in a few ways. If you don’t drink. No reason to start drinking now is, if you don’t drink and that’s not part of how you were raised or your culture, or it wasn’t something that interested you, no, no reason to pick that, pick up that habit. But if you do consume alcohol, there are better ways to do it.
One is just teaching people about alcohol and the impact on sleep. And if you’re relying on that glass of wine to help you sleep, it’s going to upset your circadian rhythm and your sleep architecture. Not a good idea to be relying on it to sleep. If you are consuming too much and you picked up your use during the pandemic, this is the time where we need to renegotiate that for you and help you figure out whether it’s the, sparkling water in a martini glass or having a beverage that’s sparkling, but doesn’t have the calories or sweeteners that, or sugar that alcohol does.
That’s not a good idea. And then if you’re having a cocktail cleaning up. The kind of cocktail, so none of the added sugars, the juices, the simple syrup, which is simply sugar, the multiple types of alcohol in it, because those just only add to the sugar load and the calories that you don’t need to consume.
So, if you’re going to have it, have a cleaner version of a cocktail, a fresh squeeze of a citrus fruit versus a juice, and do it with awareness. Do it with awareness. Because there are some, there is a body of second body of research around alcohol, where it’s, it doesn’t damn alcohol entirely.
There are some benefits to it, but I think that becomes confusing for people. It’s my job to figure out the science behind it, but my guidance for people is. Don’t pick it up if you don’t drink, if you drink in moderation, and if you, if it’s a problem, you’re going to hear from your friends, family, or probably one of your doctors, like myself, to say, look, maybe this is a conversation we need to have, and the reason I come to this Gabby, because I, I see a lot of polarization around topics like this, and I think that as a doctor, I’ve got to understand that my patients come from all sorts of backgrounds.
They may have never drunk alcohol. They may come from a Parents who are alcoholic, they may have had very horrific childhood where alcohol was a part of that and they either choose not to drink or they’re struggling with it themselves. So, you’ve got to be open in order to be able to help them. And that’s where this philosophy of finding the path for that individual to me just makes the most sense.
[00:31:04] Gabby Reece: And I, I have to say, and again, tonally, you feel to me like a person who would be so easy to talk to is taking shame away from all of this, taking shame away from the ice cream at 11 o’clock at night, taking away the shame of maybe drinking too much alcohol and getting to, Hey, how can we make this better for you?
[00:31:27] Gabby Reece: And letting people know that everybody is battling. Something. And we all have this opportunity. So, I appreciate that because I think that sort of keeps people holding things in because they think that it’s somehow, something about their character when it’s no, this is like fighting a real battle. And how do you get a system in place to help you?
[00:31:49] Uma Naidoo: It is like finding a battle, and that’s when even understanding that, physiology is involved, and the sub brain is involved, and the sub body is involved. I think it’s very scary for people to just see things in the media or on social media.
However, they consume information with, Parts of their liver and comments about alcohol. I think it’s very scary. And I think that in my opinion, I will educate my patients and I’ll give them exactly that same kind of information, but in a way that is not shaming. Because when you hear that, you’re already struggling with something.
Whether it, sometimes it’s, soda. Sometimes it’s a similar thing but drinking too much of soda or energy drinks because of brain fog of just feeling so exhausted through this time that we’ve had and whatever it is, the shame doesn’t help because the shame just makes people feel worse.
So, taking away that process and helping them find a way that they can communicate with you is the most important and also feel. People do so many different things with food or beverages. It could be coffee. It could, you just you have to embrace what the person is doing and help offer them the help when they need it.
And, addictions. Yes. That’s a, that’s an intervention moment. Yeah,
[00:33:02] Gabby Reece: you must be a good poker player because you must hear some wild stuff and then you have to be like, Oh, okay, let’s talk about that. So, I read one time that, and this was a long time ago that Americans consume a lot or something on average, 20 percent of their calories in a liquid form. Is this, is it, am I off the park on this?
[00:33:21] Uma Naidoo: I don’t know the most recent stat on that, but I would, I would agree because people do drink a lot of soda. And just sweetened beverages. I say sweetened iced tea that’s pre made or even healthy drinks like kombucha, when added sugars added to it, it’s just, you have to look at the balance of the amount of sugar on the label.
So, I don’t put the exact stat, but I would agree with that. I know Yeah, I think one of the things that people don’t realize is about alcohol is when you do consume, say you are consuming a lot of alcohol, you can really be struggling with anxiety because it’s the chicken and egg story.
You might be drinking the alcohol to calm your mind, but the unfortunate reality is you’re worsening. Aspects of how that is physiologically what breaking down in your body and you can be waking up with extreme anxiety and a heart racing and have almost mild withdrawal. So, it’s really a very delicate balance.
On the other hand, if you’re not consuming enough water just to hydrate, you can be dehydrated and experience anxiety. So important to understand the balance.
[00:34:23] Gabby Reece: And it’s really bad. For people listening, if you’re dehydrated and then you go to bed, it’s very hard on your heart. It is something that we have to be mindful.
I’m all day. I have certain days where I’m like, Oh, really? Have you even had water today? So, I think that’s a constant. On the sugar part, the last question I have on the sugar part is. Stevia. I was really fascinated because, if you eat a stevia leaf, a plant, it’s very sweet.
I personally, you go, Oh, a few drops in a tea cause it’s bitter, but stevia is so powerfully sweet, but even that maybe you don’t have an insulin reaction, but the brain, maybe we can just talk about Stevia specifically.
[00:35:02] Uma Naidoo: So, Stevia is natural in in, and I think that is where it could be a little bit of a trap because it’s not entirely bad.
It’s definitely an option for people if you use a little bit, a couple of drops of tea and that’s, but if baking with stevia, cooking with stevia, putting it everywhere where it’s just taking over sugar, it’s, that’s too much for your body and your brain. Unfortunately, there are studies that showed that even with things like stevia, they can actually impact your anxiety.
So, we’ve got to Make sure that if you have a certain condition, one of the things we do is we check substances that you might be thinking of, like the fruited yogurt I mentioned. A patient of mine was actually, had read my book and was eating a ton of yogurt, just, one, one every day, and sometimes as a snack, but she was eating the small sizes, but not realizing the amount of added sugars they had in it.
So sometimes we’re trying to do the right thing, but we just don’t have all the information. With artificial sweeteners in general, the way that they work is they, if you think about a little packet of Stevia or any artificial sweetener, there’s a tiny bit right compared to the amount of sugar you might add in a teaspoon.
This is because they are hyper sweet. So, another word for them is nonnutritive sweeteners. They are hyper sweet. And what happens is they enter your body and then The way that our bodies work, the body starts to think sugar is on the way, and it starts to react in that way, but the sugar doesn’t arrive because it’s actually not sugar, it’s a sweetener, and that’s one of the things that actually upsets the balance, in addition to the fact that artificial sweeteners actually disrupt the gut microbiome to varying degrees.
The general guidance is be, use in moderation don’t overdo it there were a couple that, that had less of an impact erythritol was one of them, less of an impact on insulin resistance, but then there were other research came out about erythritol and the heart and other things, so with a lot of artificial sweetness, sometimes I’m super cautious, and the reason is I don’t think we have all of the research yet.
The newer suite is and that will be slowly evolving to see what the research shows. So, moderation, try not to be too reliant on them. I will use a touch of honey and even though it’s, it All off, all of the sugar, all of these different forms of sugar breakdown to sugar. The issue is honey has other benefits for it.
So, if you’re not entirely plant based and you’re willing to have some honey, that’s an option too, because it comes with other benefits. And to me, that’s a little bit My, my offsetting the sugar by taking it in that way.
[00:37:43] Gabby Reece: And it comes from nature. So, your body’s Oh I know this, I know what to do with it.
And I, and they even say like coconut sugar has minerals and everything in moderation. But I think that has other things. Yeah. Yeah. I think the fact that we think there’s a sort of a. Biological free lunch anywhere. We keep trying. I like it. I want it too, but so far, it’s not showing up. The other two, two areas that you really talk about is we hear we now people are really dialed into, seed oils, vegetable oils.
And, going back to the French fries, people don’t realize too, mostly if you’re going to go to a restaurant, it is less expensive to cook with these oils. And if you have a fried food like a French fry, the worst thing is that the oil is heated up, cooled down, heated back up when it’s being used.
So, this is also where it becomes a dangerous oil, but you’re finding, Hey, let’s stick to. High level olive oil and coconut and avocado. And are there any other oils that you like? Macadamia nut oil doesn’t go bad, right?
[00:38:55] Uma Naidoo: So, with macadamia nut oil, it’s still made from the nut itself. So usually it’s used in cold preparations.
It’s not usually a high heat oil. My favorites are just generally extra virgin olive oil. And for higher heat cooking, avocado oil. I’ll use a touch of coconut oil. And I will use butter or ghee. So clarified butter. Or some but itself, but all in moderation so that, depending on what I’m cooking these are things I will add because there’s also been a lot of rethinking around, and not all physicians on board with this, but rethinking of our studies of saturated fats.
So, I think a little bit of butter is okay, this nutrition the nutrition that things are changing. all of the time.
[00:39:39] Gabby Reece: Dr. Naidu, are you being diplomatic right now?
[00:39:40] Uma Naidoo: I am being diplomatic, because even I really had really started to revisit my thinking because a very important study came out really the beginning of COVID in 2020 and it was the most cited study a cited article in JCC, which is the journal of the American College of Clinical Cardiology.
I think I may have boxed that, but it was the most cited paper and it really looked at saturated fat. Whereas I went from the beginning of my clinic where I was really saying to people, don’t eat this amount of butter or this type of this amount of red meat. I’d relax that a little bit to be more inclusive of the quality and again, in moderation, so that you’re having quality food.
And I’d much rather someone have a steak or whatever their choice of protein is, or grilled tofu, veg, whatever it is, but have it be a quality product than a processed one of the things that processed meats have in them are nitrates, which drive depression. So, it’s just. Just one more thing.
[00:40:41] Gabby Reece: It is very interesting how, and who knows the politics behind it, where they can say like fat is bad and how we culturally take so long to shift the thinking on that. Gluten. Now I, if we did wheat the way we used to do it and it was farmed the way it was, it maybe we, it wouldn’t have, I feel this way about dairy.
Maybe I’m wrong, if I lived in Pennsylvania and had access to a Quaker farm where I could get real whole raw dairy. I think a lot of people have found that they’re actually not lactose intolerant. They’re more the process intolerant, but gluten seems to be one of those foods that we worked through being, in food processing that don’t seem to support mood.
[00:41:28] Uma Naidoo: This is mostly correct. The, there’s in fact a lot of evidence that gluten can impact levels of anxiety. And again, it’s the type of gluten, right? We have to realize that, an artisanal loaf of sourdough bread, which has a ferment, fermentation process and a fermented starter has actually less sugar.
So maybe that’s an option if you occasionally want a piece slice of bread, but the process slides. And our supermarkets, the type that you leave on your kitchen counter, you forget, you go away on vacation, you come back and guess what? It’s still there. This is a sign to tell you that, it’s really not that great because it’s pumped up with preservatives and stabilizers and colorants and all of that.
Guidance and gluten does. With my practice, I have to work on a slow elimination of people. If I identify that this could be an issue for them, we remove it, we do it slowly, and we see if they have an uptick in their improvement of their mood and improvement of their anxiety. And I do that simply because people are very used to having eating bread.
And unless They come into it with a gluten intolerance or just celiac it’s tough to separate the person from their lunchtime sandwich that they used to. So how do you do it? And to prove the point, we’ll often just work slowly to eliminate something, replace it with a different type of maybe non gluten grain something that’s a little bit more nutritious.
People do need some whole grains from other foods, but it just doesn’t have to be the processed breads that we’re used to eating.
[00:42:56] Gabby Reece: Yeah. And you’re a big advocate of fiber. So definitely.
[00:43:00] Uma Naidoo: And you can get fiber from whole grains, but you can also get it from vegetables and fruit. So, it’s not like you have to eat bread.
If you are eating healthier, cutting back, so you’re concerned about insulin resistance and you’re monitoring your carbohydrate intake there are other options for you to
[00:43:15] Gabby Reece: get fiber too. It was, is such a win in this conversation is if I took somebody to a trainer who said, Hey, I want to lose 20 pounds or more or whatever, all of these same things that would benefit and elevate your mood and maybe support you through that will also support.
Okay. Cognitive function, weight management. It’s a great, because you’re hitting three or four birds with one stone. You’re saying the same thing, quite frankly just from a different point of view. It’s
[00:43:49] Uma Naidoo: a, it’s a correct. So I think that The way that I define it is the outcomes that I’m looking for may not be the same as, say, the next doctor, but there are some similar results that happen, which are great for my patients, because I was going to say when we talked earlier, sometimes two weeks later, a patient would call and say, Well, I don’t know why this happened, but I lost two pounds, and part of it is they’re just eating, honestly, Gabby, they’re just eating whole foods versus the processed foods that they had been eating, and they’ve made even one or two switches in what they’re doing and so I think that one of the benefits is that people do lose weight their brain fog improves, their concentration improves, and by fending off inflammation, I one of the things people don’t realize about inflammation and their cognitive health is many of us may have, very silent little changes in the brain and nothing may happen to that in a similar way people may be walking around with, tiny cancer cells and nothing will happen unless they have a lifestyle change or something else makes that cell change.
And one of the driving factors in cognitive disorders is if we’re eating for. Really defend off neuro inflammation if we’re eating healthier, leaning into those vegetables, eating the fiber, having the healthy fats, having some, the so called treats and moderation and really leaning to better foods, you’re actually working to reduce inflammation in your brain, which is very powerful because what that could be doing for any one of us is improving our longevity because we’re really fending off any type of cognitive change by eating healthier for our brain and for our brain cells. Yeah.
[00:45:36] Gabby Reece: And speaking of that you’re a big, you have looked at diets because everyone’s so different. keto, paleo, vegetarian, vegan, whatever. And there is a, you have looked at, and we, people talk about the Mediterranean diet all the time, but for you, this is one that’s showing up very nicely.
And there’s actually an island in Greece. I think that where it’s literally, I think there’s no sign of Alzheimer’s in.
[00:46:03] Uma Naidoo: Yeah. It’s one of the, is it one of the blue suns? Yes.
And literally that particular island is almost seven years. They live seven years longer than any of the other Greek islands, but to your point, living without Alzheimer’s or dementia, that’s.
[00:46:19] Gabby Reece: I think a lot of people are concerned about that. So, it’s just reminding people how powerful this is. Can we, I would imagine the way you grew up, it would, there was a lot of spices and things about that. Cause when we I think people feel like how am I going to get all those colors or that diversity?
And you’re like, yes. And you are you’re a chef yourself. And I, and it’s yeah, no, the spices count. Like this being playful and experimental and you offer tons of recipes and ways to do that. But maybe you could just on the best cognitive, diet. You talked about the Mediterranean, but polyphenols and turmeric.
Maybe we could just talk about some of your favorite little spices that people don’t realize like, Oh no, this count
[00:47:07] Uma Naidoo: too. I love that topic. So, love spices. And I also think people overlook the fact that they the hidden ammunition we have in our kitchens, because they, if you’re buying a pure spice, they sugar free calorie free salt free and they add flavors.
So, they’re rich in antioxidants. The colors are often those polyphenols from the plants that they are grown from and anti-inflammatory. So, they hit a lot of the high notes for really our brain health. And to your earlier point, they also help our physical body and the rest of our health. Turmeric with a pinch of black pepper is a great one.
If you don’t cook with it, add a little. Caught a teaspoon to a tea, a super smoothie, get you started. And a pinch of black pepper actually activates the active ingredient to make it about 2000% mobile available to your brain and body. So that’s an easy hack. If you can use turmeric, always add a pinch of black pepper.
There are also things like rosemary and thyme. herbs that I love. And there’s a kind of secret antioxidant called luteolin, and that actually has been shown to help brain fog. One of the things that a lot of people are struggling with I hear this about, feeling slump in the afternoon, not feeling like they can concentrate in the afternoon.
And luteolin can be found in Mexican oregano, hot and sweet peppers, time, Parsley, and so many other things. So, these are just little easy things that we can do to brighten up our cognition, to help our attention and over time to really help our brain health. Even the process of fending off that inflammation is very powerful for cognition.
[00:48:48] Gabby Reece: And you stated that you, Julia Childs, you were a fan of her. And I thought it was interesting because. There are so many things that we do in tradition that we forget why we did it because it gets, just gets passed along for, generation to generation. But the original reason there was usually a purpose and what I found interesting talked about because people are always confused, prebiotic, probiotic, one which does what, and you talked about.
A great prebiotic is when you cook a base for so many dishes, like with onions and garlic that this actually is a way to support your gut health. And I think these small reminders to people of, Hey, these. practices that things taste, make, taste great anyway. And for a lot of recipes, their bases anyway, that this actually supports your gut.
[00:49:41] Uma Naidoo: This is all correct. There’s a preparation called sofrito and it’s basically in many cultures, it’s, a base of garlic and onions. Both of those are actual active prebiotics that we should be eating anyway. So, when they form the base of a different dish and each culture will have its own recipe to make maybe a special sauce with tomatoes or, in, in Indian cuisine, it may be the base for a curry, a way we add a lot more spices.
These are, easy things that you can get done. And you, instead of thinking, oh I have to take a supplement, there is a place for supplement, but for supplements, but, oh, I have to take that as a supplement. Actually, you can be doing it the way that you’re eating food every single day.
[00:50:23] Gabby Reece: And I just loved that point. And then, and maybe since you mentioned it, supplements, are there things that you think, hey this is a good fortifying for most people?
[00:50:33] Uma Naidoo: It turns out in the United States, people should be checking, especially when it comes to anxiety, they should You know, this is a routine test your doctor will do in your annual checkup.
You should be checking their magnesium levels and their zinc levels. But many Americans don’t have enough magnesium, and magnesium levels being low can actually worsen your anxiety. So, it’s an easy thing to check. You could also, consume foods. But also, I live in the far northeast, so A lot of people may be deficient in vitamin D and that’s another one worth checking.
And then your B vitamins are really, I like to think B vitamins are brain vitamins, but they actually have a lot of good functions. But I want people to be thinking about getting in those B vitamins because it, it may, it makes a difference.
[00:51:16] Gabby Reece: Are there cultures that are doing well with their magnesium and zinc. And what do you think it is in their foods that they’re doing as a regular practice that maybe we’re not.
[00:51:27] Uma Naidoo: Let me answer it in in a different way, which is most of most Americans are eating the standard American diet, which is called sad for a reason because of, There’s a lot of processed, out of processed foods and fast foods involved and cultures where they’re just eating more actual food and whole foods and actual vegetables or less processed meats, but just if they’re eating meat, they, just the actual steak or the chicken or whatever it is, or lots of seafood because they’re rich in omega threes.
I, I think they do win because the difference of eating more whole foods versus fast foods or processed, auto processed foods are where those nutrients just naturally come from.
[00:52:06] Gabby Reece: I don’t know about you, but when I like to eat at a friend’s house or maybe I go to a restaurant and there’s something in there that I don’t know what it is, but it’s just, is amazing.
And then you learn and then you mess around with it at your own house and you do it. Yeah. There is something. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So fun about learning about a new spice or a new vegetable, figuring out, getting someone sharing with you how to prepare it, and then being able to present it. You’re like, Oh, this, I didn’t know how to do this.
[00:52:34] Uma Naidoo: I love that. I do that all the time. I love it. Yeah, I love that too. It’s just a way to expand your palate, find new ingredients you can work with, make your food more interesting, cause I think when we have these conversations, we, and I think you and I will agree on this food is also enjoyable and it’s meant to fuel our bodies, but it’s all in our brain, but it’s also to be enjoyed, how do we balance that up with feeling less restricted and less rule bound, but also being mindful about the choices we’re making.
[00:53:03] Gabby Reece: I really appreciate this conversation and you being a really powerful bridge and interpreter between, people feeling good and supported, but also giving them the tools, not just throwing a pill at them. I really appreciate that. Do you can you just remind people all the places that they can find you?
[00:53:26] Uma Naidoo: Thank you, Gabby. So, you can find me online at my website, which is Uma in do md.com. Follow me on social media where we have links to the new book and all updated information, and we share research all the time. It’s at Dr A-A-N-A-I-D-O-O, and the book is coming up soon. And it’s called calm your mind with food and it’s available for pre order or, I think it’ll help your anxiety.
I believe it will. So, Dr. Naidoo, thank you so much. Thank you, Gabby. It’s such a pleasure to see you and talk to you again.
About Dr. Uma Naidoo
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 the Wall Street Journal.
Dr. Naidoo is also the national bestselling author of This Is Your Brain on Food.
In her book, 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.