Join Brett Gilliland with Dr. Uma Naidoo as they talk about what food does to the brain. Dr. Naidoo is a Harvard doctor specializing in nutritional psychiatry and clinical services. She is also a professional chef and the author of the book “This Is Your Brain On Food.” In this episode, Dr. Naidoo shares the role of food choices that help with health issues, especially mental health.
Childhood Exposure Led to a Career
Dr. Naidoo was born into a large Indian family in South Africa. She first learned about food from her maternal grandmother, who taught her how to pick vegetables in the garden, prepare them, and cook them. Dr. Naidoo’s mother and uncles were also in the medical field. Aside from that, a part of their family was into Allopathic medicine and were Vedic practitioners. Having these people surround her, Dr. Naidoo had a holistic impression of life. She took a degree in Psychiatry at Harvard, and all her understanding of nutrition paired with the medications she learned were very useful to her career. However, it was also because Dr. Naidoo felt a missing conversation about nutrition after an encounter with a patient. She decided to pursue it as she loved food and nutrition, and she aims to fill in that gap.
Food and the Brain
There is a connection between the food we consume and how the brain functions. Dr. Naidoo says that there is a short list of food to avoid compared to those needed to eat in her book. Putting the pandemic into consideration, people are suffering a lot from stress and worry today. The result is often stress-eating, and it is always processed food and fast food that people go to as they are accessible. Dr. Naidoo advises avoiding these because these foods contain large amounts of vegetable oils, tons of preservatives, sodium, and added sugar. It is not common knowledge that pasta sauces, ketchup, salad dressings, and the like contain a lot of added sugar, and people do not realize that. They might shift to a sugar-free substitute to avoid the sugar, but then another category to avoid is artificial sweeteners. Glucose serves as fuel for the brain. However, Dr. Naidoo shares the problem that food containing artificial sweeteners can drive symptoms of mental issues like stress and anxiety. Furthermore, trans fat consumed from food can worsen behavioral aggression. That is why Dr. Naidoo suggests changing eating habits one at a time, like drinking more water. Vitamin D is linked to improving anxiety and help create a better mood, so increasing its levels is needed.
About 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, Professional Chef, 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. Naidoo has a special interest in the impact of food on mood and other mental health conditions. In her role as a Clinical Scientist, Dr. Naidoo founded and directed 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 on 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.
Outline of the Episode:
[02:54] Influences surrounding Dr. Naidoo that led to the woman she is today
[06:25] The connection that was drawn between food and mental health
[12:11] What difference does it make to prepare food yourself rather than order them?
[16:37] How fast food choices affect the brain to some degree
[20:44] Get food, exercise, water, and sleep for optimal health and live best
[24:53] Dr. Naidoo’s easiest fix when it comes to nutrition to improve the overall health
[26:39] Why hydration is important and how it should be a habit to drink water
[28:47] Case in point: smoothies versus sliced fruit
[30:15] A deep dive into Dr. Naidoo’s educational background and achievements
[31:46] How important meditation and gratitude are to the brain
[35:02] Dr. Naidoo’s book, “This Is Your Brain On Food”