Dr. Uma Naidu has changed the way we eat for the better. With its global bestsellers This is your brain on foodThe nutritional psychiatrist outlines the food-mood connection and what we should put on our plates to ward off depression, OCD, anxiety, and more. Simply put, Dr. Naidu highlighted the power of food in a way never seen before.
Now Dr. Naidu is back Calm Your Mind with Food: A Revolutionary Guide to Controlling Your Anxiety, In this insightful book, she discusses the most complex mental health issue of our time in even greater depth, revealing how anxiety connects to the brain and gut, and solutions that don’t require prescription drugs. Is. As Dr. Naidu writes, the ability to fight anxiety should not be reserved only for those who have access to good health care.
Dr Naidu, who offers personal anecdotes about her parenting and nutrition journey in her new book, never proselytizes or judges. His knowledge on how to calm our minds with food is all-encompassing. My work is about equity, she says The Sunday PaperRespect what you want to eat but make changes for your best brain health.
Conversation with Dr. Uma Naidu
You write that you have compassion and concern for all those suffering from anxiety today. What are you looking at?
I don’t think people realize how widespread the concern is. the Lancet has published a paper stating that concern has increased by 25 percent [since 2020], and it has since held a leading position in mental health. Covid exposed the mental health crisis that was always there. In early 2020, a shortage of Zoloft occurred in the United States, leading to a spike in new diagnoses of mood disorders, particularly those with anxiety. This has been a very difficult time for people.
That’s why it’s so important for everyone to know ways to feel better. Globally, more than 70 percent of people suffering from mental illness do not receive any treatment from health care workers. Putting it all together, you realize there must be other solutions. And the textbook diagnosis of anxiety through the DSM-5-TR. [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders]While this is a standardized manual that mental health professionals use, it does not cover enough people and all people.
What are some misconceptions about anxiety?
A misconception is that anxiety is all bad and that it should be something we fix versus use to propel us forward. Secondly, anxiety can be cured only with medicine or therapy. many people think, If it’s anxiety, I have to take medicine, And while I really believe in therapy, and certainly for some of my patients, medications can be life-saving, but they are not the only treatment. I have seen in my clinical work that a large number of people can use a nutritional psychiatry and lifestyle plan that includes breathing, movement, exercise, hydration, making healthy changes to their diet, and meal preparation. . All these things really contribute to relieving anxiety.
Talk to us about the connection between immunity, anxiety and the gut. What is important to understand?
It is not necessary that people keep these body parts together. The gut and the brain are connected, which I’ll talk about in my first book. In my new book, I explain the high-level gut-brain connection again, and I also include this other connection: immunity. Our immune system is the system that protects our body, and about 70 percent of it is in the gut. This means that these immune cells are interacting with the food we eat. Therefore, it is important to know that the immune system and the gut are interconnected. I felt that this conversation wasn’t really talked about and therefore, it was a missing piece for many people.
I want people to understand the basics of science. They can skip this in the book and go straight to parts two and three about foods and interventions. But when you have a basic understanding of how it all works in the body, and you think, It affects the immune system, it affects my anxiety, and then you want For making [dietary and lifestyle] Change, it’s really important.
Please provide us with a preview of the “Anxiety Relief Meal Plan” from your book. Which foods should we reach for first?
The Mediterranean diet is the best place to start. It covers several basic principles that should be taken into account. It is the combination of these foods that can be powerful. Many people have heard of the Mediterranean diet before, but I’ve included recipes in the book to make it more inclusive and interesting. For example, I mix Asian spices with Mediterranean foods, and Asian foods with Mediterranean spices. It’s a way to expand our view of the Mediterranean diet and show people that it can be so much more.
How should we approach what we eat?
Thinking about edible foods, I talk about building a nutritional psychiatric plate. To do this, I want people to think about the following:
Include as many plants and vegetables as possible on your plate. Aim to make these a kaleidoscope of colors and textures.
Then, add healthy protein equal to the size of the palm of your hand. This healthy protein can be found in baked tofu, cauliflower steak, chicken breast, or steak—ideally grass-fed, if that’s accessible to you.
Next, add healthy fats. It could be olive oil to garnish the green salad on your plate, which is part of that vegetable section.
Then, add a healthy, complex carbohydrate. This could be a small portion of quinoa so you can get a few healthy grams of protein and fiber.
I want people to think about creating their plates this way. Also, experiment with spices and herbs and change up the vegetables so you can always make it work for you.
You believe that perfectionism and restrictions can be harmful. This probably comes as a relief, as healthy eating can often make us think it’s all or nothing.
this is so true. Right now in this country, more people eat meat than do not eat meat. More people drink alcohol; More people drink coffee. These foods and food groups that get demonized really need to be embraced. We have to find a way to consume these and not feel like we are going to do something wrong. Yes, some of them have problems, like dairy. But I’m not saying eat dairy products every day and make it your only source of protein or probiotics. I’m telling you can do Enjoy dairy in portions. You can mix it with some cinnamon or blueberries. You can do it this way, which means you can adapt and have a flexible, open diet full of eating whole foods.
I feel very strongly that when you hear that you can’t eat something, it comes from a restrictive mindset that is very exclusionary for people. I believe the only way to get this country out of the nutrition crisis and address our concerns is to find a way forward by being inclusive. It’s about saying, ‘Okay, have a steak, but how can you change it to reduce your anxiety?’
Uma Naidu, MD, is a board-certified Harvard nutrition psychiatrist, professional chef, and nutritional biologist. She is the founder and director of the first and only hospital-based nutritional and metabolic psychiatry service at Mass General Hospital in the United States. She serves as Director of Nutritional Psychiatry at the MGH Academy and is on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. Learn more at atumanaidoomd.com.
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