Author’s Note: Dr. Season 8 of the Chasing Life podcast with Sanjay Gupta goes back to basics with an in-depth examination of the brain in various states. Each chapter will focus on one of those states (disoriented brain, fearful brain, depressed brain, and others) to highlight what’s going on in our heads and how it affects our bodies.
(CNN) — What are you actually eating? Decades of research support what you say you eat and highlight the important health effects of good nutrition.
Healthy food choices increase people’s overall life expectancy and reduce the risk of developing various medical problems, including heart disease and cancer.
The effects of food on health are not limited to the body. They extend to the mind, affecting not only our risk of future brain diseases (such as stroke and dementia), but our ability to think clearly in the moment, as well as our mood and mental health.
But what to eat for brain health, or even how to measure it, isn’t so simple. Many of us have been told that foods like blueberries, salmon, nuts and leafy greens are brain foods. But how do they work? Are they neuroprotective? Do they make us smarter? Need to be more cautious? Live a stress-free life? Are you happy?
Nutritional psychiatrist Dr. Uma Naidoo has made her career discovering which foods improve brain function and positively affect the way we feel. He is the director of nutrition and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, a writer, and a chef.
Naidoo describes this new and rapidly growing field as “the intersection of nutrition and mental health.”
We’re not at the point where I’m saying, “Eat this many blueberries to improve your mood.” But we’re certainly growing in the scientific evidence that says, ‘You can create a nutritional psychiatry plate for your mood,'” he tells CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Chasing Life Podcast.
It’s not clear how many blueberries or ounces of salmon a day we need to eat to improve our mood, but the Standard American Diet, known as SAD, that many people eat doesn’t help our mood, Naidoo said.
This diet is called SAD for a reason, he said. It’s high in calories and low in nutrients, full of refined carbohydrates, bad fats, and added sugars, and lacks fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and clean proteins.
“Anytime we can add those leafy greens, whole foods to our plate…and get away from that processed fast food a little bit, we’ll be healthier as a country,” he says, noting that the processed foods are heavily processed. Designed to trick our brains so we can’t stop overeating.
What can you do to grow your brain and improve your mood?
Naidoo offers these five tips. To learn more about the brain benefits of eating a well-balanced diet and how what you eat affects your mood, listen to Naidoo in detail on Chasing Life.
1. Eat whole foods to stay healthy
Aim to make up 80% of your diet from real, whole, fiber-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains with a low glycemic index, healthy fats and high-quality, well-sourced proteins, says Naidoo. . For the remaining 20%, there is room to “enjoy life as it comes”.
“Following the 80/20 rule allows for a diet discipline with some flexibility. … By adopting this mindset, we can avoid the guilt that sometimes comes with being inflexible and get all the restful nutrients we need,” she maintains.
2. Enjoy a rainbow of options in your diet
Here’s one you hear a lot: Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits in different colors.
“To improve the nutritional quality of your diet, make sure you’re eating a rainbow,” says Naidoo. “Different plant foods contain a variety of brain-boosting nutrients, such as plant polyphenols.”
He tells people to lean into different vegetables, but not to start with potatoes and sweet potatoes. “I start with cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, legumes, lentils and beans.”
“Don’t forget fruit to get those natural sugars into your body instead of reaching for a chocolate bar, which we know isn’t a healthy option,” she says. “I want people to understand that our bodies and our brain cells need sugar, so where the sugar comes from is important.”
A plant-based diet provides plenty of fiber “to support a healthy, thriving microbiome, leading to a healthy body and mind,” says Naidoo. “Also, fiber helps reduce inflammation and helps calm the mind.”
3. Green foods are your friends
Fruits and vegetables of all colors of the rainbow are great, but Naidoo pays special attention to green.
“We all know vegetables are good for the body, and in nutritional psychiatry we know vegetables are good for the mind,” she says, adding that they contain folate, a B vitamin that’s a building block of important neurotransmitters. Norepinephrine. , serotonin and dopamine.
“Folate is associated with a decrease in depressive symptoms and an overall improvement in cognition, promoting a happier, clearer mind,” she said. “I recommend 4 to 6 cups of greens like spinach, kale, arugula, and spring mix.” Or a day of dandelion greens and arugula is a cruciferous vegetable, so use it in a salad or as a nutrient-dense pesto.”
4. Develop self-awareness about what you eat
Listen to your body, says Naidoo.
“An important aspect of mental health is mindfulness and the ability to notice how things make you feel and act accordingly,” she says.
“If something doesn’t make you feel good or you don’t feel good after eating it, there may be better food options. Pay attention to your mental symptoms and your physical body in response to different foods and use this body intelligence to guide you.
5. Avoid foods that cause anxiety
Inflammation is one of the root causes of stress and poor mood, says Naidoo. “When inflammation occurs in the gut as a result of added/refined sugars, processed foods, and industrial seed oils (soybean, corn, and grape seed), the mind can feel overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious,” she says.
“When the nutrient-poor foods that typically make up a standard Western diet are replaced with plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats (especially omega-3) and protein, the gut calms down and stress is released from the body and mind.”
We hope these five tips help you grow your brain to improve your mood. Listen to the full episode Here (Available in English) Find out what Dr. Uma Naidoo has to say about two oft-controversial food groups: carbohydrates and meat. Join us next week for a special Halloween episode of the Chasing Life podcast as Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks with “King of Horror” author Stephen King.
CNN Audio’s Erin Mathewson contributed to this report.