Dr. Drew Ramsey is a psychiatrist, an author, and a farmer. He’s a clear voice in the mental health conversation and is one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of using nutritional interventions. He’s an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons as well as a visiting faculty member at IIN, with a module dedicated to nutritional psychiatry and brain food.
We hope you’ll join us for Dr. Ramsey’s free “Supporting Mental Health Through Food” webinar with Jim Curtis on Monday, October 3, 2022, at 12pm Eastern Time. You can register here.
What sets nutritional psychiatry apart is the nutrition and lifestyle factors that are causing the modern brain to struggle. Nutritional psychiatry explores the idea that psychiatry and nutrition are tied together, and these seven principles revolve around this idea.
Neuroplasticity is the scientific concept that the brain grows, changes, and repairs itself. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is the key molecule that helps our brains grow, maintain, and repair themselves. Things like nutrition and lifestyle choices are really involved in BDNF expression. Neuroplasticity is one of the ways the research indicates that nutritional psychiatry helps us heal the brain and support mental health.
Inflammation is one of the currents that’s really pushing our health into very dangerous territory. Inflammation is driving obesity and diabetes – and for a lot of people, inflammation is driving depression, anxiety, and cognitive fog. Previously, inflammation was considered just one aspect of the wellness world, but it’s come to be an important concept in all area of integrative and conventional medicine. We know food choices are one of the major factors driving inflammation, so that’s a great intervention for us in mental health.
3. The Microbiome
The microbiome is the collection of organisms, comprised mostly of bacteria, that lives in our gut. The microbiome is involved in regulating our immune system and is impacted by inflammation. We also increasingly understand this gut-brain axis, which is the way gut health informs our mental health, affecting mood, cognition, anxiety, and more. It’s a very exciting and cutting-edge area of nutritional psychiatry research.
4. Nutrient Density
In my opinion, tracking nutrient density is the only reason to count calories. Calories don’t give us a lot of information about food, just the amount of energy they have. Based on the idea of calorie counting, a can of soda and a kale salad are equal. Nutrient density allows us to understand what we are getting for that caloric load. What does that hundred calories give us? At the center of the antidepressant food scale is the idea of nutrient density, or which foods have the largest quantities of the most important nutrients to fight depression per calorie.
5. Food Categories
Instead of focusing on a single food, we want to focus on food categories. Instead of kale, think about different types of leafy greens. Instead of just wild salmon, think about the broader category of seafood. In nutritional psychiatry, we work with individuals to help them diversify their diets and allow them to focus on making little steps, whatever those may be, within a food category. You may not like almonds, but you may enjoy pumpkin seeds. Or maybe you really don’t like black beans – but you’re interested in lentils. Food categories allow us to be more creative as we think about behavioral and food changes.
As a key tenet of mental health, connection is important when it comes to ourselves, our intentions, our culture, our values, our discipline – all the things that come into play with food choice. IIN calls this relationship to what we eat primary food. It’s the idea that when primary food is balanced, your life feeds you, making what you actually eat secondary.
Connection is also important when it pertains to our food system, and that includes everyone from farmers to individuals who share some of our food-centric hobbies, such as sourdough baking or fermenting foods or growing our own herbs. There are all kinds of ways for us to connect around food. It’s a central aspect of all the cultures in the world.
7. Eater Evolution
It’s important that we continue to evolve and grow as eaters. Our tastes change, our knowledge changes, and the research changes. This really allows us to embrace a lifestyle in which we’re developing and growing in our wellness journeys. Nutritional psychiatry asks us that while we grow, we keep our neurons and our mental health in mind when we approach food.