In his new book, the Indiana-based psychiatrist and farmer discusses foods, including seafood, that can help address the spiraling problem of mental illness 03/11/2021
Can food be an important part of beating depression and anxiety?
Drew Ramsey, M.D. has devoted his career to proving that it can.
Dr. Ramsey is a psychiatrist, bestselling author, popular TEDx speaker, and a farmer. He is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and founder of the Brain Food Clinic in New York City. The clinic offers treatment and consultation for depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns to help people lead joyful, fulfilled lives.
He’s the author of three books, including Eat to Beat Depression: Nourish Your Way to Better Mental Health in Six Weeks, which will be released March 16.
From his 127-acre organic farm in rural Indiana, Dr. Ramsey spoke with Vital Choice Editorial Director Brad Lemley.
Where did you grow up? What started you on the journey to discovering the relationship between food and mental health?
I grew up mostly in Indiana. My parents were part of the back-to-the-land movement. They came to rural Indiana and bought some land and started building a passive solar house. And then I spent the next 20 years in Indiana. I went to college and I was a premed student and really interested in biochemistry and genetics and in the brain and in the mind.
I went to medical school at Indiana University and then had the opportunity to train as a young physician at Columbia where I did my adult psychiatry training.
Throughout this time, I was really been interested in food. I've always been an athlete. I played three sports in college and I think along with that, I’ve just been interested in all the things that I can do when I take good care of myself, how that feels really great.
This used to be weird, but now people are much more interested in how food fits into that. We think more about where food came from. We think about nutrition as it is related to our brain health as well as our overall health.
But you always emphasize that food does not solve all mental health issues…
No, there's not one solution. Medication, psychotherapy, breathwork and mindfulness, sleep hygiene and more can all play a role. But I feel that the role of food in helping to achieve and secure mental health is often overlooked.
You have a simple poem to help people remember what to eat. Can you recite it?
It goes, “Seafood, greens, nuts and beans, and a little dark chocolate.” I’d like to fit fermented foods in there, too, somehow!
And many of these helped you develop what you call the Antidepressant Food Score, right?
Yes, it was a question of looking at the research to really say, okay, what are the nutrient “lacks” that are most associated with depression, which is quickly becoming the most disabling illness on the planet.
Once we identify those missing nutrients, can we then figure out which foods offer the most of those per calorie – in other words, in a nutrient-dense package? That’s what we’ve tried to do.
Let’s talk more about seafood. Why is it so important?
To begin, the bivalves - mussels, clams and oysters - are the types of foods you find in the places where we believe the human brain began to really grow and evolve quickly. Early hominids would gather them, eat them and then deposit them in huge shell middens.
Yes, that was about 160,000 years ago when humans started to break away from the primate pack. And what about salmon?
Well, that's one of the reasons I was excited to talk with you. There aren't a lot of brands that I partner with or work with. One of the reasons it's really easy to work with Vital Choice has been that it sells bags of my favorite brain food. In terms of my journey into seafood, you know, wild salmon is kind of the Holy Grail because it's accessible, it's delicious, and it has the vital nutrients the brain needs.
The omega-3 fat, especially DHA, in wild salmon, is one of the major nutrients in my Antidepressant Food Score system. In a good 6-ounce piece of wild salmon you can get up to 3,000 milligrams of omega-3 fats. But you also get a complete protein, you get selenium, you get iodine…it’s just an amazing example of nutrient density.
What’s the frequency of seafood in your recommendation?
I think you should be looking a three to five seafood meals a week. Along with that, in your weekly rotation, you should be seeing leafy greens, you should see a “rainbow” of brightly colored vegetables, some beans, nuts, fermented foods [such as sauerkraut, miso, kimchi or yogurt] and you are getting to a good place.
What about eggs? You are on a farm, do you have chickens that give you fresh eggs?
Actually, you might get me crying here. We had chickens until two nights ago. A raccoon came and killed about four. But I will say that eggs are great, and a favorite breakfast. They give you a complete protein, vitamin B12, folate, carotenoids, even some omega-3 fat. I really loved those chickens!
We’ve also had milking goats, and, always, a big garden.
So what might three meals in a day, typically, for you and your family look like?
Breakfast could be oatmeal with a scoop of almond or peanut butter, or a scrambled egg frittata. Lunch is often something like lentil soup and a salad. And dinner is often wild salmon, brown rice and a salad or sautéed greens from the garden.
It is good, it’s really no sacrifice to eat this way. And it’s important. Twenty percent of people have a diagnosable mental illness. And 100 percent of us have a brain, which means we are potentially vulnerable to these illnesses if we don’t eat in a certain way or engage with life in a certain way. The good news is that there are things we can to that will really help prevent that. We can make better choices. The book is about better choices.
Learn more in the book Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety: Nourish Your Way to Better Mental Health in Six Weeks, by Drew Ramsey, M.D., currently available for pre-order and will be published March 16, 2021.