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Due to the pandemic, anxiety prescriptions have more than doubled. Although people are more anxious than ever, the choice to start taking anxiety meds is a big decision and comes with its own set of side effects. Luckily, there are some natural ways to treat your anxiety, and it all starts in the kitchen. In the second episode of a series with “This is Your Brain on Food” author Dr. Uma Naidoo, she and the Amens discuss which foods will help you feel better and relax, and which ones will cause your anxiety to skyrocket.
For more info on Dr. Naidoo’s new book “This is Your Brain on Food”, visit https://www.amazon.com/This-Your-Brain-Food-Indispensable/dp/0316536822
Daniel Amen, MD:
Welcome to the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel. Amen.
Tana Amen, BSN RN:
And I’m Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.
The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainmd.com.
Welcome back. We’re having so much fun with Dr. Uma Naidoo. She is Harvard and Cambridge trained psychiatrist and professional chef. I can’t even think of a better combination. It’s so much fun talking about all of this. And she has a new book out that we’re talking about, This is Your Brain on Food. Comes out August 4th. And I love this. I actually like the timing. I know no one wants to have a book coming out right now because of the timing, but I like the timing, and I’ll tell you why. We talked a little bit about it in the last episode. So welcome back, Dr. Naidoo.
Uma Naidoo, MD: Thank you.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: The last episode, we talked a little bit about why this is actually a good time, because people are more anxious, more depressed. But, also, I practice martial arts, and one of the reasons I practice martial arts is because I like the empowerment as someone who felt disempowered as a child.
Uma Naidoo, MD: Yeah.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: I like doing something that makes me feel empowered. Well, right now, people are more anxious, more depressed because they don’t feel empowered. They feel out of control. But you’re home, and we’re calling it the COVID-19. The 19 pounds, right?
Uma Naidoo, MD: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tana Amen, BSN RN: You can do something right now. You’re home. So this is a great time to start getting control of your diet.
Uma Naidoo, MD: Absolutely.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: And we’d love to just talk to you about what are some simple things people can do to get started on your program?
Daniel Amen, MD: Well, and also the foods to really treat anxiety and depression, ADD.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: Because they’re a little different, right?
Uma Naidoo, MD: Exactly.
Daniel Amen, MD: And whatever you learn posted on any of your social media sites. And you can pre-order this book. Go to umanaidoo–
Tana Amen, BSN RN: N-A-I-
Daniel Amen, MD: N-A-I-D-O-O-
Tana Amen, BSN RN: Say it again.
Daniel Amen, MD: … md.com.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: N-A-I-D-O-O. So, Uma, U-M-A, N-A-I-D-O-O.
Daniel Amen, MD: MD.com.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: MD.com.
Daniel Amen, MD: All right. Enough for all of it.
Uma Naidoo, MD: Thank you so much. These are great questions. Thinking of the name of your podcast, I think that we all, like was just said, we have to pull out the warrior in ourselves and see… That’s with an A, not an O, because if we worry, that doesn’t help. But we can actually use food to really build up our armor. For example, a couple of things that have happened over COVID. That anxiety, people who weren’t previously anxious are now quite anxious, even wanting to see a doctor for medication. Zoloft is on shortage in certain dosages. And so one of the pharmaceutical, I think it was one of the prescription companies, did a survey, and the prescriptions for anxiety have doubled or quadrupled. So we understand that people are struggling. And so I think that if we can embrace certain foods just to help lower anxiety, that could really reduce our stress levels.
And things I like to suggest to people are things like turmeric with black pepper. You can add it to a smoothie, you can add it to any food. If you don’t cook with it, put in your soup, make a tea with it, or even, like I said, like in a smoothie. The black pepper, we understand, activates the curcumin, which is the active ingredient in turmeric, by a huge percent and makes its absorption better. So that’s a great and easy tip that if you can purchase that in the supermarket, it’s quick and easy to do. All you really need is a quarter teaspoon a day. You can have more. It’s not going to be toxic. It’s a very large range of the amount you can eat, but really you only need a quarter teaspoon a day with a pinch of black pepper. Now with omega-3 supplements, they’ve been around for a while, and I love to people to embrace that through food because I think that well-sourced salmon, mackerel, herring, some of those types of seafood really contain some good omega-3s in it.
And the cool thing is that you’re also going to help out mood symptoms, and it’s going to target anxiety, too, so that’s always a good way to go way to go. Then the other suggestion is vitamin D. It’s been shown in trials to help anxiety, so I try to ask people to do that. But then I also think, like you mentioned about how we’ve outlined it in the book, it’s helpful for people to know what to avoid, too. And the things are the unhealthy fats, so things that are going to get that ratio of the omega-6 and omega-3 out of whack. So, the oils that we try to avoid, the highly processed foods. Also, foods with gluten for anxiety were found to be slightly problematic. So those are things you want to stay from, and also artificial sweeteners. So a lot of the artificial sweeteners can actually drive anxiety the wrong way, and so I try to give people just a little cheat sheet around some of those to start with.
Daniel Amen, MD: Which sweeteners do you like?
Uma Naidoo, MD: So when I try to help people who like super-sweet food or have a sweet tooth that they want to improve, the two that we suggest if you’re trying to come off sweeteners are stevia or erythritol. And that’s partly related-
Tana Amen, BSN RN: Fantastic.
Uma Naidoo, MD: … to the mechanism related to insulin. Yeah. And if you can come off it eventually, better because maybe we might find something wrong with them in the future.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: Right.
Uma Naidoo, MD: As you know, nutritional research changes day by day. Almost any day, you can find one study for and one study against something, but I think those are a general guidelines. If you like sweet stuff, try those. And over time, try to move towards more natural sources of sugar.
Daniel Amen, MD: Although what you said I don’t think is going to change. Omega-3 fatty acids-
Uma Naidoo, MD: That’s not going to change.
Daniel Amen, MD: … just make up so much of nerve cell membranes. Colorful fruits and vegetables, nuts, probably not going to change. Spices like turmeric.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Daniel Amen, MD: I’m a huge fan of oregano [crosstalk [00:06:41].
Uma Naidoo, MD: Oregano, rosemary. Absolutely.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: Well, [inaudible [00:06:44] what you’re saying is basically natural foods are medicine. You’re using natural foods as medicine.
Uma Naidoo, MD: Food as medicine. Absolutely.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: Exactly. [inaudible [00:06:51] is poison. But when you’re talking about some of the less natural forms of sweeteners, I think that’s what you’re referring to with the studies. We couldn’t agree more. We recommend stevia and erythritol currently.
Uma Naidoo, MD: Right. Right.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: And I always tell people attached to your message, be attached to the current research coming out because it changes.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: So right now, that’s the best we know.
Uma Naidoo, MD: Exactly. That was what I meant. And I exactly want to emphasize all of the other stuff I think that we know has been tried and tested for years.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: Because it’s natural.
Uma Naidoo, MD: And with sweeteners, we just want to be a little bit more cautious. But I also understand that we’re a nation that likes sweet food.
Uma Naidoo, MD: Culturally, this is a nation that eats sweet foods at breakfast.
Uma Naidoo, MD: That’s not the case in all parts of the world, so I think that just giving people some guidelines is always helpful. Yes.
Uma Naidoo, MD: Thank you for clarifying that.
Daniel Amen, MD: So, in the table of contents, you have the gut-brain romance.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: I love that. I love that.
Daniel Amen, MD: I think about the gut all the time.
Daniel Amen, MD: And my patients, it’s just so-
Tana Amen, BSN RN: And people actually comment on that. They’re like, “Why are you talking about my gut?” I came here because I’m depressed.”
Daniel Amen, MD: For depression, probiotics, omega-3s, and the Mediterranean eating pattern.
Uma Naidoo, MD: Right.
Daniel Amen, MD: And so there we are-
Tana Amen, BSN RN: I feel like it’s your [inaudible [00:08:10]. Yeah.
Daniel Amen, MD: … with the gut again. And so when some people hear the Mediterranean eating pattern… Tana and I both love Italy. Almost all of our best vacations are Italy.
Uma Naidoo, MD: From Italy, yeah.
Daniel Amen, MD: They have all this pizza and pasta.
Daniel Amen, MD: So I’m getting a sense that’s not really what you mean.
Daniel Amen, MD: That pizza and pasta and the local Italian eatery is good for your brain.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: I’m not sure that’s how the locals eat, though, all the time. If you go down to the Mediterranean [crosstalk [00:08:43]-
Uma Naidoo, MD: Exactly. I love that, though. It’s so true. I’ve understood, and I don’t know enough about culinary history, although I’m very interested in it, that pizza is more of an American food.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: It is, yep.
Uma Naidoo, MD: However, you’re actually right. Pizza parlors, huge pasta dishes are what people associate with that. So two points about that, and thank you for bringing it up. I use Mediterranean eating pattern because I find that the word “diet” to my patients indicates they have to give up something, that they have to restrict something, or they can’t eat. And I’m all about sharing with them how many things they can eat, because then they immediately start to feel better, like they’re not going to feel deprived. And there’s less of that boomerang effect of, “Let me restrict this food,” and then three weeks later eat two types of ice cream, that kind of effect that many people experience. And it’s quite normal when you’re trying to do that.
So I use the eating pattern, just to be easier.
Uma Naidoo, MD: More easily explain to my patients. And then second point about it is we’re talking about the Mediterranean region. So, a lot of the diet actually includes healthy fruits, vegetables, nuts-
Tana Amen, BSN RN: Seafood.
Uma Naidoo, MD: … legumes, seafood. Really fresh, healthy seafoods that are well sourced and they enjoy. And then olive oil as the healthy fat that is used to prepare them. So even if they do eat-
Daniel Amen, MD: Sorry about that. I thought that’s what you meant.
Uma Naidoo, MD: … pasta.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: Well, we’ve taken two Mediterranean cruises, and we’ve been to Rome and we’ve been to other parts of Italy. Other parts of Italy are more touristy, and you’ll see more pizza and pasta, but when we took the Mediterranean cruises, like even Greece and all those areas, I remember trying to order something else besides fish off the menu, and she kept shaking her head no. She’s like, “It’s too heavy. It’s too hot, it’s too heavy.”
Like, “Why is she telling me what to eat?” And so they eat either salad and fish and olive oil and vinegar. And that’s it.
Uma Naidoo, MD: That’s it.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: So it’s really interesting because the real Mediterranean areas, that is how they eat, especially-
Uma Naidoo, MD: That is how they eat. Exactly. And I appreciate Dr. Amen giving me an easy question that I could answer there.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: Yeah.
Uma Naidoo, MD: So thank you. Thank you for serving that up so beautifully.
Daniel Amen, MD: You could tell was just [inaudible [00:10:57] typing on my phone. And I know we don’t like the word “diet,” because the first three letters of diet-
Tana Amen, BSN RN: Die.
Daniel Amen, MD: … are “die.”
Uma Naidoo, MD: Die. Yeah.
Daniel Amen, MD: Yeah. I would call this The Big Brain Diet.
Uma Naidoo, MD: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Daniel Amen, MD: [inaudible [00:11:13] is the small brain. And so I often tell my patients when they go to choose something to eat, just ask themselves a simple question.
Daniel Amen, MD: “Is this is good for my brain, or is it bad for it?”
Daniel Amen, MD: And ultimately once they read your book, they’re going to have the clear answer to that, but it’s also another question. I just thought of it. Is, “Do I want a big brain, or do I want a small brain?” And in large part, that’s not genes. That’s what you put in your mouth that determines the size of your blue jeans.
Daniel Amen, MD: All right. When we come back, we’re going to talk more about anxiety, but I’m going to talk about PTSD and ADHD as well. Stay with us.
Tana Amen, BSN RN: If you’re enjoying the Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, please don’t forget to subscribe so you’ll always know when there’s a new episode. And while you’re at it, feel free to give us a review or five-star rating, as that helps others find the podcast.
Daniel Amen, MD: If you’re considering coming to Amen Clinics or trying some of the brain healthy supplements from BrainMD, you can use the code podcast 10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at amenclinics.com or a 10% discount on all supplements at brainmdhealth.com. For more information, give us a call at 855-978-1363.