This Is Your Brain On Food, with Dr. Uma Naidoo

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

As the director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, writer for the Harvard Health blog, and author of the new book “This is Your Brain on Food”, Dr. Uma Naidoo is on the cutting scientific edge of how your food affects your brain. In this first episode of a series with Dr. Naidoo, she and the Amens discuss holistic guidelines for keeping your brain in top shape.

For more info on Dr. Naidoo’s new book “This is Your Brain on Food”, visit

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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.

Daniel Amen, MD:

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

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

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

Daniel Amen, MD:          Welcome everyone to a very special week and a very special guest talking about a topic that is critically important-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      And dear to us.

Daniel Amen, MD:          … to The Brain Warrior’s Way. We are here with Dr. Uma Naidoo, who is a Board-certified Psychiatrist from Harvard Medical School, professional chef, I love that, Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, and Nutrition Specialists. This is the combination of the future.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      Yeah.

Daniel Amen, MD:          She is currently the Director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital, where she consults on nutritional interventions for the psychiatrically and medically ill. Director of Nutrition Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital Academy, and has a private practice in Newton, Massachusetts.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      That is so amazing.

Daniel Amen, MD:          She also teaches at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and speaks frequently at conferences at Harvard for Goop audiences. I got to do that. That was super fun. Blogs for Harvard Health and Psychology Today. And she has a brand new book coming August 4th-

Uma Naidoo, MD:           Thank you.

Daniel Amen, MD:          This Is Your Brain on Food.

Uma Naidoo, MD:           Yes, also.

Daniel Amen, MD:          This Is Your Brain on Food: An Indispensable Guide to the Surprising Foods, that we’re going to talk about, That Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, And More.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      Wait, this just really couldn’t be more [inaudible [00:02:34]. This is just [crosstalk [00:02:37]-

Uma Naidoo, MD:           I am so happy to hear that.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      It’s so fun. Yeah. [crosstalk [00:00:02]:39].

Uma Naidoo, MD:           Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      Yes. I can’t believe this idea of actually working with people with mental health and using food, and that is actually your specialty, is so amazing. And I remember when we did many years ago, tried to, well, we did plant food and nutrition into one of the largest chemical addiction recovery programs in the country. And what a battle it was. What a battle it was. And yet the people actually really understood it. They got it. They got, “Oh, if I eat well, I’m going to make better choices.”

Uma Naidoo, MD:           Right.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      But it was really hard with the organization. Was crazy.

Daniel Amen, MD:          Well, but to have Massachusetts General Hospital [crosstalk [00:03:19]-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      So great.

Daniel Amen, MD:          That’s great.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      How exciting.

Daniel Amen, MD:          Dr. Naidoo, talk to us about how you became who you are. I mean, Tana and I think this is a brilliant combination of specialties.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      Amazing.

Uma Naidoo, MD:           Thank you.

Daniel Amen, MD:          How did that happen for you?

Uma Naidoo, MD:           Well, first let me just say, if I can take a second and it’s such an honor to talk to both of you and it’s really just wonderful to be here. I’ve been excited about this and thanks. So thank you for supporting the book and for hosting me.

My story goes back to my family, as a good psychiatrist will tell you. I actually grew up around a lot of food nurturance and love, large extended family, and sort of food connection began there. Also, had many physicians in my family. So although we love delicious food, there was a focus on trying to eat healthy and understanding that connection. And for me, in residency, especially as I learned to cook, I always baked, but I learned to cook then. It was the stress relief at the end of the day, for me. I looked forward to putting something together, experimenting with spices, making mistakes, whatever it was. But to me, that was what I looked forward to.

So I began to really think about it more deeply as I saw patients and as I began to learn about psychiatric medications and prescribing, I felt a real need to also understand the side effects. And there’s this particular moment that I talk about in the book where a patient is pretty upset with me in my community clinic, where I was first a resident and came in… In Boston, really, we love Dunkin Donuts coffee and came in with his large coffee and was complaining about the weight gain from the medication I had prescribed only a month before. And I listened to him and for me, the penny dropped in that moment because I looked at his coffee, which is a 20 ounce size. And I said, “Well, tell me,” let’s call him John, “tell me, John, how much of cream and sugars in there?” And he said, “Oh, you know, just like this amount and those number of sugars.”

And when we broke it down, it was more than a quarter cup of cream and probably eight sugars. And he drank this every day consistently. And I said, “Well…” It was sort of the beginning of a certain change and shift in my thinking because I made the connection and I started to talk to him about that. But then I began to be much more observant about this in my patients as to whether they were taking medication or not, what were they eating, what were they doing in terms of lifestyle mindfulness, sleep? It all seemed to matter. And over time, the language filled in for me that this was actually nutritional psychiatry, that it was including mindfulness. It’s almost like integrated psychiatry using a functional model.

So always looking for the root cause and trying to figure out what it is that you can help to make a change. Because we know that the diagnostic criteria just do not cover enough people. And there’s so many individuals who do not fall into that. So I really started to explore it. And then I had the opportunity through some good mentorship to start my own clinic and see these individuals in an ongoing way. And to the long degree that was how it came up.

Daniel Amen, MD:          Well, I just think that’s spectacular work.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      Just brilliant.

Daniel Amen, MD:          And so important. I remember for me, I had an autistic child. I’m also a child psychiatrist. And when he went on a gluten-free dairy-free diet, in a week, he picked up 50 words and I’m like, “Oh, that probably matters.” And I’ve come to believe probably a third of the psychiatric patients we see, it’s their diet. And if you get your diet right, your brain, because your brain is an organ, just like your heart’s an organ.

Uma Naidoo, MD:           Exactly.

Daniel Amen, MD:          And then if you don’t feed it right, you won’t feel right.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      Yeah, it seems like clearly there are some people who there are other factors going on. But still, making your diet clean is certainly not going to hurt it, but cleaning up your diet definitely in many, if not most cases it’s going to help.

Uma Naidoo, MD:           Well, I like exactly what you said. And would reason that it doesn’t harm you. If you clean up your diet, you’re only going to feel better in some form. And for people who sort of question, “Well, is it this kind of science or that?” We went through a lot of research to get to the factors we’ve put together in the book. And we looked at 700 articles and we condensed it into more than 550. And the only reason I’m saying that is because people sometimes they go, “It’s food, it’s nutrition, we all eat. It’s soft science.” It’s actually not as you well point out. There’s a real connection. And when you see it live and you see it happen in patients, you know that it’s something we need to investigate and explore more.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      I love this. And you’ve got a picture of a fork on the cover of your book. And it’s interesting, your books coming… I have a book coming out in January and I was worried about it because the times are unprecedented.

Uma Naidoo, MD:           Absolutely.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      And I’m like, “Oh boy, all of the post election chatter is going to make it difficult.” And I’m sure you’re probably a little bit worried about the same thing. Yours is coming out August 4th. There’s just so much going on. It’s hard for people to settle down and see stuff like this. But the truth is there’s not a better time.

Uma Naidoo, MD:           Thank you.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      Because right now people are, even people who aren’t normally anxious, who aren’t normally depressed are right now.

Uma Naidoo, MD:           Exactly.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      I’m not normally anxious and I’m really anxious right now.

Uma Naidoo, MD:           Absolutely.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      And so people are having trouble sleeping. And right now there’s not a better time. While we are all home, there’s not a better time-

Daniel Amen, MD:          Right. And what did we hear about COVID-19? It’s the 19 extra pounds that people are putting on their body.

Uma Naidoo, MD:           Right. Exactly. Exactly.

Daniel Amen, MD:          Because of eating. And what we know, for example, is that sugar boosts serotonin in the brain that having an insulin response pushes tryptophan in the brain and you feel good.

Uma Naidoo, MD:           Exactly.

Daniel Amen, MD:          So think Dunkin Donuts, short term coffee, longterm sad.

Uma Naidoo, MD:           Exactly.

Daniel Amen, MD:          And so really understanding that. Before we go to the second episode, can you give us four or five, just big tips.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      A few idea.

Daniel Amen, MD:          And then in the next episode, we’re going to talk about foods to fight things like depression, anxiety and those things.

Uma Naidoo, MD:           Sure. Some of these guidelines really come from my belief that it’s truly an integrated and holistic model. So it is how you eat. It’s mindfulness. I know we’ll go into specific foods later on, but it’s mindfulness in terms of how you’re approaching meals. It’s almost good hygiene around the meals that you’re eating. We’re checking emails, we’re answering the phone, we’re watching what’s on the news. We’re looking at the COVID-19 reports. No one can sort of settle down. And you’re absolutely right, Tana, the people who were not anxious before are more anxious. So part of it is framing when you have your meals and how you have them.

And I think this is an opportunity, this causes an opportunity for us to reset those things in our families, if we’re on our own, whatever your situation might be, because stress eating happens and the stress response as it gets activated, we understand that it impacts how we eat and it impacts our sleep. So I would say pay attention to how you’re eating and when you’re eating. Be mindful of the outside activities and include really healthy whole foods in your diet, whether you’re plant-based or whether you’re keto, whichever diet you follow, I’m not so much of a proponent of a specific diet. I will work with you on whatever the food is that you’re eating and try to help you make these tweaks.

So things like added sugars, processed foods, preservatives are the big ones. We know that those are not good. The bad fats, we know those are not good. They harm all of the different conditions in a different way. Paying attention to some sort of movement. And if you’re severely depressed and you’re not feeling good, think about something you can do to motivate yourself a little bit until you feel better. And food is one of the things that can get you to that place, and emotionally as well. As long as you’re not severely ill and needing to be in a hospital, we can help you in those ways.

So having some form of movement, paying attention to good sleep hygiene and then mindfulness. So some form of mindfulness that appeals to you, maybe that’s a breathing exercise. Maybe it’s a short relaxation exercise. Maybe it’s listening to a music or some sort of sounds or instructions on an app that helps you. Those for me are almost the tenants of how I try to work with people to set up a good nutritional psychiatry plan. It also has these pillars of care involved in that as well.

Daniel Amen, MD:          She actually has like… I just opened the book. Menu for ideal sleep patterns and lower fatigue. So the breakfast: On-the-go scrambled eggs in a mug.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      I like that.

Daniel Amen, MD:          I love that. I have eggs almost every morning. Snack: Banana and almond butter over cottage cheese.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      I like that.

Daniel Amen, MD:          Spicy shrimp, mixed green salad.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      So very simple.

Uma Naidoo, MD:           Very simple.

Daniel Amen, MD:          But also actually really similar-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      To the way we’ve talked about [crosstalk [00:12:47].

Daniel Amen, MD:          When we come back, we’re going to talk about foods that can fight depression, anxiety, and OCD. I can’t wait. And if you have learned anything and I want you to learn… So one of the professors at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard is, “Food is important to your mind.” Pay attention to that. Post it on any of your social media sites, go to Leave a review, a comment or a question. We’ll enter you into a drawing to win either The Brain Warrior’s Way Cookbook or my new book, The End of Mental Illness. But you can also pre-order This Is Your Brain on Food. Or if you’re listening to this after August 4, you can pre-order This Is Your Brain on Food. And Uma, what is the website people can go to?

Uma Naidoo, MD:           The website is That’s and you can get it there as well. Thank you.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:      Excellent.

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