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Building Mental Health Through Nutrition

With Dr. Drew Ramsey

Season 4, Episode 3 | September 21, 2021

Of all the calories we eat each day, 20 percent are used by our brains — so it’s no wonder there’s such a strong connection between our nutritional habits and mental-health status. Drew Ramsey, MD, psychiatrist, author, and mental-health advocate, joins us to explain this relationship and teach us about the food choices that best support our brains and mental well-being.

Drew Ramsey, MD, is a psychiatrist, author, and mental-health advocate whose work focuses on nutritional psychiatry, male mental health, and optimizing mental fitness. He founded and leads the Brain Food Clinic, is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University of Physicians and Surgeon, and has an active clinical practice based in New York City and Jackson, Wyo. He’s the author of Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety, Eat Complete, 50 Shades of Kale, and The Happiness Diet.

In this episode, Ramsey offers advice around the ways we can nourish our brains and mental health through nutrition, including the following:

  • Assess the nutrients you’re getting. Nutrients known for helping those who suffer from depression include magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, zinc, iron, vitamin A, and carotenoids.
  • Remember the rhyme. “Seafood, greens, nuts and beans — and a little bit of dark chocolate” — Ramsey uses this phrase to evaluate how well his plate or grocery cart is assembled to feed his brain.
  • Combat inflammation. “We increasingly understand that inflammation is a really big part of depression and anxiety,” says Ramsey. “And what’s the No. 1 cause of inflammation in your life? It’s probably what you eat, that you’re not sleeping enough, and that you’re not moving your body.” The microbiome also plays a role in regulating inflammation, which you can support by consuming foods such as kefir, yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
  • Look for the “brainbow.” The wide range of colors found in produce all represent different phytonutrients that we need as part of a healthy diet. Aim to eat a rainbow — or “brainbow” — of colors of veggies and fruits in your meals.
  • Include other power players. Some of Ramsey’s favorite brain foods include fish, guacamole, fermented foods (think sauerkraut and kefir), nuts (including almonds and cashews), pumpkin seeds, mussels, clams, oysters, and crunchy, colorful veggies.

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Transcript: Building Mental Health Through Nutrition

Season 3, Episode 3  | September 21, 2021

Jamie Martin

Welcome to Life Time Talks, the healthy-living podcast that’s aimed at helping you achieve your health, fitness, and life goals. I’m Jamie Martin, editor-in-chief of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.

David Freeman

And I’m David Freeman, Life Time’s national digital performer brand leader. We’re all in different places along our health and fitness journey, but no matter what we are working toward, there are some essential things we can do to keep moving in the direction of a healthy, purpose-driven life.

Jamie Martin

In each episode, we’ll break down the various elements of healthy living, including fitness and nutrition, mindset and community, and health issues. We’ll also share real inspiring stories of transformation.

David Freeman

And we’ll be talking to experts from Life Time and beyond, who’ll share their insights and knowledge, so you’ll have the tools and information you need to take charge of your next steps. Here we go.

[MUSIC]

Jamie Martin

We’re really excited about today’s episode. We’re going to be talking with Dr. Drew Ramsey about building mental health through nutrition. And I don’t know about you, David. I’m really excited for this conversation.

David Freeman

Yeah, we focus so much around this physical fitness and what that is and how we should be hitting on this. But when we actually start to break it down, the foundation is at the mindset and how we need to build from there. So I love that we’re going to be able to talk about that and just dive deep into that with our audience.

Jamie Martin

I love it too. One of the things that he has said in previous conversations of the podcasts I’ve listened to, or his TED Talks, is this whole idea of mental health is really brain health. And we’re going to dive deep into what that means with him.

So as a little background, Dr. Drew Ramsey is a psychiatrist, author, and mental health advocate. His work focuses on nutritional psychiatry, which we’re going to define with him and learn more about, as well as male mental health and optimizing mental fitness. He founded and leads the Brain Food Clinic, which offers consultation and integrative treatment regarding depression, anxiety, and emotional wellness concerns.

He is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and an active clinical practice in New York City and Jackson, Wyoming. I’m not done yet. There’s more.

His work has been featured by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Lancet Psychiatry, the Today Show, BBC, and NPR. He has given three TED Talks. He’s the co-author of Antidepressant Food Scale and his ecourses on nutritional psychiatry education for the public and clinicians. His award-winning books include Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety, Eat Complete, Fifty Shades of Kale, and The Happiness Diet. And they explore the connections between mental health and nutrition.

He is also on the advisory board at Men’s Health and on the editorial board at Medscape Psychiatry. He’s got quite the background.

David Freeman

Oh, yeah. He knows a little something, huh?

Jamie Martin

A little something about this mental health thing and what we’re going to be talking about. So David, what are you most excited about? I know you mentioned a few things earlier.

David Freeman

Yeah, I’m just huge on mindset, so I’m just going to keep driving that home. And just the focal point around how we need to build from there, and how everything else is complemented from that. So just going back to that, I want to stick with that, build from that mindset, and drive from there.

Jamie Martin

Awesome. Alright, I think we’re ready to go. Let’s get into this conversation.

David Freeman

Let’s do it.

[MUSIC]

Jamie Martin

Dr. Ramsey, thank you so much for joining us with Life Time Talks. How are you doing?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Doing great. It’s great to be here with you guys.

Jamie Martin

Well, we’re thrilled to have you here. So a friend of our podcast, Jeanne Rosner of Soul Food Salon, introduced us to your work. And as we were talking through your work and kind of getting familiar with a few more things, David made a connection as well that I’m not sure if you’ve realized yet.

David Freeman

Yeah, we kind of share the same space on Men’s Health. I actually do some contributions to some of the lives every other week getting people up and moving. So I’m very good friends with Ebenezer Samuel, and I’m sure you are as well. And then I also see that you share that space as well doing some lives, too.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Now I recognize you a little bit. I said, where do I recognize this? It’s good to — fellow Men’s Health friend and advisor. It’s really nice. That’s a great connection. We’ll have to have you come talk about male mental health on the Friday session sometime.

David Freeman

Yeah, I would love it. I would love it.

Jamie Martin

It was so funny. David called me. He’s like, hey, we have this mutual thing going on. I’m like, we need to talk about that briefly.

Alright, we’re going to get right into it. We’re really excited about your work. I would say mental health and nutrition is actually something that, in Experience Life magazine, which I run — I’m the editor in chief of — we’ve covered this to a degree over the last several years. And I will say, but the way that you describe it is so accessible and relatable for people. So I’m hoping we can just start from the top. Like, how do you define mental health? And go from there.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Thank you so much for that, and thank you for all you both do to spread the word about mental health and just empowering people. There’s a lot we can do to improve our mental health, all of us, whether you have a diagnosis or a therapist or not. And I defined mental health as our ability to connect and love.

I just think that the human brain is an organ that is created of billions, trillions, quadrillions of connections. And we have this phrase in biology, structure equals function. And I don’t know, somehow, especially as I’ve been in practice now almost 20 years, I really think that when we’re leading lives that feel rich and connected, that’s when we feel our best, right?

When you feel connected to a group of friends and peers, you feel connected to your family or your partner or your work. And so that’s how I really define mental health. Traditionally, we focus on, as Freud did, work and love. That your mental health symptoms have to interfere with your work ability or your ability to love and socialize.

And I’ve just decided — I mean, I appreciate that. That’s important for diagnosis. But in terms of for just for everyday mental health, I don’t think that definition works because I think so many people I’ve met in my career as a psychiatrist, they’re really good at functioning even though their mental health is really, really bad. Really struggling.

And so I like to think about it as our ability to really connect and love and be present. That’s mental health.

David Freeman

I love that. I mean, those two words are synonymous. When you say create and love, they both take time, right? It takes time. And as you develop that over a course of time, there are certain things that you might come across that is foreign to you.

So when we talk about mental health issues or illnesses, however we want to call it, you might look at depression and anxiety. And a lot of us might have faced that throughout life. Or sometime as of recent, the pandemic that we’re currently going through and fighting through. So when you come across something like that, how should one address — and I know that’s a broad question. But where should one start in that area?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Yeah. Well, David, it’s a great question. I mean, I think it’s a very specific question, which is when you’re feeling off, maybe you’re feeling down, maybe you’re feeling anxious, maybe you noticed you aren’t sleeping that well. And it’s more than just an afternoon. It’s a little bit of a trend. What do you do?

And so I think the first step we always want to do is acknowledge — it’s very good to communicate that clearly to the self and to another. The self is important where the way I’ll say it to myself — I’m in a lot of transitions right now, and they’re wonderful and exciting, but it’s taking a toll on my mental health. And so as I see myself struggling, I’ll remind myself, you’re doing a great job. You’re in the midst of a lot of transitions now.

You slept, are it off. Kind of do a little list of all the things I’m doing right. You slept well last night, or you ate your greens yesterday, or you did a good job. You really spent a lot of quality time with your son last night putting him in bed.

And to really try and be clear you’re having some symptoms. And just acknowledging that is a really good step. And then I try to tell somebody else. Whether that’s a — for me, it’s easy. I’ve got a partner. My wife is great at — we’re always processing together. That’s what I like about being in a relationship. One of the things I like a lot.

And so, because a lot of times, especially those of us who are in therapy have been therapists, taking it from the feeling and all the thoughts in here and verbalizing, expressing it to another person, finding words to it, just that act — usually we don’t have anything that profound in response to say. But just sitting and witnessing it with somebody and having it witnessed, that’s helpful.

I think the next step for me, if somebody is having significant symptoms, rule out medical causes. This gets skipped by everybody. Sit around. I’ll have low energy. Am I depressed? Am I not? Or is it my thyroid? Is it not? Is it this?

They’ll go on the internet and talk to Dr. Google. Dr. Google always has so many interesting ideas about what’s wrong with you. I mean, I love Dr. Google. I’ve been working with him for, I’m going to say, a good 15 years now, 10 years. And he is a remarkable — she, actually — she is a remarkable doctor, Dr. Google. But yeah. But suggest some things that get people a little too worried.

But as everyone knows, a lot of different causes of being anxious and depressed, especially as people are changing diets, you cut all the animal products out of your diet. For whatever reason, that’s going to lead to B12 deficiency over time. And it’s great, there’s lots of messaging about supplementing. Most people, a lot of people, don’t. That’s why among male vegans, 52% had B12 deficiency.

So there’s a way that if you’re having symptoms, recognize them, communicate them, get a workup. That’s the part that — people always love to wait to come see a psychiatrist till it’s rock bottom. I’m great at rock bottom. Come to see me, I love a crisis. I’ll help out.

But man, I’m also good in other stages of life. Come and meet me any time and tell me what you’re struggling with and your hopes and your dreams. My job to help people make that happen, and to really find that authentic self and live that life that people want to live. And so I think getting a consult is something that few people do around mental health. If you’re seeing your doctor, get some basic labs checked.

I think the next is then to think, what are the options, if you’re having symptoms, available to you? A great place to start is clinicians you’re connected to. But it’s a common thing we hear — almost everyone in mental health hears — no matter who you are, how connected you are or not, it’s hard to find mental health professionals or help, or to know who to go or where to start with.

And I think that really causes a big barrier to people, David, in terms of just not — it’s not an easy call to make. And then they’re not sure who to call or where to look. That’s where talking to a local health care professional, calling a resource like NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, looking on Psychology Today and just doing some research about people around you. Just that beginning, thinking who might you call for some help, that’s a great step to include in there as well.

Jamie Martin

Well, you’re in such an interesting area. Obviously, psychiatry is your background, but also this kind of new area of nutritional psychiatry. And I’d love for you to tell us about that because that really leads us into the work in your latest — well, all of your work, but your new book, your latest book, Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Yeah, that’s also how I should answer that question. You want to pay attention to your diet when you’re not feeling — sorry. Thanks to that setup there.

Jamie Martin

Oh yeah, you’re welcome.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

I don’t know what time zone I’m in. You wanna look for the things in your life you can correct. I meet people sometimes that are depressed. And it’s like, partied hard all weekend and it’s Tuesday. It’s like, don’t be confused why you’re depressed. You know.

And a lot of times in clinical practice, people are like, I don’t know. I don’t know why I’m feeling down. I just ate junk food all weekend. I’m drinking too much. I’ve been fighting my wife. I don’t know why I’m feeling badly. And I’m thinking, you know exactly why you’re feeling badly. You’re making this job very easy. You just told me.

And so, in terms of nutritional psychiatry, there’s been all this really interesting data about how what we eat is connected to our mental health. It started with our risk of mental health disorders, a lot of correlational data saying, for example, if you look at a population of university students and you measure their diet, the individuals who eat the most Mediterranean or traditional-style diet or kind of healthy diet, as we might say, they have a 30% to 50% decreased risk of depression over 4 and 1/2 years.

Just think about that. Let’s just imagine that were true and you could eliminate 30% of college depression. I mean, that would be one of the most — that would be like a public mental health miracle. So that’s what the correlational study suggested. So a lot of us were seeing that data, starting to think about — not a lot of us, a few of us — how do you integrate this into clinical practice?

If you’re in a mental health setting, you’re a shrink like me, we’re talking about Mom, talking about your bad boss, we’re talking about depression, when we’re thinking about maybe meds, maybe not, talking about your dreams, all that stuff, right? How do you then say, like, hey, so David, tell me. Breakfast. How was it? Do you eat oatmeal?

We didn’t have a real clinical technique. And so I started to develop that with a colleague, Dr. Laura LaChance, and then eventually developed a nutrient profiling system that focused on mental health. It was the first paper published that said, let’s take an illness like depression, find the nutrients that are the most related to depression in terms of the cause and the treatment of it, and then just ask that real simple question, like what foods have the most of these?

And that was the anti-depressant food scale. And it was very interesting that that led to groupings of foods that have the most of these nutrients. And they’re nutrients that we know are great for depression. Magnesium, omega-3 fats, vitamin B12. A few that surprise people. Zinc and iron, vitamin A, carotenoids.

And then all my work, really, for the past 10 years since the publication of The Happiness Diet has been, how do we make these foods accessible to people and really get this message out there that you can feed your mental health? It’s not everything in the mental health arena obviously, no matter how much salmon and blueberries and kale I eat, I’m still going to have some issues with my mom, and I still need to work on some stuff as a parent and as a husband. But you know, I think the data increasingly shows it helps.

That is a long-winded answer, but the cool data are these randomized clinical trials that have come out. And then these new ideas that we have where — you tell people you’re a psychiatrist, and they’ll think about serotonin, right? But there’s all these new ideas about brain growth and inflammation that are all over mental health and how nutrition directly relates to those.

But the trials showed that when we take individuals who are in some treatment and have depression, even severe depression, and help them eat a more Mediterranean-style diet, their depression — it just gets so much better. A third go into full remission. And in one trial, there was about a 40% to 50% reduction in symptoms.

Jamie Martin

That’s amazing. I want to go back — you mentioned the brain growth. I know BDNF, which I have heard a little bit about. But I’m wondering if you can talk about that specifically because I know that’s part of brain growth and a — I’ll have you describe it — chemical, I’m assuming, in your brain.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

It’s a molecule in your brain —

Jamie Martin

Molecule.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

— it’s a brain that you make. And chemical and molecules, I think those are kind of the same thing, right? Basically, it’s a bunch of carbons that you put together. So your DNA codes for it. You have a BDNF gene. And then you make this BDNF molecule.

And BDNF is a neurohormone. So it both influences local cells right around it, but it also can travel and influence cells within that region or area. You can measure a BDNF level in someone’s blood. It’s not a perfect biomarker, but it’s something that we’re increasingly beginning to look at.

And BDNF is the molecule that’s responsible for a few things. One, brain cell repair. The other is brain cell growth. So your brain cells, like we said earlier with David’s question, what is mental health, the connection. BDNF singles to your brain to reach out and make more connections. And then BDNF signals your brain in the hippocampus and a few other areas, but mainly the hippocampus, to take stem cells and turn them into new brain cells.

And going a little bit deeper, because I did some homework, too — we did this morning. Just to review a little bit on the TED Talks. And what activates the BDNF? Nuts. And I like the saying that you actually say. You said, seafood, green, nuts, and beans, a little bit of dark chocolate. And I love that.

David Freeman

Can you speak a little bit about what that is and what it means? I know, obviously, what it is. But can you talk about what those things are? And I know you probably touched a little bit with the Mediterranean diet, but I want our listeners to be able to understand.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Well, I come from Indiana, David. And if you say the Mediterranean diet, I scratch my head as a farm boy, and I’m like, is that Italian food? Is that pizza or pasta? It’s easy to say Mediterranean diet. But then there’s just the everyday of we go to the grocery store and we’re in a routine or we’re in a habit.

So seafood, greens, nuts, and beans, and a little dark chocolate. It was a rhyme that I started using in my own life of just being a busy dad, being a physician, and trying to assess, is this plate good for my brain or not? Is this grocery cart — I’ve got the basics in there?

And there’s some other things I think you should eat more. Fermented foods. But we’re trying to increase people’s consumption of plants, leafy greens, and rainbows. More nuts and beans. And the way those relate to brain growth — there are six nutrients that relate directly to BD expression, or BDNF.

And then we also think your dietary pattern, that if we have more of these, quote unquote, “anti-inflammatory foods,” it’s good for our mental health. We increasingly understand that inflammation is a really big part of depression and anxiety. And in Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety, I go into that as I try to kind of coax people into a new way of thinking. Let’s use the new science of depression and anxiety to both help us fight stigma, but also help us really get empowered.

What’s the number one cause of inflammation in your life? And it’s probably what you eat, that you’re not sleeping enough, that you’re not moving your body. And that these are all great ways for us to intervene, not just for our physical health, but really for the most important part of us, for our brain health and our mental health.

David Freeman

So now let’s say I am the seafood, greens, nuts, and beans, a little bit of dark chocolate. And you would still say, because I heard you say it earlier, supplementation is still something that we need to incorporate just because I know we had a few other individuals that were on that said, the foods that we now have are not like it was in the past. So we’re not getting a lot of those dense nutrients, so on and so forth. So what’s your thoughts on supplementation within this diet?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

I don’t agree that the food of today doesn’t have enough nutrition. I certainly understand that there are ways you can look at conventionally grown produce and it doesn’t have the nutrient density that it used to. As somebody who owns a farm, I certainly appreciate that soil health has changed in conventional agriculture. There are questions.

All that said, I think that you can go to any grocery store in America or anywhere in the country, and probably anywhere in the world, and find a set of foods that never before in history humans have had access to that are safe, clean, affordable, and fully feed your body and brain with zero supplementation.

My last book, Eat Complete, was really about trying to spell that out for people. Here are the most important nutrients for brain health, and here are all the foods that they’re in. And then I think the antidepressant food scale is trying to do that, David, where a lot of times when I say OK, you’re lifting a lot, you’re working out a lot. You should increase your protein. [INAUDIBLE] protein powder to people.

Or like, oh, you’re stressed out. You probably want more B vitamins. That’s a B vitamin supplement. As opposed to that all of us think about this brain that we have, this incredible asset, that we should know how to fuel it. And that there are only a few foods and food groups. That’s really what those seafood, greens, nuts, and beans come from.

If you really follow that, you’re getting those major brain nutrients. You’re getting the omega-3 fats and the B12 and the zinc. And so I’m never counting at the table with my kids, like, all right, kids. Let’s count up how many milligrams of zinc we’re getting tonight. Forrest, you didn’t get 1.1, so young man, no dessert for you. I mean, we never do that.

We just eat nutrient-dense foods. And that’s what humans have always eaten. And so that’s where certainly I appreciate people with medical concerns, people who are maybe having some very specific athletic goals, I can appreciate the use of supplements in those scenarios. But I think what’s gotten missed is people are missing the most important supplement. More food, more sleep, more love, more self-care. And I think that really goes an incredibly long way towards more health.

Jamie Martin

I want to ask you a little bit about the quality of the food we’re getting often if we’re getting it through whole foods. For some people, that might not be as accessible. So what are your take on if I need to get nuts and beans or things through canned options? Or like, fruits and veggies that have been canned. I mean, just from an accessibility standpoint for certain parts of our population.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Canned and frozen are great options. And I’m going to add fish to that. In the quarantine, one of the big ways I upped my brain food game was starting to use more canned fish, canned anchovies, sardines, and wild salmon. Incredible value. A half pound of wild salmon, already cooked. And it’s cooked right after it comes out of the ocean, so it’s really as fresh as you can get.

It’s like $4 at Walmart. And with that, a couple of eggs and some almond flour or breadcrumbs, I can make just a big, delicious pile of wild salmon burgers. So I think accessibility is a huge issue because so much of our population lives in a food desert. Where I’m from in Crawford County, Indiana, it’s a food desert. It’s hard to access healthy food.

That said, even growing up in and living in a food desert, then moving back from New York City, looking around any community, you can begin to find really affordable, accessible food. I’m really convinced now. There are so many great brain foods, kind of hidden gems, whether you’re shopping at a big box store, like Costco or Walmart, where you can get sides of wild salmon or frozen veggies in bulk. Those are all great ways to really save money.

And actually, one of the studies that was done, SMILES trial by Felice Jacka, they showed that individuals save $1,000 a year when they switch over towards a more brain healthy-style, Mediterranean-style diet, as you start eating more plants and vegetables, shopping at home. Because a lot of times people hear, oh, it’s the fish and the organic vegetables. It’s got to be so expensive. And actually, in the trials, people not only get better from their depression, but they also save money.

Jamie Martin

So interesting.

David Freeman

I love it. So we’re going to shift gears just a little bit. So still focused on brain health is what we’ve been talking about. Shifting gears but still in the same car, as I like to put it, when we think of the nutrition that’s helping with brain health and development of the mindset as a whole, now let’s talk about immunity. When we look at our immunity system and we think of what we have faced in these past few months — the microbiome is what you’ve referenced in some of your talks — how important that is. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

The microbiome. It’s a great question. The microbiome is the center of our inflammatory response system. And it’s surprising because it’s a collection mostly of bacteria. So the microbiome are all of the bacteria that live in your colon.

And it takes a little bit to sit with. I remember in medical school when they taught us that every square millimeter of every part of your body is covered in bacteria, and he looked around and we saw like a bunch of medical students all going like ugh —

[LAUGHTER]

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Because we think of bacteria as bad, right? It causes infections and pus, and we’re supposed to kill it. So the idea that inside of us there’s a collection of over 2 million genes — and I mention that just because you guys and I and everybody listing, humans are made of about 27,000 genes.

So we have all this genetic material in our colon from bacteria. And there’s this constant crosstalk between our nervous system and these bacteria. They make some of the same neurotransmitters that we do, like GABA and serotonin. We hear a lot that the majority of the serotonin receptors are in the gut. That’s true.

It’s not the same as the ones in the brain. It doesn’t really have that much to do with the ones in the brain. But in some ways, I think it informs us — and it’s often referred to as the second brain — that the gut is very involved in our mental health.

And you asked about immunity. The center of having a good immune system for human beings is reasonably straightforward. You need to have good nutrition, particularly eating lots of zinc. That’s why the human brain in part evolved eating oysters and small fish. There’s so much zinc there.

My other great source for all the plant-based folks is pumpkin seeds. A great source of zinc. As is dark chocolate. A nice source of zinc. So nutritionally replete.

Getting enough sleep. One of the big headwinds — your body is not just fighting bugs all the time. Your body is fighting all the dumb decisions we make that causes lots of inflammation. Whether it’s the milkshake that I drank that bumps my blood sugar, or whether it’s staying out too late or having a couple too many drinks. We all make choices that aren’t great for our brains.

So your inflammatory system is always dealing with that. You trip and you stumble. For us, it’s a little bruise and swelling. Your body has gone through a whole lot to properly distribute inflammation.

So the microbiome really gets involved in regulating our inflammation. So the gut is the largest part of our inflammatory system, which we kind of forget. That surprised me as a physician when I learned it.

And then the way it relates to diet, David, is that the types of bacteria that live in your gut get dictated by what you get exposed to. So when you’re born, passing through vaginal canal, and then breastfeeding, versus a cesarean birth. And then whether you’re exposed to antibiotics or not. And then whether you eat fermented foods or not.

So all traditional cultures, one of the reasons traditional diets are so healthy, in part is that all traditional diets tend to eat some fermented foods. Whether it’s yogurt or kimchi or sauerkraut. And then, once you put the good bacteria down there with the probiotic foods — so, for example, in all of my books I use a lot of kefir in the smoothies. And that’s because there’s more of these good bacteria — the good bugs, as I call them — in kefir than really anything else. Certainly than any probiotic you take.

Once you put them down there, you want to feed them. And they eat plant fibers. And so there’s both certain plants that are full of really interesting and good prebiotic fibers, like garlic and onions and leeks. But also just any plant has fiber in it. And so it’s one of the reasons that eating for brain health involves eating more plants.

Jamie Martin

Lots of plants. So can you talk a little bit about the gut-brain connection, too? Because there is a lot of science around that.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Yeah. And I think there’s also just the — beyond the science, I also just think everybody knows when your tummy is upset, or you’re little jumpy down there or a little backed up, it’s like, it doesn’t feel good. It’s hard to focus. You don’t feel confident. You don’t feel good. Your mood’s not good. So there’s that just basic way we all know our guts are connected to mental health.

And then there are the more really complex biological ways that have gotten discovered. One, there’s this large nerve, the vagus nerve. It’s one of the cranial nerves. Descends from the brain down through the heart and the diaphragm, and then it kind of spreads out and senses the gut. It’s like this neuron superhighway between the gut and the brain.

So one of the ways that the microbiome and the gut communicate with the vagus nerve is by excreting certain proteins or neurotransmitters that then, again, the brain is kind of sensing. There are then some studies is coming out that are quite interesting showing that some of our emotional reactivity and anxiety is dictated by the types of bacteria in our gut.

There were some studies I reviewed in Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety, and it was one of the kind of fun part of the book is walking people through the evidence that food is related to how we feel, and food is related to how our brains work. And there are just interesting studies, like putting people in research labs with protocols that are designed to induce anxiety, and then giving them certain strands of bacteria and showing that, over time, some strains of bacteria will decrease someone’s physiological response to anxiety.

And then taking that to the clinic of like, alright, you have a patient with anxiety. So we’re going to try and acutely treat symptoms, and we’re going to certainly if talk therapy is appropriate, if people are feeling anxious — let’s say there’s a trauma that’s happened, or other reasons that anxiety happens. But in addition to these, shouldn’t we also say, hey, let’s talk about your diet and think about the plants someone’s eating. Are they eating fermented foods?

You can imagine my job, I treat a lot of young men. And oftentimes, young men have really horrible diets. And if my job is really to help people with depression and anxiety and really feel their full potential and full authentic self and fully engaged in creating connections in their life, you know, there’s a headwind when individuals aren’t engaged in nourishment.

And it’s not like — I help a lot of college students feed their brains on some Chipotle and college cafeteria food. And it’s not like you only have to eat fish and plants. There’s lots of other brain foods. But it’s one of those ways that I think we all can just take a step back and think about how we’re thinking about our nutrition in food, and what the new science of food a brain health really tells us we should be considering.

Jamie Martin

One thing I love about what you’re saying — we often say this when it comes to health and fitness in general at Life Time — is we’re meeting people where they are with what their resources are and what their access is. So I think that’s a great way to think about it. It’s not just this one way. There’s not one way to do this. But we can help various people depending on the situation and their circumstances.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Yeah, for sure. It’s one of the parts of nutritional psychiatry I really try and promote. We have a clinical training where we’ve taught hundreds of clinicians. And I like to always share with the clinicians that what makes us special in nutritional advice is that we really don’t have a bias or a skin in the game about a certain particular dietary pattern or set of macros. We really want people to have a joyful existence with food.

And that really requires you to meet people where they are. And it allows us to engage and help individuals, whether they’re vegans or vegetarians or carnivores, or they’ve never cooked, or they’re foodies. And I really like that. It’s taught me a lot in terms of opening my mind to all of the ways that people nourish themselves, and also my own biases about food. Any time you’re getting into this world, I think you kind of start with those.

David Freeman

Yeah. I mean, my passion point within the fitness industry is creating that connection to movement. When people come to me, I go to the why. Why do you want to do certain things? And I want them to have this positive relationship to the squat, or how to pull open the door, it’s a pull motion, or whatever it may be.

And you just said it a few minutes ago, how to encourage people to find a joyful place with their food. Can you give us a little bit, like, if I’m in a session with you, and everybody can hear it right now, how do I get back to that place of looking at my food as something that I can enjoy, versus I need to hit this to be able to get to this goal?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Oh, David, I think that, I mean, if you want to have a little nutritional psychiatry right now, a session, I mean, I’m happy. For you, I try to do that in a few ways. I like to hear, first of all, just where joy spontaneously comes from for you in food. Are there certain foods that really give you pleasure? It doesn’t have to be healthy foods.

And then I also like to hear a little bit about where food started for you. What food was like in your home growing up. What kind of foods you associate as real pleasurable and comfort foods and foods that give you joy. And food processes that give you joy, if there are any, like things you like to cook or do or grow.

David Freeman

Yeah, from a foundational standpoint, it was about family at the dinner table. So I’ll always remember it was just any kind of soul food that my mother and father made. So that can go anything from collard greens and beans, and I know we go into the rhyme scheme there. You like that? But it was a lot of meat, as well. And that’s what it started off with.

As I started to shift more into college, it shifted, and we removed red meat and pork from our diet from our performance coach. He was like, we’re just going to do it for the summer. And then, when I slowly started to reintroduce it once we took it away for the summer, I didn’t want it anymore, or my body didn’t react in the same way. So I eliminated pork and dairy as well. Pork, dairy, and red meat.

And then I started to experiment. Now it’s been a year and some change. We had one of our guests on, Dan Buettner, with the Blue Zone diet. And I said, let me just go through that experiment myself. I have a lot of clients that say, what about this with vegan and vegetarian? And I was like, let me put myself through it versus just reading about it so I can speak to my experience and share that with them.

So I’ve now been vegan for a little over a year, and I absolutely enjoy it. The foods that I enjoy — all the berries you can think of. Anything green, I love that as well. So at times, the thing that I do miss out of all those things that I used to have is dairy. Every now and then, I want some cheese, you know?

But a lot of the foods that I eat now, I feel better. I sleep better. My recovery is better. And my energy is through the roof.

I could be deficient in certain things. I know you called it out early as far as usually male vegans, deficient within B12. And that’s where I look at the panels and work with a lot of different professionals and make sure I’m optimal, or how I can get back to being optimal in certain areas. So hopefully that helped out a little bit to get through a little journey there.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

That helps out a lot. Thanks for sharing all that. And I suspect you have great B12 levels because I think you’re healthy individuals. You’ve had probably some supplements as part of your regimen. You look you look super fit. And so thanks for sharing all of that.

So I hear a lot of joyfulness for you. And in that, I would hear both — I’d be really curious about the cheese. I’d be curious because, you know, I’m not a vegan. I think sometimes I can come across — and I think a lot of people in the brain health space, there’s sort of the vegans or the anti-vegans. And I [INAUDIBLE] really be neither and have respect that, for your journey, it’s not like it was an animal rights thing or even a health thing. It was a suggestion, and then you notice, man, I feel a lot better.

David Freeman

Mm-hmm.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

It also is interesting — I think this happens for a lot of folks — where it takes you away from some traditional, quote unquote, “comfort foods.” Soul foods, right? Where it was a lot of meat. And so, for individuals like yourself, I wonder if, one, there are certain kind of animal foods, since it’s not an animal rights things, that you would digest better that might give you some of the nutrients, but also some of the cultural piece, right?

I’d be thinking about things like seafood and bivalves, where you get a lot of those omega-3 fats. Or if there was like a seafood dish, seafood soul food dish, that was really meaningful to you. And it wasn’t, in some ways, bumping up against your vegan values. That it isn’t just food as people adopt that lifestyle. Conscientiousness around animals and animal rights. So I’d want to make sure of that first.

But I’d be curious about that. How we could get a little bit more of that feeling for you in your food if you’re missing it. I also would encourage what I hear. I hear a lot of joyfulness, a lot of creativity. You love berries, one of the top brain foods. And then, one of the things I like about nutritional psychiatry, I’d want to use your cheese quest as part of our forming a little treatment alliance.

And the first place I’d think about is, well, there are all kinds of new vegan cheeses and nut cheeses. Have you explored those?

David Freeman

Yes.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

And I’d be curious, yes or no, do I get the thumbs up, thumbs down? If I get the thumbs down, like, I want the real deal, I’d be curious whether there’s a certain cheese that you’re craving. And is there a certain way to go about that? And how are you going to think about enjoying that? But also that it’s making sure that it doesn’t cause some of the issues that it felt like the animal products were causing for you in terms of the kind of sluggishness.

Jamie Martin

What I love hearing about this is, like, you have always been willing to experiment. And I think that’s part of it. Experience, try things, what works for you, and what works for other people. It may not work for other people, but for you it’s right. It’s different from me.

So I think that goes back to if you’re getting people going, like, let’s say they want to start — I know you have a six-week program in terms of helping people nourish their brain health through nutrition. How would you suggest people get started?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Well, I think the first part in a food journey for individuals, especially when it comes to tying your food to your mental health, is taking an accounting of where you are, what values that are driving your food choices, as we just did in some way, to sort of understand how you are thinking about your food choices. Either you’re not at all, you’re overwhelmed, you’re busy, you’re not paying attention, or I’m in a transition. I just moved, and I was noting, all right, I’m kind of ready to tune it back in again.

I’ve gone through my grabbing my handful of nuts and my drinking mineral water and coffee until I get wet you hungry, and then slurping down a tub of hummus, having another pasta dinner, ordering — I’ve done that. I’ve had a few weeks of moving. But I saw myself in the kitchen really intently with bok choy, ginger, garlic, and a little bit of sesame oil. It’s like a vision this morning.

And so I think taking that accounting, wherever you are, whether you’re super healthy or not, and then very small goals within food categories is how we work in nutritional psychiatry. So you can hear it with David, right? I would try and get something besides the cheese because the cheese is a funny one. I talked to him about there’s a way that cheese — actually, there are these molecules and cheese that tickle the opioid receptor.

And the opioid receptor, it’s just a receptor in our brain. I mean, it has a bad reputation because of the opioids, but it’s involved in pleasure and hedonism. And so there is some theory that cheese gets you a little something. And I have that, too. I don’t have a lot of cravings, but sometimes as a finisher at the end of the day, I just needed a couple — not a lot. Just a couple of pieces of cheese.

Jamie Martin

I hear that from a lot of people. I love that. I’m on board.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

It’s very settling and grounding for a lot of folks. It’s where when I’m upset or if I’m just not feeling great in the morning, I’ll have a really light banana kefir cinnamon nut smoothie. I always have nuts in my smoothies. It’s just a really kind of light, easy way to start the day.

Jamie Martin

I love it.

Well, we want to be cognizant of time. I know you’ve got a lot going on. But anything else you would want to add for our listeners? Like, anything to keep in mind as they’re starting this journey of really thinking about nourishing their brain health?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Yeah, you asked about starting, and I just want to throw out some of my favorite things. Just to tickle your brain. So here are things that I love when people are starting to eat more brain food.

I love hearing fish tacos, and tacos in general, especially with corn tortillas and lots of vegetables on them. I think the taco is a great way to start eating more seafood. Even if you start with a fried fish taco, OK. OK. It’s the only time you’re getting permission to eat fried food because that’s going to lead to a grilled fish taco. It’s going to lead to shrimp tacos.

It’s going to lead to more guacamole in your life. And let’s just say guacamole twice. Great brain food.

Fermented foods. Kefir, kefir smoothies, sauerkraut, kimchi. I love seeing the power players in my book, which are like, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, mussels, clams, and oysters. Another great step is any crunchy vegetables with color.

Look at your plate, folks. See a rainbow. I joke in the book and in my last TED Talk, I call them “brain-bows.” Those colors all represent different phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are in part why David feels just so charged up, healthy, and positive on his plant-based diet. Phytonutrients — we call them antioxidants, which is selling them short.

They’re signaling molecules. We’ve co-evolved with them in plants. And they turn on a variety of cells and genes that signal health to our body, basically. So those are some of — when you think about first steps, people overthink brain food.

There’s so much information. There’s so much data. There’s so many complex molecules. And that’s where I really want everyone to just, in some ways, forget all that science, and just remember those foods. And I just challenge you to eat more of those in the next three or four days, and maybe the next week.

And use that rhyme — seafood, greens, nuts, and beans. Look at your plate. See rainbows. And then, as David demonstrated, pay attention.

Does it lead to you feeling — one thing I hear a lot is people sleep better, which always surprised me. I thought they’d come in and say, oh, my digestion’s better, or this or that. I find the other part, besides all the nutrients in the good food, there’s the confidence and empowerment that comes with it. That when you have a set of foods you feel confident in because they’re feeding your brain and your mental health, I just find that really helps me with my resilience.

Where when I’m down, I feel empowered. I’ve got something to do. Maybe I can’t figure this out. But I’m going to eat some seafood tonight. I’m going to get myself some nice roasted Brussels sprouts. I’m going to spend some time with myself chopping those up, being kind of mindful.

And I think that’s one of the other benefits of nutritional psychiatry, that’s the non-nutrient stuff. It’s the part that we get when we eat with other people, cook with other people, share food with other people.

Jamie Martin

Community right there. So we didn’t give you a heads-up about this, but how we wrap up every episode is David does a two-minute drill. And it’s not that hard. But if you’re willing to do it with us, he’s got 10 questions for you.

David Freeman

Oh, he’s willing, he’s willing.

Jamie Martin

Don’t speak for him. [LAUGHS]

Dr. Drew Ramsey

I was jump up and get ready for the burpees and Turkish lifts, squats.

David Freeman

The get-ups?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

The get-ups, yeah.

David Freeman

No pressure. I mean, I did kind of speak for you, but I know you’re willing. This is fun. It’s 10 questions. You try to answer it — there you go. Try to answer in less than 10 seconds, and the first thing that comes to mind. So it goes right back to the brain, all right? You ready?

Yeah, he’s in the zone. He’s in the zone. Alright, here we go. First question. First thing that comes to mind, less than 10 seconds. Spicy or sweet?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Sweet.

David Freeman

Best memory you have about the ’90s?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Meeting my wife.

David Freeman

Good answer. You’re going to get kudo points from her. OK, here we go. Favorite subject in high school?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Spanish class.

David Freeman

Nice. Are you fluent?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

I wouldn’t say fluent. I try hard.

[LAUGHTER]

Dr. Drew Ramsey

People think I’m Italian. It’s like, it’s not fully gringo. It’s pretty gringo.

David Freeman

I love it. Alright, if there was a superlative for today, what would your peers mark you down as?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Social media savvy.

[LAUGHTER]

Jamie Martin

I love it so much.

David Freeman

Alright.

Jamie Martin

This is great.

David Freeman

What was the car to have when you were in high school?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

The car to have when I was in high school? Oh, that’s so hard. I would probably say a Datsun 280Z.

David Freeman

I gotta google that one. I’m gonna go to Dr. Google for that one. Alright, if you had to make a choice between eating with no hands, utensils —

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Eating with no hands.

David Freeman

You already went right into it. I was going to say —

Dr. Drew Ramsey

[INAUDIBLE] This is such a great option. When do you get to do that? Eat with no hands. It’s like, that means someone’s feeding you, or you’re like, [SNARLS] down there, which is so animal and good for you. Everyone should just try it tonight. Eat with no hands for a little while. I’ve never even done that. What was the other choice?

David Freeman

It was, or hiking across the Sahara.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

That’s not fair. I want to do both. Can I hike across the Sahara and not eat with my hands for the entire trip?

Jamie Martin

Yes.

David Freeman

Yes, you have the best of both worlds.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

I’m gonna pick C, David. All of the above.

David Freeman

Alright, here we go. If you could be part of a singing group, which group would it be?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Any singing group? I’d be like, one of those new K-pop bands. I’d love to be — because you’d have a group. You’d have the group drama. You’d have so many fans. You’d have dance routines. And you have great outfits. I don’t know any, but that’s where I’d go.

David Freeman

Alright, that works. Who’s scarier to you, It or Freddy Krueger?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

I don’t — you know, my amygdala burned out a while ago. I’m a psychiatrist. I don’t really — I feel curious about — I don’t remember It, exactly. And Freddy, you know, Freddy’s always intrigued me. He seems like he needs to talk. And so —

[LAUGHTER]

Jamie Martin

Yes.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Yeah.

David Freeman

We’ll go with Freddy, OK.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

There’s a lot of pain there he needs to get through. So I’m curious about — it’s a problem. I’m a doctor. They’re in pain, and I’d like to help.

David Freeman

Alright.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Hashtag #notscared.

[LAUGHTER]

Jamie Martin

That’s awesome. I’m crying.

David Freeman

Alright, so who would you rather have sing at your wedding, Beyonce or Whitney? Houston if I need to put the Houston —

Dr. Drew Ramsey

You don’t need to put that. That’s hard, that’s hard. I mean, I think I have to go with Whitney there. No offense to Beyonce. I just think, because of my age and — yeah. I’m 47, so I have to go with Whitney.

David Freeman

Love it. Alright, two more.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Specifically, any songs from The Bodyguard, like “I Will Always Love You.”

Jamie Martin

Yes.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Makes me cry every time like I’m at prom.

Jamie Martin

That’s so good.

David Freeman

Awesome. Alright, alright. If you could meet any person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

You didn’t prepare me for this at all. It could be any person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Jamie Martin

He’s disappeared. [LAUGHS]

Dr. Drew Ramsey

I think right now it would be really interesting to be Elon Musk.

David Freeman

Nice, nice. OK. Last but not least, what do you feel —

Dr. Drew Ramsey

I don’t feel like you liked my answer, David.

David Freeman

No, no, no, no. No, that was — that was it.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

I don’t know, I’m just fusing my mind as a psychiatrist. And so let me —

David Freeman

You thought it was supposed to be like, Sigmund Freud or something like that?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

I should say Freud, but no. I think probably, if I could be anyone dead or alive, I would be really —

David Freeman

No, meet, meet. You don’t have to be them. You would just get to meet them.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Oh, meet them.

David Freeman

Yeah, meet them.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Oh, just meet them. Oh, then I’d like to meet Carl Jung. That would be because I really want to know — I really want to answer the question that people have around whether there were psychedelics or plant medicines involved in his very, very profound psychedelic inward journeys that created The Red Book. I don’t think that’s been really answered, and I’d like to hang out with Jung.

Jamie Martin

I like that.

David Freeman

That was good. Alright. Alright, so last but not least, what do you want to leave as a stamp of impact in the year 2021?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

In 2021, I hope the impact that I’ve helped promote is a conversation of mental health that includes male mental health and food. Those two things, if there are more people talking about men and mental health, and more people talking about how nutrition affects mental health, that would be incredibly meaningful to me if I could help out with that in any way.

David Freeman

I love it. I love it. There you go.

Jamie Martin

Awesome. So Dr. Ramsey, if people want to follow your work, where can they find you?

Dr. Drew Ramsey

You can find me on Instagram. That’s where I spend more of my time than I should. I’m at @DrewRamseyMD there. My website’s DrewRamseyMD.com. I’ve got some fun downloads.

We’ve got a new, fully digital nutritional psychiatry cooking class, the Mental Fitness Kitchen. So please come and join us in one of our cooking classes. And I hope you would take a look at the book Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety, if those are things that are on your mind and you’re curious about how food relates to them.

But mostly, I just hope from this conversation some of those foods tickled your neurons and you’re excited at your next meal to look and think, are you feeding your brain? What more could you understand about that? How can you take care of that amazing asset you have and feed your mental health?

And thank you both. I’m going to do more time thinking about who I’d really want to meet. I think I can’t answer that because I’m a psychiatrist, and there’s something strange — I’m kind of old school. When I meet people, I don’t like to know very much about them. I don’t want any of my biases of who they are or might be.

I just like to start with literally just a blank piece of paper and see what happens. But I’ll think more about that one. That’s a good question.

David Freeman

That’s awesome.

Jamie Martin

We’re going to have to revisit that at some point. I love it. Thank you so much for taking the time. It’s been awesome having you here.

David Freeman

Thank you so much.

Dr. Drew Ramsey

It’s really nice to speak with both of you. Thanks for the great conversation, all the great questions, and I look forward to talking more in the future. Take care.

[MUSIC]

David Freeman

Thanks for joining us for this episode. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation today, and how you approach this aspect of healthy living in your own life. What works for you? Where do you run into challenges? Where do you need help?

Jamie Martin

And if you have topics for future episodes, you can share those with us, too. Email us at lttalks@lt.life, or reach out to us on Instagram, @lifetime.life@jamiemartinel, or @freezy30, and use the hashtag #LifeTimeTalks. You can also learn more about the podcast at el.lifetime.life/podcasts.

David Freeman

And if you’re enjoying Life Time Talks, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Feel free to rate and review, and share on your social channels too.

Jamie Martin

Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next time on Life Time Talks.

Life Time Talks is a production of Life Time, healthy way of life. It’s produced by Molly Schelper, with audio engineering by Peter Perkins, and video production by Kevin Dixon, Coy Larson, and the team at LT Motion. A big thank you to the team who pulls together each episode, and everyone who provided feedback.

We’d Love to Hear From You

Have thoughts you’d like to share or topic ideas for future episodes? Email us at lttalks@lt.life.

The information in this podcast is intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge of healthcare topics. This information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of advice from your physician or healthcare provider. We recommend you consult your physician or healthcare professional before beginning or altering your personal exercise, diet or supplementation program.

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