To me, and many experts out there, food and mood are inextricably linked. But can you eat to make yourself happy? Yes, says Dr. Drew Ramsey, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and co-author of the new book The Happiness Diet. Here Dr. Ramsey shares with us his insights on eating for happiness.
Q: What inspired The Happiness Diet?
A: The moment of inception was about five years ago when I was working with a patient and thinking, what else can we do in mental health besides psychotherapy and medications? I’ve always been interested in food and I come from a farm and it was a moment of clarity of: what’s the best diet I can recommend for this woman’s mental health and for brain health specifically?
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There are a lot of books out there focused on obesity and diabetes and cancer, and those are important areas to think about diet. But there hasn’t been enough of an emphasis on brain health which I think is the most important way to think about food. It’s at the root of how you feel and think and that’s at the root of people’s happiness. Losing 50 pounds makes most people feel better but if they’re not feeding the brain correctly, you can lose all the weight in the world and still feel horrible.
Q: So ultimately the goal is…?
A: The idea behind The Happiness Diet is can we get people interested in brain health and motivate them to shift their diet to a way everyone agrees is healthy. All nutritionists and physicians can agree on a few things — that real, whole food is the key to health. And that eating a wide variety of colourful vegetables, switch to organic whenever possible, eat more seafood and a variety of it is also key. And the book’s goal is to explain the science behind that. Why does vitamin B12 matter to your brain? Why do omega-3 fats matters to your brain? Everyone knows that omega-3 fats are good for your heart, but there’s also interesting data on how they help depression.
Q: So what are the highlights of the diet?
A: It’s a plant-based diet with carefully selected meat, fish and dairy that emphasizes non-factory farmed meats and avoiding processed foods. The cornerstone of the diet is getting off processed foods because the main source of calories for most people are added fats and sugars.
Another cornerstone is avoiding refined carbohydrates and sugars. These trigger your body into going into fat-storage mode and one of the points of the diet is to explain how obesity and diabetes affect the brain.
Another key to the diet is emphasizing satiating foods, such as full-fat Greek yogurt — you’ll get more calories but more satiation over flavoured low-fat foods.
Q: So if readers were to make a change to their diet to be happier right away, what would you suggest?
A: Reconsider how you think about fat. Your brain is mainly made of fat and we know that few fats are really great for brain health — the monounsaturated fats which are in olive oil, pork and more and they’re one of the most prevalent fats around and are great for the brain. The omega-3 fats you find in seafood are great for the brain. The omega-6 fats which you find in vegetable, corn, soybean and sunflower oil, we eat way too many of those. So to start tomorrow, if you find yourself reading food labels, you’re probably eating the wrong food.
Want to know more about The Happiness Diet? Check out Dr. Ramsey’s site here.
What do you eat to make yourself feel healthiest and happiest?
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