3 questions for a nutritional psychiatrist

Which nutrients and foods should people prioritize for mental health?

“I do my best to preach a simple rhyme: seafood, greens, nuts, and beans. The four fish that I prescribe the most are anchovies, sardines, oysters, and mussels.

Besides that, B12 is one of the most critical nutrients. Clams are a top nutritional source, but almost all meat has some. Vegans need to take a B12 supplement, otherwise they can become deficient in the vitamin and that’s horrible for the brain.

I aim to get all nutrients from food and I encourage my patients to as well. My rocket pizza recipe—a whole wheat, cauliflower, or gluten-free crust topped with arugula, kale pesto, olive oil, garlic, clams, and microgreens—is a classic nutritional psychiatry dish that mixes greens and seafood.

Cook with family and friends, eat the rainbow, have more fun with your food, and connect to your nourishment intentionally and spiritually.”

Is there a type of diet that gets too much credit and another that deserves more?

“Many people consider plant-based diets the holy grail. Plants have a lot of merits and eating lots of them is a great idea. But there’s a polarization and a demonization of animal products that’s dangerous when it comes to our health.

On the other hand, research shows people who eat Mediterranean-style diets (minimally-processed foods, more home-cooked meals, and tons of vegetables, fish, nuts, and beans) have a 30 to 50 percent lower risk of depression compared to those who eat the Western way, consuming lots of added sugars and fats. These results have been fairly consistent for 20 years.

There are a number of concerns with the traditional Western diet. First, most of the calories come with virtually no nutrients. Second, these foods have been processed in ways that seem to cause inflammation. Third, trans fats are like grit in the gears of our bodies—when your vascular health is compromised, so is your mental health.”

Is it possible to rely solely on nutrition as a form of mental health therapy?

“There’s a huge misperception in the wellness movement that it’s the only medicine people need. This is incredibly unfair to patients with mental health disorders. The idea, for instance, that you have bipolar disorder because you’re eating too much sugar is very misguided.

When people say you can boost your mood simply by shifting what you eat—it takes more than that. Food is one piece of beating depression. Rather than replace psychotherapy or medication, nutritional psychiatry offers a set of tools that can help people be happier and healthier overall.”

*This interview has been edited and condensed for publication.

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