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Your Food & Mental Health with Dr. Uma Naidoo

Dr. Uma Naidoo is a Harvard trained psychiatrist, Professional Chef graduating with her culinary schools’ most coveted award, and a trained Nutrition Specialist. Her nexus of interests have found their niche in Nutritional Psychiatry. Dr. Naidoo founded and directed the first hospital-based Nutritional Psychiatry Service in the United States. She is the Director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) & Director of Nutritional Psychiatry at MGH Academy while serving on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. She was considered Harvard’s Mood-Food expert and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal.


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How does food affect your mental health? 

Now more than ever, people have become more health-conscious about diet and exercise as it pertains to matters like cholesterol, high blood pressure, or weight loss, but not many are discussing the connection between food, the brain, and its impact on mental well-being

Here to discuss this topic with us today is our phenomenal guest, Dr. Uma Naidoo. Uma is a Harvard trained psychiatrist, Professional Chef, and trained Nutrition Specialist. She is also the author of her brand new book, This is Your Brain on Food

You’ve heard it here before, that what you eat matters, especially to your gray matter. Join us, as Dr. Uma explains the physiological connection between the gut and brain and the powerful effects of food on our mental health and well-being.

*** Do you want to stay up to date with every new episode and get my brand new Kwik Brain Accelerator Program? Go to www.KwikBrain.com/podcast to get instant access. ***

"There is this connection between what we eat and then how we feel emotionally."


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  • People have become more health-conscious about diet and exercise as it pertains to matters like cholesterol, high blood pressure, or weight loss, but not many are discussing the connection between food, the brain, and its impact on mental well being — that’s where nutritional psychiatry comes in.
  • After cooking and experimenting with food, Dr. Uma understood in learning psychopharmacology and the devastating effects of some medications, that she needed to offer a patient more than just her prescription pad.
  • She began to further explore what she could be speaking to patients and clients about —  what they could be doing with movement, how they were eating, and what they were eating — to make a difference.
  • This practice has required a great deal of research and learning because according to Dr. Uma, there is a big gap in nutrition education in medical schools.


  • One of the mechanisms talked about in This is Your Brain on Food is the gut-brain axis.
  • Although the gut and brain are far apart in the body, they start from the very same cells in the embryo. They divide to form two separate entities.
  • They are also physiologically, anatomically, and biochemically connected by the vagus nerve — our tenth cranial nerve.
  • The vagus nerve is like a “two-way superhighway” because it provides a bidirectional flow of information back and forth. This can people understand that although digestion begins sooner when the food is in our gut, whatever is happening there will be directly interacting with the gut, the gut lining, and the connection to the brain through the vagus nerve.
  • Serotonin is called the happiness hormone and more than 90% of the serotonin receptors are found in the gut. Then you can understand that if the receptors are there, they are impacted by the food you eat.
  • A very large component of our immune system is in our gut. How we eat in terms of healthfulness, immune-boosting, and anti-inflammatory foods, helps our guts thrive. The microbes in the gut help us keep our immunity and keep us in a physically and mentally fit state.
  • As such, there is a connection between what we eat and how we feel emotionally.


  • Spices. People don’t typically think of spices, but saffron and turmeric in particular hit the high notes with clinical trials of depression.
  • Saffron is not a spice we use much in a culinary way, in this case, a supplement would be a good option.
  • Turmeric only requires a small amount to be effective. A quarter teaspoon coupled with black pepper in your meals or in a smoothy has very powerful digestion and anti-depressant effects. (**Adding black pepper helps to increase the absorption of turmeric in the body**)
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids. It is best to obtain these in food sources like sockeye salmon, and other fatty fish like mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines. 
  • If you are plant-based you can get short-chain ALA from flax seeds, chia seeds, basil seeds, algae, and certain nuts.
  • Because our bodies are not efficient in converting short-chain ALAs to DHA and EPA, it is helpful to add turmeric and black pepper to your chia pudding, for example, to help with the conversion process.
  • Other healthy fats. Olive oil and avocado are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties for your brain.
  • Find more good mood foods in Uma’s book, This is Your Brain on Food.


  • Nitrates. Often added in preserved meats and processed meats, nitrates are found to drive and worsen depression.
  • Trans Fats. These are commonly found in margarine, shortening, and hydrogenated oils are shown to be linked with higher levels of aggression.
  • Artificial Sweeteners. These are known to worsen mood. The worse ones are aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose.
  • Refined Sugars. Commonly found in baked goods, candy, and high fructose corn syrup.
  • People know that these are not good for our physical health but they are also known to negatively affect our mood.
  • Artificial sugars usually hide in diet soda and other “sugar-free” foods.
  • As a result, it is extremely important to understand food labels to ensure that artificial sweeteners are not hidden.
  • There is an organization that has found up to 250 other names for sugar on food labels, so really knowing what to look for is important. “Sugar-free” is not always as it seems.
  • Also, check out great food recipes in Dr. Uma’s book.
  • Dr. Uma was sure to include thorough endnotes in her book so others could find supporting research to make their own conclusions.


  • Take a screenshot of this episode, tag us on social media (@JimKwik & @DrUmaNaidoo), and share your greatest “aha!” moment from this episode with us.
  • Tell us what spices you have tried from Dr. Uma’s book.
  • Get Dr. Uma’s book, This is Your Brain on Food, here.


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