Dr. Drew Ramsey, a psychiatrist and professor at Columbia University, is a pioneer in the intriguing world of nutritional psychiatry. In his book Eat Complete, he outlines 21 key nutrients that impact brain health, along with no-fuss recipes to help readers incorporate these foods into our busy lives. Dr. Ramsey is a medical doctor who prescribes antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications for his patients’ mental health, but in recent years, Dr. Ramsey has begun prescribing dietary changes in addition to traditional psychiatric medications. He writes that these lifestyle shifts have anecdotally helped improve patients’ anxiety and depression.
One of my favorite bits of dietary wisdom is a well-known mantra from Michael Pollan, “eat food: not too much, mostly plants,” and I make every effort to incorporate this into my daily habits. (By “food” he means real food, as in food that your great grandparents would have recognized. The “not too much” part is the one I still tend to struggle with most. But that’s another topic for another day.) As an enthusiastic proponent of eating real food, I purchased Eat Complete not long after its release a couple of years ago. I was excited to bridge my medical nutrition knowledge with what I understand intuitively about the impacts of a healthy diet.
In Eat Complete, Dr. Ramsey outlines essential nutrients for brain health in three categories: 7 for foundation, 7 for protection, and 7 for ignition. I was especially thrilled to find that one of my favorite indulgences, raw oysters, are an excellent source of zinc (a necessary cofactor needed for the proper functioning of numerous enzymes in the body). And as luck would have it, the clams in my favorite chowder are rich in vitamin B12 (or cobalamin, a necessary brain nutrient that our bodies cannot synthesize). He goes on to explain why each of these nutrients is essential, how long our bodies can store them, the prevalence of deficiency, and ways to incorporate more of each of them into our diets.
I have been slowly making my way through the recipes, which are largely in keeping with what you may know as a “Mediterranean” diet: mostly vegetables, small amounts of clean (unprocessed) fish and meats, and a variety of whole grains. The field of nutritional psychiatry is fairly new, but growing rapidly and gaining traction. Eat Complete is a great place to start, for those who are curious!