#96 – Nutrition’s Impact On Mental Health with Dr. Uma Naidoo | Below The Line

Key Takeaways

  • 90% of serotonin receptors are in the gut
  • 70% of the immune system is in the gut
  • Food alone isn’t a cure for everyone but can universally reduce symptoms, improve lifestyle and mood, and enhance daily life
  • Diet is highly individual: every food is in the context of what works for you
  • Industrialization has significantly changed the process of gluten in the U.S.
  • Don’t forego flavor because if you don’t like the way your food tastes, you won’t want to eat it
  • For improved health today, avoid: sugar, artificial sweeteners, vegetable oil, and possibly gluten for those with anxiety
  • General nutrition guidelines: eat the color of the rainbow, use spices with anti-inflammatory properties such as turmeric, incorporate prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods
  • To get started: think about the one thing you can change today – add a vegetable at dinner, eat yogurt or oatmeal instead of the sugary cereal for breakfast, etc.


Dr. Uma Naidoo (@DrUmaNaidoo) is a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and professional chef, completing culinary school with her program’s highest honors.

In this episode of Below The Line, James sits down with Dr. Uma Naidoo to discuss the presence of serotonin receptors in the gut, what foods to eat and avoid, and the role of nutrition on our mental health.

Book: This Is Your Brain On Food by Uma Naidoo, MD

Host: James Beshara (@jamesbeshara)

Mental Health Impact Of COVID-19

  • 11% of Americans (all ages) had suicidal ideation in the last year
  • Zoloft was in short supply by June 2020
  • Substance and alcohol use increased in 2020
  • Lack of movement, sunlight, and socialization have detrimental impacts on people with and without mental health disorder
  • It’s likely we don’t know the full mental health fallout of the pandemic
  • Suicidal ideation can start as early as 5-6 years old
  • Cyberbullying has been increasingly hurtful to the wellness of children – never be afraid to ask your children questions
  • Impulsivity plays a large role in child suicide
  • How to speak with children about mental health: understand what’s going on in your child’s life, try to pick up on behavior change and isolation, family meals are a great way to stay connected, pay attention to trending social media topics and what your child may be exposed to

New Wave Of Psychiatry: Food As Medicine

  • We need to put the whole body together instead of compartmentalizing organ or system
  • The mental health crisis is huge and DSM doesn’t capture everyone
  • People are suffering and either don’t have access to care or don’t seek care because of stigma
  • Western medicine ends at the diagnosis and prescription medication
  • The general flow of psychiatric care today: Evaluate – prescribe medication – follow-up
  • Nutritional psychiatry care integrates clinical psychiatry and evidence-based information on nutrients
  • Food isn’t a cure for everyone but can reduce symptoms, improve lifestyle, and enhance daily life
  • Food is something we can change now – today

Nutritional Psychiatry & Foods To Avoid

  • 90% of serotonin receptors are in your gut, not your brain
  • 70% of our immune system is in the gut
  • Any movement we can make away from the Standard American Diet is good
  • The microbiome adapts in positive and negative ways: our food is either serving the good microbes or bad bacteria in our gut
  • Foods are designed to lead to addiction with the added sugar, nitrates, low-quality oil
  • Ingredients driving poor health: added sugar, artificial sweeteners, vegetable oil
  • We need to understand food labels to understand what we’re putting in our body – added sugars are often hidden in food
  • Sugar drives depression and metabolic syndrome
  • Stevia is a healthier option than artificial sugars but can drive anxiety
  • Processed vegetable oils (unlike olive oil) are inflammatory and amplify neurological symptoms
  • Many people finding dairy milk to be inflammatory is largely tied to modern-day processing
  • Inflammation is a natural part of the body’s healing but can become harmful when unchecked
  • By reducing inflammation in the gut, we’re helping the brain
  • “Happy gut, happy mood.” – Dr. Uma Naidoo
  • If you have a reaction or response to food, it’s important to pay attention
  • “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of a cure” – James Beshara
  • Moving away from chocolate craving: try dark chocolate with no added sugar, shooting for north of 80% for probiotic effects

Complexity Of Gluten

  • Industrialization has changed the way we process gluten in this country
  • Gluten has been shown to increase anxiety
  • If you have anxiety, ty eliminating gluten and assess over two weeks
  • Many people may now know they have non-celiac gluten intolerance
  • It’s ok to eat healthy whole grains but pay attention to metabolic panel and mood – if you notice symptoms and don’t feel well, try removing
  • Trying elimination diets doesn’t mean that you have to eliminate something forever – you can reintroduce in small portions and high quality and assess response

Pillars Of Food

  • Spices: adding a pinch of black pepper to turmeric makes it more bioavailable, chili peppers, oregano, saffron
  • Fiber for those who can tolerate
  • Eat the colors of the rainbow in vegetables and fruits
  • Prebiotic (provide food to gut microbes): jicama, asparagus
  • Probiotic (bring back good live microbes to the gut): fermented foods, yogurt
  • First step: look at one meal you can change – maybe you start the day with sugary cereal and can try to swap that out
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Notes By Maryann

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