Calm Your Anxiety with Food: Understanding the Gut-Brain Connection with Dr. Uma Naidoo

About this Episode

On this episode of the Brainy Moms podcast, Dr. Amy and Dr. Jody welcome Dr. Uma Naidoo, author of the international bestseller, “This Is Your Brain on Food” and the new book, “Calm Your Mind with Food: A Revolutionary Guide to Controlling Your Anxiety.” Tune in to learn more about how (and why!) what you eat affects your brain—including mood, energy, and cognition—with practical advice on how to make small changes for yourself or your family. From turmeric and omega-3s to the effects of dairy, sugar, and gluten, this is a must-watch episode for everyone who wants to impact their brain health through what they eat—or don’t.

About Dr. Uma Naidoo

Uma Naidoo, MD, is a board-certified Harvard Nutritional Psychiatrist, professional chef, and nutritional biologist. She is the Founder and Director of the first and only hospital-based Nutritional and Metabolic Psychiatry Service in the United States which is housed at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Dr. Naidoo also serves as the Director of Nutritional Psychiatry at MGH Academy, the world-renowned educational organization, for which she designed and released the only CME-based Nutritional Psychiatry educational program for clinicians at an academic teaching hospital. Additionally, Dr. Naidoo serves on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, the Harvard Department of Nutrition, and is an instructor at The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. Dr. Naidoo frequently speaks at conferences around the world and is a regular contributor at CNBC, Harvard Health, mindbodygreen, and Psychology Today, among others. She has appeared as a Nutritional Psychiatry expert on ABC, Live with Kelly & Ryan, Today, and has been featured in AARP, New York Times, Thrive Global, Wall Street Journal, and more. Dr. Naidoo’s first book, the international bestseller This Is Your Brain on Food has been published in 22 countries and 18 languages.

Connect with Dr. Uma


Instagram: @DrUmaNaidoo

Facebook: @DrUmaNaidoo

Twitter/X: @DrUmaNaidoo

TikTok: @Dr.UmaNaidoo

Book #1: This Is Your Brain on Food (August 4, 2020)

Book #2: Calm Your Mind With Food: A Revolutionary Guide to Controlling Your Anxiety (December 26, 2023)

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Read the transcript for this episode:

DR. AMY: Hi, smart moms and dads. Welcome to another episode of the Brainy Moms podcast brought to you today by LearningRx brain training centers. I’m your host, Dr. Amy Moore. I’m joined by my co-host, Dr. Jody Jedlicka, and we are coming to you today from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Dr. Jody and I are super excited to welcome our guest today, Dr. Uma Naidoo. Dr. Naidoo is a board-certified Harvard nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, and nutritional biologist. She’s the founder and director of the first and only hospital-based nutritional and metabolic psychiatry service in the United States. Dr. Uma serves on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, the Harvard Department of Nutrition, and is an instructor at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. Dr. Naidoo frequently speaks at conferences around the world and is a regular contributor at CNBC, Harvard Health, MindBodyGreen, Psychology Today, ABC, Live with Kelly and Ryan, and the Today Show. Dr. Naidoo’s book, the international bestseller, “This is Your Brain on Food,” has been published in 22 countries in 18 languages. She’s joining us today to talk about her new book about the connection between food and the brain and to share insights from, “Calm Your Mind With Food; A Revolutionary Guide to Controlling Your Anxiety.” Welcome, Dr. Uma. 

DR. UMA: Thanks so much, Dr. Amy and Dr. Jody. It’s great to talk to you both. 

DR. AMY: Yeah, we are really excited. And, you know, our listeners are used to hearing us talk about nutrition, but to have an actual expert in mental health and nutrition at the same time is really exciting to us. So tell us quickly, because I know we don’t have a lot of time with you today, how you decided to, as a psychiatrist, also get formal training in nutrition. Why was that important to you?

DR. UMA: I came from a family that was very food oriented and science oriented, cooking healthy foods, a lot of scientists in the family, physicians and Ayurvedic practitioners. So that was in, kind of in my blood. It was the way I was raised. And I noticed that when I was in a residency, no one, we were being taught to prescribe, you know, psychotropic medications, which have side effects. But no one was discussing lifestyle measures to help the patient offset those side effects. And I thought that was a real gap. And a patient experience early in my career taught me that if you can interpret something to a patient, a person, they can actually use that knowledge. And I realized how powerful it was. So I really dedicated my career to developing that out, studying nutrition and integrating it in a way, because I feel that while medications have saved the lives of many of my patients, it’s not the only route to feeling better in mental well-being. 

DR. JODY: I love the idea that that gives the patient so much control over their situation and I just think that that’s so much of a better feeling than having to take medication, things like that. So let’s get down to it. How does eating impact how we feel? Talk about the brain-gut or the, yeah, the brain-gut connection. 

DR. UMA: So thank you. That’s always a great question. The gut and brain originate from the exact same cells in the human embryo, and then they divide apart to form these two organs. And then the gut and brain remain connected throughout our lives by the 10th cranial nerve, which is the vagus nerve, which allows for two-way text messaging of neurotransmitter information. So they’re connecting around this, but you also have to understand that 90 to 95 percent of serotonin and its receptors are located in the gut. So when you think about the food that’s being digested, it’s interacting with microbes that are also dealing with serotonin production, serotonin receptors. It’s all in the same environment.  And we start to understand just like we might have a headache and swallow a Tylenol or headache pill and get relief for a headache, but we’re actually swallowing the pill and it’s going to our digestive tract. In a similar way, just like a headache pill will help the headache, which is usually in your neural tissue, similarly food actually, as it breaks down, also over time impacts our brain function. And it’s something that has been a gap in our understanding until the newest science of the gut microbiome. 

DR. AMY: I love that analogy. That is something that we can really grab hold of, right? You take an aspirin, it goes into your gut and then impacts your neural tissue, right? That’s how you get rid of the headache. So obviously whatever we’re putting in our mouths is going to the gut and it’s going to impact our brain in some way.  Love that. Okay, so I know that some food can get through the blood brain barrier. Some things can’t get through the blood brain barrier. Can you talk to us about something called “leaky gut” and how, how that is going to impact brain function?

DR. UMA: Yeah. So leaky gut is something the medical term is intestinal permeability and taking back, take us back to the discussion of the guts and the brain. Say if I’m mostly eating fast foods, processed, highly processed foods, and some unhealthy foods, then the breakdown products of those foods are actually more damaging and toxic to the gut. They can cause inflammation in the gut. They can lead to imbalance called dysbiosis, but they can also start to damage the single-cell lining of the gut, which is very delicate. And when these more toxic breakdown products start to damage the gut, they can pierce it and that leads to leakage. So it is literally a leaky gut. Unfortunately, with that comes other complications, like inflammation of the gut can lead to inflammation in the brain. But it is an important thing for us to understand that the food we eat can directly impact that as well. 

DR. AMY: So talk to us a little bit about those big-impacting foods. Gluten, dairy, sugar. Talk to us about how gluten, dairy, and sugar can have an impact on brain function. 

DR. UMA: So in terms of sugar, let’s start with one that’s obvious. We know that sugar from fruit from blueberries, some of my favorites, are not the same as you know, candies and chocolate bars and cookies and that type of stuff. So we’re talking about that form of sugar and basically sugar does a few different things. It taps into our dopamine receptors in the similar way that street drugs do, like cocaine. So when we consume a lot of sugar, we crave more sugar. And this is something that many people will talk about, but don’t understand the actual biochemistry and physiology behind it. So being aware of when and how we consume our sugar becomes really important for brain function because over time, sugar directly impacts neurons, damages them. So we want to, you know, be mindful of where and how we are consuming our sugar. With gluten, in mental health, some of the gluten foods actually can cause an uptick in anxiety. I think the quality of gluten is important. The source of gluten is important. And the reason I say that is many people may eat bread, but if you’re eating a slice of processed bread from the supermarket versus an artisanal baked loaf of sourdough bread at a bakery, there could be a real difference. I also do a short-term elimination if someone is severely anxious or has symptoms where we suspect gluten is the culprit. Because some people besides Celiac disease also may have non-Celiac gluten sensitivity. So it’s one of those things where we have to explore what’s going on. You know, it’s not a leading food—I want people to get their whole grains in different ways, but they don’t necessarily have to get it from gluten. And the third one I think you mentioned was dairy, right? So dairy, in the way that milk is produced in this country can be, can actually be very inflammatory for a lot of people. One of the recipes I created in my new book, “Calm Your Mind with Food,” is one for hemp milk because it forms an alternative and it actually brings you short chain omega-3s into your system. So it’s pretty easy to do. But dairy on its own has can create several problems. I also again think it’s the source of the dairy and the form of the dairy. I think if people can find sources of organic, you know, grass-fed things like kefir, which are fermented, plain yogurt that’s Greek yogurt that’s plain and grass fed and they can tolerate it, I think those are good options because the issues like getting fermented foods and probiotics become important. But often dairy can be just very inflammatory for people. So it’s something that I offer as a suggestion, but, you know, with caution in certain, in certain groups. 

DR. AMY: So if it creates inflammation in the body, your brain is part of the body.

DR. UMA: That’s it. Exactly right. They all connected, right? So because mental health is no longer just above the neck. And so if it’s inflaming your body, inflaming your gut, that’s why alternatives—if you consume dairy, some people stay away from it altogether. But if you do, try for grass fed and really be careful of the sauce that you get it from.

DR. AMY: You mentioned in one of your books, the difference between A1 and A2 proteins in dairy, and that sometimes it’s the It’s the A1 protein that is the actual sensitivity, not lactose. Talk a little bit about that. 

DR. UMA: So people may have seen, you know, milks labeled A2 dairy in the supermarket, and that’s because perhaps the dairy industry has gotten onto this fact, but specifically the A1 milk caseins were thought to be problematic. So using products from A2 milk or nut milk, or goat’s or sheep’s milk, which is produced differently, may be helpful. And that’s because of what the research showed. So this may be an option for individuals who consume dairy and want to consume dairy, but have a problem with it. And my clients that have used A2 milk are quite happy with it. They find it to be a useful solution, but again, we haven’t researched just the A2 milk.

DR. JODY: If somebody is looking to make diet changes, what are kind of the behavioral manifestations that they can expect to see, or what should they be looking for? 

DR. UMA: You know, some of the first things, it’s a marathon and not a sprint. So always forewarn people, we’re going to do this slowly and steadily so it can be sustainable, right? Because if not a week later or a month later, all the things that they’ve given up, they just go back and eat more of. So it’s a delicate balance of the psychological space and the psychology of eating as well as that. But one of the things, Dr. Jody, that I start with is something that’s bothering the person. So often they’ll come in to see me and they’ll be concerned because they’re now having post-pandemic continuum with a large bowl of ice cream every night. You know, during the pandemic, we had nowhere to go. So having a big bowl of ice cream was something a lot of people did. Now they can take a walk after dinner. They can do so much more. But I stopped there because the fact that they’re aware of the issue, they’re thinking about it, means that they’re wanting, they’re at least thinking maybe they could make a change and I could work with them to find a suitable replacement for that habit. So I have a recipe in “This Is Your Brain on Food” for ice cream made from bananas. You can even make it a chocolate flavor. And it’s a great option because you can still enjoy something that you were enjoying. But you can actually get your serving of fruit in, you can get the benefit from the extra dark natural chocolate. So it’s not, it has to be a starting point that they, that I feel I could work with them to really mobilize that change. And what I find they often will notice is improvement in sleep. They’re waking up less anxious. Their mood is a little better, or their brain fog is lifting. And the moment that those, those experiences and those, that transformation starts to happen, the individual wants to do like 10 more things because they already started to feel better. And that’s when you can gain momentum with developing a more full and robust nutritional psychiatry plan.

DR. AMY: And you have a lot of recipes and alternative ways of making those favorites in your book, right?

DR. UMA: Yes, correct. I just think people need to have practical solutions and solutions that work and are easy for them. You know, they, we don’t, we’re not here to make souffle. We’re really just here to eat healthy whole foods. More often than not. So, you know, the right souffle and the right meal could be delicious. It’s not necessarily what I’m trying to convey to people. It’s basic recipes that are interchangeable, flexible. You can add tofu or you can add chicken, but you can use the same spices, herbs and vegetables to make the dish. And I think that that offers people more solutions to the problem. 

DR. AMY: Alright, so a minute ago you mentioned omega-3s when you were talking about hemp milk, I think. Can you talk a little bit about the benefits of omega-3s for the brain in anxiety, in ADHD, or in mental health altogether? Why should we, why should we supplement with them?

DR. UMA: So omega-3 fatty acids are found in lots of fatty seafood like salmon, anchovies, sardines. And they, you know, have been shown time and time again to be really great for the brain, for brain health, and actually often can be supplemental in using to improve things like mental, in mental health issues like depression and anxiety. They are also plant-based forms. The plant-based or the short-chain omegas, like the ALA from hemp, hemp seeds, flax seeds, walnuts and more, they’re a little less efficient at reaching the brain, but it’s still a source of short-chain omegas. So I say to people, if you don’t consume fish, certainly lean into the hemp milk and the hemp seeds and flax seeds and stuff, but you can also take an algal oil supplement made from sea algae. So that’s plant based for you. And that just provides people with an option, but these are helpful substances that when we consume actually reduce inflammation and are great for our body and brain. 

DR. AMY: So what is your recommendation? How many milligrams a day do you recommend of omega-3s? 

DR. UMA: So it depends. You know, I’m a food-first person, so I usually say to people, if you consume fish, maybe have a portion that’s 4 to 6 ounces about 2 to 3 times a week. Make sure that you’re having a balanced diet of other foods, lots of vegetables always, other healthy fats and food and healthy, you know, more complex carbs. So I usually go by the food, by sort of a food guide. And if you don’t, if you don’t eat a seafood, then I would suggest that you add nuts and seeds to your daily meals, a salad, you know, top your chia pudding, add it to a smoothie, that kind of stuff. So you’re consistently getting these in your diet. But if someone’s taking a supplement, usually there are dosage recommendations around that.

DR. AMY: Based on the brand of the supplement.

DR. UMA: Often the brand of the supplement. And that’s why, you know, you generally wanted to speak to your provider if you’re thinking of taking it. 

DR. AMY: Okay.  What about turmeric? 

DR. UMA: So turmeric is one of my favorite spices. Turmeric with a pinch of black pepper has really powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It, in studies, has shown to be helpful for anxiety. So if you don’t cook with it, adding a quarter teaspoon with a pinch of black pepper to a super smoothie or tea can be very helpful. The black pepper, the pinch of black pepper, actually improves by availability of the curcumin by about 2000%. So it’s an easy hack that’s really worth doing. And if you don’t cook with it, you know, make sure that you can add it to other things. It’s certainly worth leaning into. And if you do cook with it, be careful, because it does stain white counters. So, it’s bright yellow, and it does stain. 

DR. AMY: Yes, my husband actually drinks golden milk every night, turmeric milk, and he spilled it on our white comforter. Because he drinks his, it’s like a tea, he drinks it in bed, as he reads, at night. All over our white comforter. So you’re absolutely right about it. What do you got there, Jodi?

DR. JODY: Well, if you, I mean, there is so much great advice for people who, I mean, this is such an exciting topic, I think, for people, again, that they have some control. But for people who are looking to get started and maybe feel overwhelmed by all the information, how do you, how do you recommend that they get started? Should they see a professional? Should they get tested for something? Do they, or can they just experiment and play around themselves? 

DR. UMA: Since it’s food, it’s pretty easy to try things on your own. I often think, Dr. Jody, that, you know, someone say waiting to see a counselor, waiting to see a psychiatrist, these are things you can start doing, because you can continue doing them throughout whatever else happens. Food is not a point where it’s prescriptive, but we have a lot of evidence that can guide, give us some guidance around what to do. So I usually suggest to people something kind of fun because it can involve the whole family. I suggest that they have a vegetable challenge in their family. And why do I suggest it? Because vegetables are rich in plant polyphenols and fiber and multiple micronutrients that we need. But if you involve the family and you say, “Hey, let’s challenge ourselves to eat this number of colors and that number of different vegetables this week,” it becomes kind of part of a challenge. And remember, you can put five different types of lettuces and count, and count this for five, you know? So as long as it’s different, you’re bringing actually a biodiversity of foods to your microbiome, which is really important. But you’re also adding in healthy whole foods to your diet. You’re making more side vegetables. Maybe you adding more roasted vegetables to your salads. Maybe you’re making a soup with them and, by all means, add in your clean proteins, your healthy fats and everything else that you want to eat with it. But it’s a good, it’s an easy way to start. The kids can be involved. They can help pick the different colors of the vegetables. They can help clean the vegetables. You know, they can wash the blueberries and do things that are easy for them. It involves them in the conversation and it also conveys, “These are the foods we eat.” You know, if your countertop is full of cookies and crackers and candy, those are the snacks the kids are going to go for. But if you have apples, you know, clementines, extra dark chocolate, and hummus and celery sticks, that’s a, that’s a different makeup of the kitchen, right? And I’m not saying they should never eat a cookie. All I’m saying is it’s conveying the message of healthful eating that people get accustomed to.

DR. AMY: So two populations that we’ve worked with, both clinically and in research, are teens and older adults, and they are the most resistant to making changes in the diet, in my experience. And especially with older adults who are not overweight, they have a hard time making that jump thinking, “Oh, well, I’m not overweight. So why do I need to change what I eat?” Even if it’s for their brain function. And then teens are the exact same way, right? Like they’d rather do comfort food or fast food or sugary snacks that are like crack, as you suggested. So what language can you offer for parents or caregivers to help people understand how this is actually for their brain health as opposed to their body?

DR. UMA: That’s a great one. And you know, helping to unpack what I shared on the gut-brain connection and in a simple form that basically says, look, you take a headache pill, it works in your brain tissue. If you’re eating junk food, if you’re eating fast foods, those are the nutrients that are feeding your brain. Compared to this apple, this piece of salmon, this baked tofu dish, whatever it is that your child might eat. Having that direct conversation and making them understand that that connection exists. And if you want to be smart, if you want to be better at sports, if you want your skin to look good, you know, you want to be sharp for, to be up to speed with your friends, whatever it is, as a parent that you recognize is important to them. To one kid, it will be their skin. To another kid, it will be, you know, their height or their, their weight or something like that. Obviously we want to encourage healthy habits. We don’t want to. you know, indicate anything that’s conveying about negative body image or something. But the gut microbiome is involved in all of these processes. You know, if we clean up our diet and eat more whole foods, you could actually improve your skin. You know, you could definitely improve your cognition. We know that fending off inflammation in the gut helps our memory, helps cognition over time. So I think it’s almost as a parent, you may have to step back and be thoughtful about how do I get this message across? Because if not, they’re just going to say no. How is it going to appeal to them? You know, do they want to be smarter? Do they want to be better at sport? Do they, you know, have skin that they would like to see it clear up a little bit. Well, the gut is involved in all of these things. And if you’re feeling that gut franchise every day, then that’s what’s going to appear in your body in some way, shape or form, even if you’re physically can’t see it, either in the form of weight or bad skin or, you know, just overall information.

DR. JODY: I liked how you talked about a little earlier, the vegetable challenge and having discussion around this topic as a family, because there’s so much busyness and distraction in our lives that sometimes we don’t take a step back and actually think about how what we eat is feeling or affecting us. And so if you make it part of your daily discussion, I would imagine that that helps those populations pinpoint or understand how they’re being helped by the diet that you’re following.

DR. UMA: I would like to hope so. And I think bringing that discussion is very important. You know, I was visiting with friends overseas a few months ago, and a young couple decided that for their two toddlers, they were not going to keep processed foods at home. If they went to a birthday party and they got cupcakes and something else, I was fine. But at home, they were going to eat hummus and, you know, chickpeas and celery and all sorts of different foods, but actual food. And I observed these little kids because we were getting together to have a birthday party. So there was birthday cake and there was chocolate and candy everywhere. It was a typical celebration. These kids were running around playing. And they ran up to their mom, and I kid you not, they asked her for the celery and hummus that she brought for them. And they had little, they had these little yogurts, they put blueberries in, and stuff like that, and one other snack that I got, oh nuts, that she had packed for them, and then they could just pick what they wanted as they were playing. And it blew my mind. It absolutely blew my mind, that in the face of all the stuff that they could have leaned into, they were making that choice. So I think it’s, it’s also environmentally what we do. It’s not that we have to exclude processed foods. I’m not trying to say that. There’s also been this other discussion about if you exclude things, you form an eating disorder. That’s really not how disorders are formed clinically. I think we know that, but I know people are fearful and they want to do the right thing. So, and just by way of example, I think the environment counts and the discussion counts, and I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m sure you’re going to hear a lot of no’s or nevers before you can impact the change, but we can persevere.

DR. JODY: But one step at a time, right?

DR. UMA: That’s it, one step at a time. 

DR. AMY: So, Dr. Uma has to go. And so we’re going to let her tell us about her newest book. We’re going to let her go and then Dr. Jody and I are going to continue the conversation with some practical tips on how to make some of these changes that Dr. Uma has suggested. So tell us about your new book. 

DR. UMA: Thank you. So my new book is called, “Calm Your Mind With Food” and it really is based on my work during the pandemic because what happened in my practice is I realized that just so many more people were anxious and it feels like anxiety is everywhere. Now statistically we know from a paper published in the Lancet Journal that anxiety is increased by 25 percent through the pandemic. So we know that it’s so much more common than it was even pre-pandemic. It’s always been the most common disorder in mental health in the United States and now it’s even worse. And I felt that people needed more tools in their toolkit. There’s another study that showed that only 70 percent[WB1]  of people globally actually speak to a mental health provider. So there’s so many of us that are never, either we don’t have a provider, we don’t have access, maybe we’re not interested or haven’t read, but there may be many reasons and don’t actually do that. So this book is meant to be a guide that any one of us can try because it’s about food and try the habits, try the shopping list, the protocol, the recipes to start to feel better and toolkit maybe while you waiting to see a counselor or get an appointment or maybe try to see if you can feel better. Obviously, if you are feeling more seriously anxious or suicidal or have very severe symptoms, then you need to be in an emergency room. But for the rest of us that are just, you know, trying to eat healthy and feel better through this time, it’s a great way to get you started.

DR. AMY: I love that. So, we have the links to purchase “Calm Your Mind With Food” and Dr. Uma’s original book, “This Is Your Brain on Food.” We have those links in our show notes as well as Dr. Uma’s social media links as well. Is there anything that you want to leave our listeners with that you didn’t get to say?

DR. UMA:  I think just feeling, uh, two things, actually. One, please follow my newsletter. And the reason is that I write about a new food every week and give you tips about how to buy it and how to choose these things, and you can sign up at UmaNaidooMD. com. And I’d like people to remember that we do have the power at the end of our fork and we just need to start using it.

DR. AMY: I love that. The power at the end of our fork. Fantastic. Dr. Uma Naidoo, thank you so much for joining us today. We’re going to give you some additional tips. 

DR. UMA: Thanks so much, Dr. Amy and Dr. Jody. I really appreciate it. I’m sorry about the time. 

DR. AMY: We enjoyed having you.

DR. JODY:  It was our pleasure.

DR. UMA: Thank you. Take care. I’ll hop out.

DR. JODY: Thank you.

DR. AMY: So, Dr. Jody, we need to read a word from our sponsor. And then when we come back, let’s dive in and see if we can come up with some practical suggestions for our listeners to use.

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DR. AMY: Well, Dr. Uma was full of some super interesting tips, so I think we should like dig in a little bit. I know that you mentioned how overwhelming it can be when someone says, “Hey, you should give up gluten and dairy and sugar all at once.”  And that’s not super reasonable, especially if we’re talking about kids, to expect that. You know, we interviewed nutrition scientist Matty Lansdown a couple times on this show, and his advice is to make one tweak a week. He says that that is the most sustainable way to make changes in our nutrition; one tweak a week. So if I were going to make a suggestion for which tweak you should make first, I would say sugar. We talked with Dr. Uma about how sugar is inflammatory. And so if your body is inflamed, so is your brain. And so that one would be, although it’s hard to give it up, I think we might see a big impact from reducing sugar intake. What do you think?

DR. JODY: Yeah. If you were reducing sugar intake or you were meeting with somebody or talking with a friend about that, where would you start with that? Would you say just being aware of how much sugar you take in every day, reading labels, what, what would make a difference for you?

DR. AMY: So what I have seen is the biggest source of sugar intake, sodas and sweet coffees. So many people drink sodas and then go through the Starbucks drive-through and you know,  get their vanilla latte. And so that would be the first thing that I would suggest giving up. And they do have soft drinks that are sweetened with stevia that you can get at Whole Foods or Natural Grocers or one of the health food stores, as a way of kind of scaling down the sugar intake if you feel like you still really need that. Now, I’m not a nutritionist. I’m just saying these are practical tips, because I think ultimately you want to train your brain not to crave sweets. And I think that even stevia-sweetened soft drinks, while they’re healthier, they’re still create that sweet craving. But it would be one way to stop, kind of lower the temperature on the inflammation that the actual sugar causes. What would you do?

DR. JODY: What would I do? I think I had to train myself to prefer water over anything else, you know, but it is really just getting in the habit of drinking it. And so it’s setting a goal for myself with water, you know, two water bottles a day. You know, just starting with something that’s reasonable and kind of challenging myself. How do you feel about sugar substitutes? Like Stevia is pretty natural. I really, Stevia gives me a funny aftertaste and you can’t drink it. So, I like Xylitol, but I don’t actually know how good it is for me. So, I should educate myself about that.

DR. AMY: Yeah. Like I, so I’m pre-diabetic and so I’ve read and read and read on, you know, what is the impact of sugar substitutes on the insulin response? And the research is so mixed, right? And so, it is my understanding that, stevia does not impact blood sugar the way that, Aspartame and Splenda do. But again, you know, the research isn’t conclusive, and so it’s just hard to know. I mean, what I got from Dr. Uma’s books are that really your only source of sweet food should come from whole foods, which are, you know, fruits.

DR. JODY: Yeah, I try to avoid artificial sweeteners at all costs, period. Yeah. Anything natural is going to be better than anything man-made, period.

DR. AMY: Absolutely. I know, but I’m guilty. I’m, so here’s my, here’s the psychology of my brain. I drink sugar-free vanilla lattes at Starbucks.  And I think, “Well, I’m not having sugar, so it’s okay.” Well, I know those artificial sweeteners are not good for my body overall. And so I’m working on it. I’m working on the idea of just ordering a latte at Starbucks and not a flavored latte at Starbucks. I’m working on it.

DR. JODY: Yeah, I think the other thing I do to start that is I just make my coffee at home and I know exactly what I like. So I always make it right, you know? Otherwise my explanation is way too long for them what I want. And just scaling back by such minute amounts that I don’t kind of miss it. And so I know at one point I was trying to give up caffeine. So I’d go like a half a cup less of coffee a day or half a cup more of decaf rather than regular coffee. And it took me probably six months to wean myself off of caffeine, but it was just by such minute amounts that I honestly didn’t miss it. But that’s also kind of what I do when I’m trying to eliminate anything or cut back.

DR. AMY: Okay. Well, I think that’s an amazing success story to just incrementally decrease what it is that you are trying to give up. So rather than your tweak being giving up that thing completely a week, you just stepped down.

DR. JODY: Yeah, by such tiny little amounts that it just didn’t make an impact on me and then replaced it with something else that made me happy, you know?

DR. AMY: And what was that?

DR. JODY: It really, I just love the taste of coffee. So I just substituted it with decaf coffee.

DR. AMY: Okay. So, I was reading about caffeine in Dr. Uma’s original book, “This is Your Brain on Food.” And she talked about the research at that a hundred milligrams of caffeine doesn’t have any impact on mental health. That from 200 to 400 milligrams of caffeine, the research was inconclusive. Some people it impacted their mental health, some people it didn’t. But once you reach that 400-milligram threshold, that is where the people in the research that she was quoting really saw negative symptoms or saw some mental health symptoms, especially anxiety. So it was really impacting anxiety. And she said, so if you are drinking a venti latte from Starbucks, that’s 475 milligrams of caffeine. If you suffer from anxiety, that’s too much. You need to order a smaller drink so that you stay under that 400-milligram threshold. All right. So then I’m doing the math in my head. I drink close to 1500 milligrams of coffee a day. Now I do not suffer from anxiety. But that can’t be good. Like I, this is full disclosure here, I think I need to step that down a little bit. 

DR. JODY: Well, I have a system for you. For me, it wasn’t necessarily the anxiety, but it was, I could tell that I was getting dependent on it. So if I didn’t have enough coffee in a day, I had spent the whole afternoon with just a splitting headache and that can’t, that’s gotta be my body telling me that that’s not good for me. And so I, so that is, that was my impetus. That was my motivation to do that.

DR. AMY: Yeah, I mean, in coffee, again, I don’t suffer from anxiety, but coffee can wreak havoc on cortisol production, you know, which then pushes and pulls on insulin. I mean, it can do other, it can have other negative impacts, even if you don’t feel it. And so I have ADHD and, you know, I had a physician tell me 20 years ago to drink caffeine because, or coffee, because caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. Well, so is Ritalin. And so it’s a natural way of kind of helping neurotransmitter function. But again, more doesn’t necessarily mean better.

DR. JODY: One of the questions I wished I had time, and I don’t know if you have an answer for this or not, but I wish I would’ve had time to ask Dr. Uma is, if you have a child or you’re an adult and you’re taking medication to manage a condition like anxiety or ADHD or something like that, then where do you start? Then where does food fit into this picture? And maybe you have an answer for that.

DR. AMY: She actually talked about that in both of her books, that nutrition is a complement to every other intervention. So whether that’s a behavioral intervention, such as therapy, whether that’s, you know, pharmaceutical intervention, you know, medications that, bringing that nutrition piece in will compliment everything. Which I love, right? Which I talk about this all the time in ADHD, that nutrition is one part of how we approach reducing ADH symptoms, right? Sleep stress management, mindfulness, cognitive training. 

DR. JODY: Yeah, and I think nutrition is something that can’t hurt but might help and might help a lot. So it is so worth exploring.

DR. AMY: Yeah, so I have a personal story that I’m happy to share. I had started doing some research on gluten when I was diagnosed with celiac disease. And two of my children were diagnosed with celiac disease. And so when my middle child went off gluten after his diagnosis, his neurological symptoms went away. So he had been diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome and anxiety disorder, and the tics from the Tourette’s syndrome went away, and his anxiety went away. And I said, “Holy cow, that can’t just be from getting off gluten, can it?” And so I started digging into the research and I read this really cool study that they had done on inpatients with schizophrenia, and they had put them all on this gluten-free diet. And something like, 80 percent of them walked out of the hospital symptom-free, medication-free after six weeks of being off gluten. So the neurological manifestations of gluten sensitivity are unreal. And so just to see that the research supported what I saw in my own family was amazing. And so that’s why I started including that, you know, in the psychoeducation that I provide on ADHD that, “Hey, you know, maybe a trial of getting off gluten might be a great way to start.”

DR. JODY: Just a personal story also is I don’t have celiac disease, but when one of my kids was getting married, I was trying to fit into the dress that I bought for the wedding and so went on this very restrictive diet just for a short period of time to get back into that dress. But there was no gluten in the diet whatsoever. So, you know, it was just protein, vegetables, things like that, that were healthy, but not, there was no gluten. And so by accident, I recognized how much better I felt when I didn’t have any gluten in my diet. And so I have always very much limited, since that time, how much gluten I had. And I just feel better physically, sleep better, brain fog is better, things like that. And so, it just was interesting that I fell into it by accident.

DR. AMY: Yeah. Yeah. Well, she talked about leaky gut. And so, the protein in gluten actually is one of the biggest culprits in creating leaky gut. And so if you think of your, that gut lining as having tight junctures that fit together like a puzzle. And so the protein and gluten starts to kind of weaken those junctures and it creates openings then for, you know, bacteria and toxins to leak through. And so, you don’t have to be celiac for gluten to have that impact on those tight junctures in the gut. And once we wrap our brains around the idea that what we eat absolutely impacts our brain … I loved her analogy.

DR. JODY: Yes, yes.

DR. AMY:  I had never thought of that before and I might have to borrow it. 

DR. JODY: I think she probably put it out there for you to take. 

DR. AMY: Well, she talks a lot in her book about the Mediterranean diet. That is the, that is how she promotes nutrition, mental health. So, listeners, if you are interested in learning more about nutritional psychiatry, the food-mood connection, the gut-brain connection, be sure to check out, Dr. Uma Naidoo’s book. That’s N A I D O O. Again, we put all those links in our show notes for this episode. Got anything else for us, Dr. Jody? 

DR. JODY: The thing I loved about Dr. Uma’s book too is that all of that is based in research. And so it’s not just, you know, I tried to fit into my wedding dress and couldn’t. So, but it’s really based on research and it’s great to see. It’s just really cool to, to think about the impact that that can have.

DR. AMY: Absolutely. So thank you so much for listening today. If you liked us, um, please leave us a five-star rating and review on Apple Podcasts. You can follow us on social media at the Brainy Moms. If you would rather watch us, we are on YouTube under that same handle. And that’s all the smart stuff that we have for you today. So we’re gonna catch you next time.

DR. JODY: All right. Thanks Dr. Amy.

DR. AMY: Thanks, Dr. Jody.

 [WB1]I think she meant 70% don’t seek help. ??