Nutritional psychiatrist Dr. Drew Ramsey recognizes the importance of nutrition for brain health, and he implements a nutrition-focused philosophy when talking to patients. For depression and other mental illnesses, Ramsey relies on promoting healthy eating habits as part of his patients’ treatment regimen, which could also include antidepressant medications or counseling.
According to the World Health Organization, major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability among Americans aged 15 to 44, and poor diet is a major contributing factor. Ramsey describes those individuals who consume the Standard American Diet (SAD) as overfed but “starving,” because this type of diet is often devoid of vital micronutrients found in plant-based foods and missing from processed foods (Ramsey also highlights the benefits of shellfish like oysters, which are rich sources of vitamin B 12 and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids – nutrients positively associated with mental health).
The New York Times article covering Ramsey’s story, written by Richard Schiffman, mentioned three studies related to the concept of nutritional psychiatry:
- 2016 study published in American Journal of Public Health with 12,000 Australians: increased intake of fruits and vegetables associated with increased self-reporting of happiness and satisfaction with life.
- 2017 study published in PLoS One with 422 young adults from New Zealand and the United States: increased intake of fruits and vegetables associated with higher levels of mental health and well-being.
- 2017 randomized controlled study published in BMC Medicine with 67 Australians: following a Mediterranean diet for 12 weeks associated with mood improvement and lower anxiety levels.
A traditional Mediterranean diet includes whole grains, legumes, seafood, and – of course – many servings of vegetables and fruits. In addition to adding in healthy foods, eliminating foods like processed food and minimizing meat and dairy is also helpful.
Ultimately, Ramsey and other experts recommend patients eat a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables – an easy way to maximize the diversity of healthy macronutrients, micronutrients, and phytonutrients obtained from the diet.