When you’re feeling a little down, do you find yourself craving chocolate?
I sure do.
Well, it turns out, brain science has something to say about that.
On today’s show, we’re going to talk about some foods, like chocolate, that may positively impact your mood and even reduce anxiety.
Today, we’re here with the perfect rock star guest. In addition to being a Harvard-trained psychiatrist with nearly three decades of experience in the field of medicine, Dr. Uma Naidoo is also a professional chef, culinary instructor, trained nutrition specialist and author of the new book, This is Your Brain on Food.
On this show with Dr. Uma Naidoo, we’re talking about:
- How to shop for healthy foods on a budget
- Tips for supporting the 39 trillion bacteria living in your gut right now
- How to pull yourself out of a junk food funk
- The difference between homemade sourdough and store-bought bread
- How this Harvard-trained psychiatrist recommends indulging in treats
- And much, much more…
Let’s hang out with Dr. Uma.
Dr. Uma Naidoo: The Gut-Brain Connection & Nutritional Psychiatry
Abel: Dr. Naidoo founded and directs at 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) and Director of Nutritional Psychiatry at MGH Academy while serving on the faculty at Harvard Medical School.
And of course she’s married to our friend and guest of this podcast, the wonderful and brilliant Srini Pillay.
Dr. Uma’s new book is called, This is Your Brain on Food.
Dr. Uma, thank you so much for joining us today.
Thank you, Abel. It’s such a pleasure to be here, and I’m excited to talk with you.
Abel: Me too, especially when looking into your work for the first time.
I’m really excited by the fact that it seems like this field that you’re kind of founding and getting out there is growing at exactly the right time.
You couldn’t be more right. It’s an interesting thing.
It’s existed for a while, we just haven’t had a name for it.
When I think about it, my practice early on, Abel, when I first was learning how to prescribe medications in residency, I really was thinking about, “What can I tell my patients about lifestyle? What can I tell them about that really large cup of coffee that they’re drinking with a ton of cream, and complaining about the side effect of the medication?”
And how could I moderate that, and include that in the conversation?
And part of it is that we really don’t learn nutrition in medical school, so it was an obvious thing to share.
So what is really cool is that we are now calling this work nutritional psychiatry because rather than being more of a soft science, it’s really now backed up by research.
And so I’m excited that people are getting to know the field and hopefully we’ll find out more in the book about how to feel better through food.
Abel: And it’s a far cry from a lot of the—I don’t really want to call it advice, it’s more just like the lack of advice.
You go into the doctor’s office where you hear from doctors that, “Diet doesn’t matter.”
You hear from science or whatever, “Diet doesn’t matter.”
And it’s like, how could that possibly be in any way true?
Exactly. Or we tend to have some rote answers around what you should do for hypertension and what you should do for diabetes, because I’ve been there and done that.
Because we’re really not taught the breadth of it, and we’re not really taught to integrate it.
So, I think that for me it’s about taking it an extra step and helping people understand how important it is for mental health, as well. Because of the gut-brain connection and all those good things.
But they don’t really realize that those same choices directly affect mental health, and that’s I think where there’s information that is hopefully different and will be useful.
Abel: So, especially right now, it seems like elimination diets are more popular than ever, which can be very beneficial.
But especially looking at your work, you quickly find that having diversity in your diet is important, as well as there are pros and cons of many different foods.
Certainly some skew more to the pros side, so maybe we can start by talking about that.
Thank you for making a great point because I think that my plan, the way that I work with clients really tends to be highly personalized based on the fact that our gut has its own 39 trillion bacteria in it, and each of those makes us unique.
So, your microbiome is different from mine. And I think about it in the way that I work with patients, because what one person bring to the office is totally unique from someone else.
So I don’t give them a set plan. I listen very carefully to what they have to say and each plan is designed for them specifically.
But that comes back to what foods they should include and not include.
I’m very open to someone who walks in and says, “I’m following this diet, Doctor, and this is what I want to do.”
It’s not that I am against any particular diet. I just do think that a biodiversity of plants, a whole foods diet and lean proteins, if you’re not plant based and you eat other types of proteins, should be included.
And you should do it out of a sense of balance for your whole body, but also your mind. And that’s the thing that I try to put together for patients.
If you can tolerate dairy, it’s the kind of dairy you get. Right? It’s where you buy it, it’s where it’s produced, how it’s made.
But those finer points become more important.
But if you can’t tolerate it, by all means, as our unique guts exist, you might actually develop an intolerance or an allergy or what appears to be something, of course, you should speak to your doctor and figure that out.
And the best way that I have with individuals who don’t have an acute allergic reaction is try a few weeks, 3 – 4 weeks without this food, and see how you feel.
And here’s the really helpful information, simple as it might be, but you’ll notice a difference.
And if there’s a difference and it works positively for you, maybe eat less of that or exclude it until at a later point, we either re-introduce it very slowly or we build on the other foods in this kind of biodiversity plan.
Abel: And it gets tricky, doesn’t it? Because the names for foods or what we call foods can be the same thing, but fundamentally different.
So what I mean by that is, you can have industrial eggs, the cheap kind with the weak shells, and they’re kind of this pale yellow yolk.
Or you can go for the backyard eggs, which growing up in New Hampshire with backyard chickens, are a completely different food.
They taste different, look different, different textures.
Even the yolks have a more beautiful hue. It’s absolutely true.
Abel: Exactly. So how do you help explain to people that nuance?
So, that can be a challenge from that perspective, unless you’re fortunate to have chickens in your backyard.
Abel: Not any more. I wish, yeah.
Exactly. You have to rely on supermarket staples and things that you get at your local markets.
Some people don’t even have access to farmers markets. So I ask them, “What do I mean by that?”
Once I get the history and understand where they’re at, I try to work from there.
So, if they have limited stores and they have stores that are just regular supermarkets.
One of my favorite rules that some of my patients quote back to me is: If you’re going to a regular supermarket, stay in the outer rim of the store.If you're going to a regular supermarket, stay in the outer rim of the store. @DrUmaNaidoo Click To Tweet
That’s where you’re going to get your fruit, vegetables, proteins, dairy, frozen section.
Meaning healthy fruits and vegetables can be frozen and super healthy, if you make sure you don’t get the ones with sodium, added syrup or sugar.
And the middle shelves have all the fun processed stuff. The stuff that we probably should try to stay away from.
So, I would start with that, but then when you get down to the basics, if you have access and can include some organic foods, try to do that.
We talk about the dirty dozen, the list that people can see easily on the internet or I can share with them, so you’ll have some guidance.
Maybe you can’t get everything organic, but try to go for these things first.
The other thing that I talk to them about is, some things are just what you have to cope with. Then maybe if you’re getting the eggs, try to get the Omega-3 rich eggs so you get the benefit of the Omega-3’s from that egg, even if it’s not from your backyard.
And then with sources of dairy, if you do eat dairy, then look for the grass-fed.
Sometimes I’ll pull up brands on the internet, not because I have any association with those brands, but just to give people examples of what it looks like.
The other thing is that there are cool things out there.
We talk about probiotics, now some of the non-dairy yogurts are adding probiotics.
So there’s a lot more. Now there’s A2 milk.
People don’t often know that until you either pull up a picture and show them on the internet or make them aware.
So, it’s partly personalized, partly meeting the person where they’re at, understanding where they’re shopping, what their environment is, where they can get things from, and starting with whole foods and plants, if you can include as many as you can, diversity. And then what types of proteins to eat.
How To Eat Healthy On A Budget
Abel: What about the cost? Because a lot of people, there’s “Oh, that sounds way too expensive.”
I know that personally, we love A2 milk. My wife has a little more trouble with dairy than I do.
I love dairy, but I always go as clean as possible. I really stay away from the processed stuff. I’m not eating American cheese.
I’m not even really eating inorganic or non-organic dairy. It’s, as much as we can, cows that were raised the way that nature intended.
So A2 milk, in particular, is maybe twice the price at our local spot.
Yeah. It’s definitely more pricey. And so from my sort of Chef background, food cost is so huge to restaurants and the food industry.
So, I try to break it down in this way for people.
Choose the higher price tag. For example, if you can tolerate dairy, maybe get that more expensive milk and use it less often.
But maybe fill up on the healthy foods that are less expensive, the healthy greens that you can get a ton of for less.
Legumes, if you eat your legumes, they’re a super healthy source of protein, fiber, and nutrients. Those are usually inexpensive.
So, maybe in the week that you, I’ll literally work out the full costs of a plan with them, the week that you’re going to buy that milk, maybe get these foods which are going to be less expensive and help to balance your budget.
What can you do, in other words, to come together. I think about it as a plate of food. If you’re only eating one food on your plate every day, you should be talking to me but I’m guessing that you’re not.
So, I say this to my patients, “Think about it like a plate of food.”
On that day if you’re going to have that special food, then build it up with less expensive options that are sometimes shelf stable options.
During the pandemic, we talked about what are the best types of legumes that you can get and if they are low sodium or organic.
Again, they’re more expensive. Can you rinse them out and use them?
Because not everyone could get dried beans and legumes and that kind of stuff. So it’s finding the balance.
What can we buy that you can afford this week? And what are the things that you can give up this week?
So, maybe that week you don’t need the grass-fed beef, as well. Maybe this week we can do other sources of protein, like canned salmon. We did that during the pandemic as well, but which brands can you get at your supermarket?
So, it’s about finding that plan for each person and really respecting that it’s costly. It’s really costly for people.
Abel: Well, and it’s interesting too because I try to look at the value of the food instead of the cost.
Like the A2 milk at our local Natural Grocers, I think it is about $6 or $7 bucks. But it’s for the A2 heavy cream, the heaviest whipping cream you can get. And typically that’s what I’ll put in my coffee.
So, if you look at the amount of calories that is in that $6 or $7 dollars, it’s obscene, like over 1,400 calories.
It’s an extreme amount of calories compared to a lot of other foods that, if you try to get your caloric load from organic spinach, for example, and all your protein from organic spinach, it’s going to be kind of difficult.
You can do it. It’s going to be expensive and an uphill battle though, and so that’s another way.
I appreciate what you said, you kind of have like maybe the star of the show for a few days. That’s your main meal.
Maybe even the cream for us, or a really special cheese.
And then you kind of fill it in with some other things that might not be so expensive and might not be so extravagant and luxurious, but help fill you up and give you the other things you need.
How To Balance Your Plate
Now, I wanted to ask you about fiber in particular, because a lot of people right now are into the carnivore diet or going super hard Keto, and getting rid of all plants because fiber’s bad and plants are bad and they give you inflammation and skin problems and all the rest of it.
So, I would love to hear your counterpoint to that.
Absolutely. I did want to say one other thing regarding that balance on your plate.
You kind of have to include the stuff that’s affordable for what you do, and then find the things that you also enjoy and that are best for you.
It’s a tough balance. It’s almost different for every single person.
But yes, coming to fiber, I think that some people may unfortunately be giving fiber a bad rap, which I think that’s sometimes polarizing.
The only way we can get natural fiber is in fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes and seeds. You can’t get it from meat proteins or even from seafood.
So, I think that while they might be adopting a lifestyle that is healthy for them and maybe it works for them, I respect that. I would hope that they speak with their doctors about it as well, because there are other things that a doctor can track for them.
The whole absence of fiber, if you’ve excluded, let’s say, plants and vegetables, is that you’re not feeding your gut with the food that it needs to really ramp up your immunity, to ramp up everything that you need to do to keep you healthy and to reduce inflammation, and thereby also impact how you’re feeling emotionally.
So, I would just be concerned that over time if someone wasn’t eating any plants and vegetables that, for other reasons, not even related to what they’re particularly consuming, but the lack of fiber could lead to that biodiversity of the gut just dropping, and your bugs not having the good food that it needs to really thrive, and then may start working against you.
Because what happens, you have dysbiosis, imbalance, all the bad things start happening, the leaky gut.
Your immunity has changed, and the gut-brain connection with that linking back to the brain as many people may present with all sorts of symptoms, and again, that goes back to sort of talking to them and getting a proper history to understand what they are actually doing.
They may present you with panic and anxiety and say, “My primary care told me I need to come and get Zoloft from you.”
Of which there’s a shortage by the way.
So, if they actually understand that a little better and maybe include some plants, it would be better for them because there are some possible long-term consequences that maybe is not so good, especially with the gut inflammation, leaky gut, etcetera.
Abel: One other little piece that I feel like is getting lost, is sometimes you can be doing things that are working and things that are not working at the same time. Right?
Abel: So, maybe you’re starving out your bad gut bugs that thrived on sugar and ultra-processed food at the same time that you’re starving out the bugs that might have been feasting on fiber and giving you extra nutrients that way and giving you more diversity in your microbiome.
So maybe, cyclically, this is a good exercise to go through and very educational I think.
It’s so interesting because many people are eliminating animal foods to reduce inflammation, at the same time that other people are eliminating all plant foods to reduce inflammation.
It is interesting.
Abel: I love your take on that.
People come in and discuss a very large variance of diets.
And I think the way that I stand on this is anything is okay for a short time, because we know and we understand about how the body works in terms of how inflammation sets in and especially from gut inflammation to brain inflammation and liver inflammation.
While the gut can change almost daily, the inflammation could take a little bit longer, so you have a slight window of time.
And if you want to try out something and see how you feel for a few weeks or something like that, I wouldn’t sustain it without making sure that you know all of the background research on that particular area because it’s exactly instable, if you’re turning one complete group and another, unless you’re allergic to something, that’s not the way one should go.
Going back to the gut, our guts really thrive by their biodiversity.
They also thrive by the fresh foods that you offer, the variety of the fruits and vegetables.
All of those systems function because the largest portion of our immune system is in our gut.
So during the pandemic, people should be cautious and even at all times, should always care about that.
When you don’t have a certain food, your gut bacteria can tell they’re missing something and while the good guys are doing badly and the bad guys are like, “Yay, I’m thriving, I’m doing well.”
And that’s when you set up this cascade of events. So I would say, try something out, make sure you run it by your doctor or get some good scientific information on it.
And don’t sustain it if you haven’t proven beyond reasonable doubt at that point that you’re going to thrive using this diet.
People say you can’t exercise out of a bad diet.You can't exercise out of a bad diet. @DrUmaNaidoo Click To Tweet
It’s all those things together.
My approach is more of an integrated functional form of Psychiatry so I always hope to look for the root cause, and in that way, you can’t come to me about anxiety and not expect me to talk to you about mindfulness and meditation because I’m going to.
I’m going to mention whether it’s yoga, tai chi, chi kung, whatever it is that appeals to you, I’m going to mention movement.
If you’re depressed and severely anxious and you can’t get on a treadmill, I won’t talk to you about that, but I’ll talk to you about movement.
Maybe you can do something that can get you out of bed and get you moving.
So, again, it’s meeting the person where they’re at.
And then in terms of their diet, it’s “If you’re only eating this, how about we try a little bit of variance and see how you feel?”
Because I noticed when individuals who come in with mental health issues, when they’re able to see and feel a change is when that habit clicks in and it’s very automatic.
I notice it all the time. And at the same time, they’re not following what I’m suggesting, they don’t feel like changing and then they’re like, “It’s not working.”
So, it’s a similar sort of thing when choosing these different kinds of diets, as well.
How To Pull Yourself Out of a Junk-Food Funk
Abel: And when you really clean up your nutrition plan, I feel it’s more of a slow burn.
And not that these are the optimal foods, but I’ll just say as an example, pasture-raised chicken and a bit of broccoli.
You’re probably not going to be super psyched about that in any particular way right away.
But do that for a while, and the slow burn effect of that is that your well-being goes through the roof and your energy goes through the roof.
Not just that one meal by the way, but if you eat clean as opposed to dirty.
So, contrast that to what happens when you sit down and you’re all bummed out and you’re on the couch and you have the ice cream that’s not organic, that’s full of sugar, that’s from cows that may not have been as healthy as they should be, not eating the way that nature intended.
But you feel this flood of brain chemicals after eating it and you feel wonderful maybe for a short period of time, then you feel terrible.
That’s kind of, it’s not fair, right?
It’s hard to fight against that, but so how do you come over to the other side?
Again, you know, there’s some sort of research on this because of a couple of things.
So let’s look at just the sugar component.
We’ve looked at studies where sugar, actually in the brain and on imaging, kind of functions like a drug.
It’s a strong word to say “addicted,” but we become so used to that sugar rush, that good feeling of ice cream or whatever it is, maybe your favorite candy bar.
Fast food french fries actually have sugar in them. Many people don’t realize that because you don’t taste the sugar.
Abel: I didn’t know that. Interesting.
But they do because lots of millions of dollars of research has gone into what makes them super palatable.
And why can’t you put them down? Why can’t you not upsize?
Because they’re delicious, and there’s a reason.
So, in a similar way, I’ll talk about sugar, whether it’s ice cream or not.
But there’s also science behind the fact that you do get a rush. The serotonin actually does get in your brain and you feel great.
You feel super, “I ate the tub of ice cream or whatever it is and I feel really good, so what’s the problem?” Right?
And so what I would do is sort of unpacking to my patients by saying, “Look, in the moment, it’s okay. But here’s the thing, the fact that you feel good, the wrong nutrients are going to your brain, it doesn’t mean that serotonin wasn’t present, which is your happy hormone, but there are also the not so good things that went in, too.”
And over time those are what affect your brain and your gut. And the two are connected.
So, I’ll even draw out a diagram of it. Because it’s like your brain got on two different places.
Yes, we are in the same body, but there’s actually a vagus nerve that from before we were born has been connected from embryology stages.
So, I’ll even draw that in a little diagram and say from whence you were formed, it was there and that connection existed.
When you begin eating is when that gut-brain connection gets activated.When you begin eating is when that gut-brain connection gets activated. @DrUmaNaidoo Click To Tweet
And so in the short-term, it’s almost like, do you want to date someone or do you want to marry them?
I’ll use whatever analogy that will appeal to that individual sitting with me.
In that moment it’s going to be great, it’s going to be super fun for the half hour.
But here’s the thing a few months later, as you continue to do that because you’re like, “What’s the problem? I feel that I want to eat the ice cream.”
It builds up and the impact within your brain and the rest of your body, you have to do a lot to come back from that.
This is Your Brain on Food (especially Chocolate)
Abel: But there’s something in the middle, like having a bit of chocolate in it that’s clean and doesn’t have a whole lot of sugar, right?
So, I’d be interested in asking you, especially based on your background, what is the dose-response curve for eating a high quality chocolate?
Do you see it that way?
So, I have to say, I don’t. It’s not that I don’t see it that way and I hear what you’re saying about sort of, “If you have an unhealthy food can you pair it with a healthier option?”
I try to talk about what I call a treat day.Instead of calling it a cheat day, I like to call it a treat day. @DrUmaNaidoo Click To Tweet
Abel: Yeah, me too.
Because it is. Food is enjoyable. You should have fun and enjoy stuff that you eat.
So, you mentioned the chicken and broccoli, and some people may crave that and that’s what they eat. But it may take some getting used to.
In the same way, if you want that whatever-your-treat-food-is, have it by all means.
Maybe the family decides that everyone gets a turn in a month.
So, on a Wednesday, maybe that’s the treat day, maybe it’s a Sunday.
Enjoy. Stick within portion control. Enjoying it doesn’t mean eating three tons of ice cream that day.
Enjoy it, have fun with it, and then correct the next day and move back to the healthier choice.
The hope, the piece, the part about chocolate is that what we understand about it is that there’s some cool facts.
Because of the process of how chocolate is made, and we’re talking super dark chocolate, high level of cacao, and the way that it’s processed and when you add in the fats and the sugars that’s when it becomes the candy bars that people love, but are not the best.
The chocolate in its pure raw natural form is what’s best.The chocolate in its pure raw natural form is what's best. @DrUmaNaidoo Click To Tweet
So, there’s some cool things. It has a process which involves fermentation, so it ends up being a good gut food.
Who would have thought?
Compared to kimchi and miso and pickles and that kind of stuff, chocolate is actually good in that way, too.
And the darker the better, but also the antioxidant levels are the best.
It’s funny, in culinary school, we’re taught to bake, and I love to bake with Dutch-processed cocoa because the alchemizing process helps the flavor.
But here’s the thing. As a nutritional psychiatrist that actually knows the antioxidants, so that’s a reason to sort of go for those natural cacao and more, I would say raw forms of the chocolate, so that you can maybe you’re baking or cooking or just having it as a snack are better for you.
I don’t know at this point that there’s a dose that one should eat.
But if you’re having a treat day, if you’re having pizza, maybe have your favorite pizza that day. But maybe make a really good salad to go with it that has some great good prebiotics and probiotics in it.
That way, you’re still doing your body good, even though you’re having a pizza.
Find that balance in every meal.
For example, if you do have a bowl of rice, maybe have some super dark, well-sauced dark chocolate with that.
That’s a way to go, and maybe that’s your treat. So however you balance it up, I don’t even know the doses yet.
Abel: Yeah. But one thing that I found that I think is important, talking about super dark chocolate, is bitters.
And when you look at international cuisine, when you look at cooking and that sort of thing, it seems like there are a lot of blind spots in the way that America eats, in the western way of eating, that’s missing the appreciation for those bitters. Right?
Because the first few times you have really dark chocolate, certainly anyone who’s tried baking chocolate, you’re like, “Urgh! What is this? This is totally bitter, very terrible.”
But actually, when you start working some of those flavors into your way of eating, it can be very beneficial.
I think the flavor profile of foods and your experience offset a lot of the sweet cravings, but also your digestion and the way your body works.
Absolutely, it goes back to making these small tweaks in your diet and noticing that you feel better.
We have, unfortunately grown up in a culture where a lot of things that have a ton of sugar. Even savory foods have a ton of added sugar.
The last time I checked, there are over 200 other names for sugar on food labels that we don’t recognize.
So, the point I’m making is that for many, many, many decades we’ve eaten sugar without even knowing, you can say. Even in savory foods.
People have much greater awareness now, and I think that opening our palates to other cultures, other flavors.
Miso is an excellent fermented food.
Kimchi and pickles are fantastic and good for your gut. But if you’re making it at home, you can adjust the sugar because it is made with sugar for the fermentation process.
But you can open yourself actually to the culinary aspects of even spices, which have no calories, and are super healthy.
If you’re not adding salt, this is a great way to increase the variety of different things, even to your vegetables that you’re eating and make something super delicious. And you really get the benefits of it.
So things like turmeric. The individuals who don’t cook with turmeric might say, “It’s not really a spice I like.”
I’ll say, “Well, it’s good. Really, it’s super good for you. Add a pinch of black pepper, put it in a smoothie, put it in a soup, you won’t even know it’s there.”
But here’s the thing, quarter teaspoon a day, a pinch of black peppers is going to do your body good from so many different perspectives.
What I like to say to them is, “Recently there’s also a study that showed that turmeric in addition to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, even antiviral properties that it potentially has, also has an anxiolytic effect.”Turmeric—in addition to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, even antiviral properties that it potentially has, also has an anxiolytic effect. @DrUmaNaidoo Click To Tweet
So, if someone says to me, “What can I do that’s easy and I don’t have to be a pro? What can I buy in a bottle?”
I’m going to say, “Well, if you’re open to it, at least try this. You can buy organic turmeric in a bottle and put it in your smoothie every day.
You can at least do that, because it’s an easy thing they can grab onto if they don’t want to cook, for example.
Abel: Yeah. And I think of it also as brain stimulation. It’s like we see our food as entertainment, so you might as well find some foods that are good for you to be that entertaining.
Abel: And fun, yeah. Exactly. So going back to that chicken and broccoli, put some sort of jerk chicken dry rub on there and some turmeric with the broccoli, and that’s a lot more interesting for not that much effort.
And a lot more nutrition, too.
Exactly. And things like adding citrus, one of my favorites.
You learn different things in culinary school, but one of the things is so simple, just always having fresh lemon on hand.Always have fresh lemon on hand. @DrUmaNaidoo Click To Tweet
They teach you pantry staples that you should always have on hand. And instead of using store-bought salad dressing, you can use zest of a lemon, squeeze it with lemon and it’s low calorie and great to make your own vinaigrette with some olive oil and stuff like that.
But say you want to save on a few calories, this is easy, it’s simple, it’s in your fridge anyway.
You can use the zest, you can use the outside, you can use the inside, and it’s good for you.
That burst of citrus will boost your vitamin C, it’s adding it back to any food. And going back to the idea of whole foods, they offer so many nutrients.
We honestly, we tried to bring nutritional science to break it down, but you really can’t.
There’s so many more things that are good for you, and my feeling is, “Why not?”
Why not add that?
Treat Meal vs. Cheat Meal: The Importance of Positive Framing
Abel: Well, I’d like to revisit as well your treatment of words.
Because I don’t know why the word “cheat meal” is so much more popular than “treat meal” or “free meal” or other ways of explaining it.
But cheat, fear, shame, low emotions—you’re doing something wrong, so you might as well just fall off the wagon and keep doing that—is kind of where I see a lot of people go with this.
So, how do you think about the differences between those concepts?
I feel like it’s related to the brain and it’s related to brain science and how our brain perceives fear, and how it perceives words in our environment.
A simple thing like daily gratitude is related to brain science, and people actually do feel better but in fact it’s actually been shown.
So, in a similar way, I think when you have a negative connotation word, I think that we see it and we feel differently.
And I realized that I was presenting a positive treatment plan and dietary nutritional breakdown and nutritional psychiatry plan for my patients, but they didn’t like the word because it made them feel bad. And it’s similar to the word diet.
I’d object to it, but I try and talk about food plans and meals, and, “What can we do for your nutrition plan today?”
Because again, with “diet” it implies you’re giving something up.
And if people feel they’re giving something up, it’s like there’s often a boomerang effect of, “I’ve given up ice cream for a month—whether I’ve lost weight or not, whatever the goal was—now I want to eat a ton of it.”
You know, even some reality TV shows have had people lose a really significant amount of weight, but it often comes back.
And so in this study, very simply, they tested mice. And it comes back to the microbiome.
But is actually shown for one of the mice at the time, it was almost like a fat cell memory or a fat memory within the microbiome and within the gut bacteria that were involved.
Then when they transplanted, and it was a kind of a fancy experiment, but really well done, what it showed is that there’s a real reason that people struggle to lose that weight again, because they might become lean.
Their microbiome actually retains the memory of them being heavier, so there’s a natural tendency to gain back that weight.
But what they did is they found that the microbiome of those mice were lacking in antioxidants.
So, they then broke down certain antioxidants that were specific that actually might help to combat that.
So these sort of cool studies help us understand that there’s information we can use to our best advantages as humans.
We can use these things to our advantage in terms of how we eat and understanding that. It gets back to their level.
So, when we talk about treat and cheat, the brain interprets it differently.
And when you give it a positive connotation, and when you talk to people in terms of foods they add back in, then with foods that they have to remove, they often, they will just immediately respond better.
Because when I show them the plates of bits of food that they can have, it’s not necessarily the amount, it’s that I can have so many things. And you telling me to try this “diet” that I want to come in for, but it’s actually nothing.
Then they understand that they’re not eliminating stuff and that they have a lot of variety of foods that they can eat, makes me feel a bit more comfortable.
That actually, I’m not asking him to stop or to give up something that they really love.
Homemade Sourdough vs Store-Bought Bread
Abel: Yeah. Well, and it’s interesting too that you mentioned that maybe it’s not so bad to eat gluten sometimes, especially if your body is okay with that and various other foods.
Whereas, the way that many people think about all of this is that if you ever eat the littlest bit of gluten, you’re toast.
And this is, you can never do it again, or you can never call yourself, whatever you call yourself, and you’re off the wagon or whatever.
But it also comes back to the quality, right?
It comes back to the quality of the bread or if you’re buying the shelf stable store bought pastry and craving it, then have a tiny bite and give it away or throw it away.
So, if it’s truly something that’s your thing, but if you’re baking bread from scratch and you’re getting a well sourced organic, whole grain flour, the truth is that there isn’t that huge benefit from the actual whole grain and you’re getting less of it.
But it’s totally different from buying your bread that is full stabilizers.
Leave a loaf of store bought bread on your shelf for 3 weeks and see what happens.Leave a loaf of store bought bread on your shelf for 3 weeks and see what happens. @DrUmaNaidoo Click To Tweet
It was a test we did in culinary school, and it was perfectly fine. It’s perfectly fine because it has stabilizers in it.
So, I think that it’s also the quality.
Say you make pasta and you source the flour yourself and again, this becomes something you enjoy. Maybe you don’t eat it every day.
Or, like we’ve talked about milk and dairy, and that type of stuff, it’s the quality of the source of what you incorporate. You don’t have to give it up if you don’t want to.
Abel: Yeah. And especially, I’m sure you could speak to the fact that it’s a lot of fun to have these experiments going in your kitchen.
Like we have sourdough culture or starter going up here right now, and we just have made a couple of loaves and they come out differently every time.
And it’s a lot more fun, and it’s valuable in a different way.
It’s easy to just plough through kind of shelf-stable, cheap foods.
But for a homemade loaf made by my wife or something like that, I’m not going to eat through the whole thing not thinking about it. It means more, right?
Exactly, it’s sourcing it. And I love the fact you mentioned sourdough because it’s the bread that if people say, “Well, I don’t want to give up bread, don’t make me.”
I’ll say, “No, I never asked you to give it up. But hey, you know what? Why not, if you’re trying to do this, try sourdough bread. Get it from a really good bakery, where they’re making it from scratch.”
Like you are. Because the fermentation process actually lowers the sugar. And so it’s good. It’s often a good bread to start with or to stay with.
If you’re having a little bit of difficulty with what you want cut back on.
And what I like about what you said is it’s so true, when you make a wholesome loaf, you don’t want to eat five slices.When you make a wholesome loaf, you don't want to eat five slices. @DrUmaNaidoo Click To Tweet
And it goes back to the preservatives and what’s in food that makes us in the United States eat so much of it.
It’s sometimes those things that are built into foods that make us crave more and have difficulty putting them down.
So you probably have one really good slice for your avocado toast or something else or with your eggs and move on.
You don’t need five slices because it’s hearty, as well.
Abel: Yeah. Well, and it’s different.
You can’t go to sourdough bread, for example, especially if you make it at home, and expect it to taste the same as that kind of sterilized shelf stable loaf that’s just kind of sitting out everywhere.
It’s not going to be the same.
But also coming back to your point about chocolate, when you’re cooking in restaurants or when you’re making on a mass scale a lot of times they’re trying to standardize those foods and take the individual flavors away.
But when you really get into dark chocolate, you start to find that it’s kind of like coffee.
You can get these single origin chocolates that have very unique, some of my favorite chocolates that I’ve had recently that I’d never tried before were from India, and the flavors in the beans were insane.
It was out of this world.
Again, if you try this you experience sort of changes in your palate almost.
If a person is open to more ideas, they can find something that, you know that it’s going to be a treat every single time and you kind of get to enjoy it.
And then again, you take that one example and you try to build it out in the other foods that you eat in your life
And you know I would just say that I know that I’m speaking about not everyone is going to bake their bread.
If someone is sending a kid to school and that’s what they have to give them, maybe you have to buy the store bought bread, but maybe you can buy more frozen vegetables.
You know a bag of frozen vegetables can be pretty inexpensive.A bag of frozen vegetables can be pretty inexpensive.. @DrUmaNaidoo Click To Tweet
And maybe you can add other things into your kid’s diet for that day that can balance off the stuff that you also have to feed them.
Again, it’s not ideal, but what do you do with the cost and the lives that we have to live?
Where to Find Dr. Uma Naidoo
Abel: Well, we could definitely talk all day, Uma. But what’s the best place to find your work and your new book?
Thank you Abel, it’s at UmaNaidoomd.com. That’s the website.
And you’ll find links to purchase the book, This is Your Brain on Food, links to keep in touch with us and get more information.
We do post a lot of our studies and– not studies we’ve done, but studies we talk about to help kind of debunk the myths in the science involved, and what we think is cool for people to know on Instagram as well.
Abel: Wonderful. Your work is so important. I wish I could just prop it up and put it everywhere in front of everyone because…
Oh, thank you.
Abel: I mean, looking around we need it more than ever. And you’re a wonderful person. I love Srini too. Please give him a big hug from all of us.
Abel: And thanks for coming on the show.
Thank you so much.
Before You Go
I wanted to show this note that came in from Taylar who says:
I have been listening to your podcast for years! I absolutely adore you and your wife, Alyson.
I cannot express how greatly I appreciate what you do. It is incredibly challenging finding reliable sources of real, true information about health and food.
My passion and interest in nutrition began about 5 years ago and I have been hooked ever since.
I have plans to start graduate school this Fall 2020… right now, I am enrolled… to become a Registered Dietician, but have more recently considered switching to a pre-PhD track.
Either way, my concern is that when I start my program the content is going to be governed by big food and not align with what I have learned to be true about health and nutrition thus far.
You talk a lot on your podcast about censorship and I am really interested in learning more about what has been going on with that. Where do you find resources to learn more about what big food company is funding what research?
How can I figure out what research is reliable and trustworthy and what research is pushing some political figure’s agenda? Do you have any resources you could send me regarding this topic?
Do you have any advice for a student wanting to learn more about nutrition and be recognized as a licensed professional who does not agree with those in charge of the credentialing?
I would love to hear your thoughts and insight!
Also, check out my Choconut Macaroons! They came out delicious!”
Thanks for writing in and sharing a picture of the batch of Choconut Cookies you whipped up.
Looks like these came out great.
Especially since today’s show with Dr. Uma Naidoo who is someone from Harvard who’s been in academia, who’s been highly credentialed for pretty much her whole career, I think it’d be interesting just to talk about this for a quick minute here.
Because pursuing the academic route can be wonderful and great and mind-expanding, or not so much, depending on how you go about it.
In my experience, the ivory tower comes with rules, and credentials tend to come with limits on our free speech and expression, especially these days.
So for example, even speaking a little bit about certain topics, I have a list of about 12 words that I’m not allowed to say right now. I’m having to self-censor like I do normally on the podcast.
If you even bring these up or question the top-down narrative, then you’re probably going to be de-platformed, or even lose your license if you are credentialed.
That makes this a little tricky.
And this is as true for nutritionists as it is for doctors. It’s a double-edged sword no matter which way you go.
As for the research and what to trust, the problem with big pharma, big food and big whatever, funding projects and being biased with their research in their studies, that’s not new.
That’s been going on for a very long time.
It does seem like it’s getting worse. And even the ability to publish research that goes against certain narratives and agendas is becoming more and more impossible.
So given your education and those of you listening, if you already know how to read studies, statistics and data, you have a big leg up and a big head start.
But you also know that data can be warped and manipulated, the analysis can be manipulated with statistical tricks and all sorts of other things to kind of make the data say things that the data would never say on its own accord.
So you have to watch out for that.
I would encourage everyone to learn how to do your own research.
Learning how to dig into whatever study or research you’re interested in, and then learning how to identify the nonsense is a critical skill, and a never ending quest.
So you can do that whether you’re in school or not in school.
We need you. If you want to be educated and learn and work within the system, we need you in the world of health to push it forward. We need you to help write the sheet.
There are a lot of people in power right now who do not have your best interest at heart. So if you’re going to go in there and do the work and stay committed, then go for it.
I don’t care what direction you go in, what degree you get, you can do good there. So get after it.
I hope this helps, Taylar. Thank you so much for getting in touch.
Now how about you? If you have a question, you can always sign up for my free newsletter and respond to my emails with any questions or comments you might have.
Let me know how you like those choconut cookies or our latest sourdough recipes. I always love hearing from you.
And then of course, probably the easiest way to keep in touch and the least shadow banned at this point is our newsletter.
You can sign up for our newsletter, and then I’ll send you some free recipes, meal plans and other goodies on the house.
And you can also just reply to my email. I always love hearing from you.
If you’d like to support this show and help us keep this show coming to you, then please visit our tip jar over at FatBurningMan.com/TipJar.
I have coaching options, group coaching options, or if you just want to throw a couple bucks in the tip jar to keep this show coming and to keep us caffeinated and playing music and entertaining you as well, then you can do that at FatBurningMan.com/TipJar.
And one more thing before you go, because we were just talking about chocolate.
Take a look at WilSuperfoods.com. This is our family company, our own line of nutraceuticals and supplements.
And since we were talking about chocolate here today, let’s talk about Collagen Cocoa.
It’s one of our very favorite new supplements that we’ve been working on getting to you for years now.
And we believe that this is the very best tasting chocolate collagen we’ve ever tried.
A lot of times, we’ll have it as a hot cocoa, especially after a long day of recording. But you can have it cold. You can put it in smoothies. I even like putting it in Greek yogurt.
And one thing to note about Collagen Cocoa, it kind of looks expensive, but this is literally the largest amount of protein I’ve ever seen in a container.
We try to make our shipping friendly to the environment as much as possible, so instead of shipping tons of tiny little bottles or having small amounts of food and nutrients in our containers, we try to fill them up and we try to make them big.
Thank you for your reviews for our products over at WildSuperfoods, as well as for leaving a review for this show.
Make sure you hit subscribe, share it with a friend, all that good stuff.
It really helps, because the algorithms from the technocrats these days aren’t being especially kind to those who ask questions and are thoughtful in general. And I’m not just speaking about me, there are a lot of people who you kind of have to dig to find these days, but it is worth it.
So thank you for all your support. Thanks for sticking with us.
What did you think of this show with Dr. Uma Naidoo? Have you noticed how different foods affect your brain and mood? Drop a comment below to share your thoughts