Welcome to The Betty Rocker Show! What is the connection between what we eat and how we feel? Dr. Uma Naidoo is here to talk about that with us today, blending two of my favorite topics: nutrition and mental health.
Dr. Naidoo is a Harvard trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, and nutritional biologist. She is the founder and Director of Nutritional and Metabolic Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, she serves on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, and she designed and released the first and only Continuing Medical Education program to educate other clinicians about nutrition and brain health.
And, she’s the author of the national and international bestselling book: This is Your Brain on Food, which has been published in 22 countries and 18 languages.
I have it in my own library, and I hope after listening to today’s conversation you’ll pick up a copy for yourself too!
Connect with Dr. Uma Naidoo
- Dr. Naidoo’s website
- Dr. Naidoo’s instagram
- This is Your Brain on Food, Dr. Naidoo’s bestselling book – get a free chapter here!
Episode TranscriptNew Tab
Betty Rocker (00:00):
What’s up, rock stars Coach Betty Rocker here. And so excited to talk today with Dr. Uma Naidoo about two of my favorite topics, nutrition and mental health. What is the connection between what we eat and how we feel? Dr. Naidoo is here to talk about that. She is a Harvard trained nutritional psychiatrist, a professional chef and nutritional biologist. She is the founder and director of Nutritional and Metabolic Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. She serves on the faculty at Harvard Medical School and she designed and released the first and only continuing medical education program to educate other clinicians about nutrition and brain health. And she’s the author of the national and international bestselling book. This Is Your Brain on Food, which has been published in 22 countries and 18 languages. I have it in my own library, and I hope after listening to today’s conversation you’ll pick up a copy for yourself too. Join me in welcoming Dr. Uma Naidoo to the show. Welcome to the show, Dr. Naidoo. Great to have you with us.
Dr. Naidoo (01:15):
And thanks so much Betty. I’m really excited to talk to you today.
Betty Rocker (01:19):
Same here. I mean, it’s not every day that I get to talk to someone who is both a professional chef and a psychiatrist. What an amazing combination of skills you have. And you have so many skills, but that pairing is especially cool to me.
Dr. Naidoo (01:35):
Thank you. Thank you. It’s about I think following things I love to do and both fitted into that. And then my other part of my life is really focusing on nutrition.
Betty Rocker (01:49):
Yes. And that aspect is what formed the framework of this incredible book that you wrote, This Is Your Brain on Food. And I remember when I was reading this book, I keep that as a reference because you have, not only do you explain so much of the connection that food has and how we actually feel, but you also have these wonderful guides that I reference all the time. Like, “Oh. What has magnesium in it? What food has this vitamin in it?” You’ve got all of that quick reference as well, which is so lovely. I have so many questions for you, but I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about why is it that this is so new? Why is this a field that hasn’t been explored before? Why does conventional medicine not pay attention to or care about nutrition as much as you do?
Dr. Naidoo (02:52):
It’s a great question. You know, for one thing, doctors really don’t learn nutrition in medical school, about one fifth of medical schools in the United States even now teach nutrition. And on my advocacy side of my life, I’m certainly working to improve that. But it’s not a natural fit for doctors to talk about nutrition, because they don’t study it. I just came from a very food forward family, but culturally rich. You know, enjoyed eating, enjoyed food, a sense of family, but also a sense of science. And what I found when I went was medical school and studying, I just found there was a gap, there was just this gap in conversation. And in residency that gap is prescribing medications every single day and being taught to prescribe medications that had side effects. And although we were taught the side effects, we were not taught any lifestyle questions or suggestions besides checking someone’s weight and asking personally, “Hope you’re eating healthy”, nothing more was being done.
And I just thought that that was such a gap. And early on, a patient really got upset with me. And while his concern technically wasn’t valid, because I had not caused the weight gain from the medication I prescribed. It was too soon, and I had all the data in front of me, I was able to talk to him about what he was drinking because he came in with a massive cup of Dunking Donuts coffee. And I in part to change the conversation, said to him, “Well, wouldn’t you just tell me what you put in your coffee today? Let’s start there cause you you’re concerned about your weight.” And when we figured out together that he’d put more than a quarter cup of highly processed creamer with colorants, dyes, food stabilizers, and then at eight teaspoons of sugar before he ate breakfast, he was able to understand the number of empty calories he was consuming every single day.
And for me that was a very powerful moment because for one, it completely changed his mannerism from gruff and upset with me, to understanding and engaged. And, “Wow. Now I can do something and you’ve taught me something, and tell me how to make my coffee healthier. What can I do?” And it really led to a long therapeutic relationship. We didn’t have to increase his selective serotonin uptake inhibitor. We kept it there, but we really worked on lifestyle changes. And for me, it just proved the point. Something I didn’t know, maybe I knew it intuitively, but I didn’t know that it could be so powerful.
And really my interest was sparked from there with my cultural background and it grew from there. And then the ongoing research around the gut brain connection and that even though Hippocrates had nodded to this eons ago, the father of modern allopathic medicine, the truth is the research had to catch up. And that is only in the last decade and a half. So I like to say that the gut brain connection explains the food mood connection. So that’s the other piece that kind of came together as we started to understand more. Most people to your point, think about how they eat in terms of diabetes, type two diabetes or hypertension or their waistline. They don’t think about it in terms of their mental health. And that really was a very gaping gap that I felt needed to be filled.
Betty Rocker (06:28):
Just in that example with that client who you were trying to help, I mean, that’s such a beautiful story too, because you were getting this pushback from him. He wanted to blame you for the medication saying, “That’s what caused my weight gain.” And you were like, “Let me help this person.” You Were thinking about him in a mental health perspective as well as a physical health perspective in that moment you were hold creating a container for him to have that anger and those feelings. And also to say, “Okay. How can I shift that conversation with this person?”
Because I feel like people feel like it’s their fault all the time, or they need to blame you, the doctor, or they need to blame themselves. And when we can look more at science and nature and say, “Okay. What are these foods, what do they contain?” Because you’ve said this before, I’ve watched a ton of your videos and listened to you a lot online. And one of the things that I love is this thing that food is a human universal. We all eat, we’re all connected in this way, right? Everybody eats. And so that means that there has to be something that we’re communicating to our bodies by what we’re eating, because we’re all having a different experience based on many factors. But food being a big part of that.
Dr. Naidoo (07:50):
Betty Rocker (07:51):
So when you start talking about the gut brain connection and the food mood connection, this is something that I think no one ever really put together in quite the way that you did. And I love the story of, you know, how you care about people, and in your background of food, and your cultural background, how do you blend at all of that? Like, “This is what we need, this is what is needed.” Will you talk to us a little bit more about those things that we eat that can affect our mental state?
Dr. Naidoo (08:21):
Yeah. Well, and thank you for saying what you just did, because I feel like people talk about a secret sauce. I feel like it’s the recipe I developed without knowing that it would end up being this maybe this helpful for people. So I appreciate hearing that. I also like the questions you asked me, because I’ll tell you, people always say, “Well, what should I eat?” And I often will say back to them, “It’s often I start with what you should cut back on.” Because with the standard American diet, it’s quite sad for a reason. Many of us are just consuming a lot of stuff. We don’t like my patient fault consuming stuff we don’t even realize is causing us to impact our mental health. And some of these foods, to be honest, may also be affecting your weight, and your type two diabetes, or your glucose intolerance or insulin resistance.
But it’s often the processed ultra processed foods that have a ton of [inaudible 00:09:21]. Food stabilizers, thickness. There was a study done in 2022 and it was an animal study, but I feel it was significant because it looked at the effect of a thickener that’s used in foods called carboxymethocellulose. And it had a negative impact on the microbiome of rats in that in the microbiome they produced fewer of the good substances we need in our gut, which are the short chain fatty acids. And it actually proved that. So it’s helpful for us to know, even though we need to find those studies and do them in humans, that these substances do affect our gut. They have this direct impact by affecting our gut it is definitely affecting our brain, because we know there’s that gut brain connection. So those processed ultra processed foods, those sort of junk foods, fast foods, added sugars, high fructose syrup, none of those are good for our brain.
And when you are eating fast foods, you may not realize it, but they’re often fried in unhealthy fat, because the processed vegetable and seeds are less expensive. So you’re actually eating pro-inflammatory foods when you eat that. And then things like artificial sweetness, I know that it’s hard for people to not have some of them, just don’t lean on that diet soda. Don’t have that all the time. Don’t only eat things with artificial sweetness. Rather maybe try to get your palate juice to a few more berries or fruit, because that’s a natural form of sugar. And is it’s these added salts and foods, it’s these added sugars. It’s the processed vegetable oils, it’s the artificial sweeteners that are really kind of working against our mental health. And one of the things that people don’t recognize, for example, is preserved and certain types of processed meats, for example. If you do consume meats, some of the processed meats actually contain nitrates.
And these nitrates actually affect our mood. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this recently in supermarkets, you’ll actually see nitrate free bacon or nitrate free meats, processed meats. And I think that those may be a slightly better version, but they are still what they are. So having this disinformation, and the way I’d like I’d sort of outlined it, and this is your brain on food, is foods to eat and foods to limit to avoid. So foods to embrace and foods to limit to void. And then that way you can balance it up as you move through the book. But also as you move through the supermarket, it’s meant to be helpful to people to navigate their mental well-being.
Betty Rocker (12:23):
And you were talking about the bacteria and the gut. And I always think about these bacteria, they’re living organisms, and I always like to personify my cells. I like to personify my bacteria, because it makes me want to befriend and take care of them. And so if I think about the gut bacteria, basically in the gut, whatever I’m choosing to intake and eat is impacting the way that they’re able to do their job. And then they use their little megaphone and they say, “Hey.” They talk to my brain. And the brain then has to respond, but they can only communicate based on what I’ve fed them, right? So what we feed the gut bacteria is exactly-
Dr. Naidoo (13:04):
Betty Rocker (13:05):
… what in impacts the signals that we send to the brain, which is what-
Dr. Naidoo (13:10):
Betty Rocker (13:11):
… you get at with why we want to limit or avoid certain types of these highly processed foods, because they really screw up that connection. And you see a lot of people with a lot of anxiety, a lot of brain fog, maybe they’re struggling with their libido. And we know that there can be many different reasons for these things. But since food is the thing that we eat multiple times a day, why not have as much control over that energy output and your moods as you can by choosing the foods that you eat more intentionally? And I think that’s so important. Am I right about that? How they communicate the [inaudible 00:13:57]?
Dr. Naidoo (13:57):
Yes. So they love that you said that because I have the very, when I give lectures, I speak even to clients, I’ll talk about nurturing our gut microbes. Nurturing them because they’re part of you, right? It’s like having guests over to stay over or to have dinner with you. Generally, if you want them to be, then you’re a hospitable person. You’ll try to prepare them a nice meal, or they’re staying over, you’ll make sure there’s clean linen in their beds, you’ll take care of them. And in a similar way, these microbes, they’re trillions of them. And if you put them under microscope, they would be probably the size of a medium avocado. So they’re really tiny, and they live all over the gut. And the idea is if you feed them what they need, they will act for you. Because there are tons of things that they do. They’re involved in sleep and circadian rhythm, which is our internal body, vitamin production, hormone production, immunity, our mental health, and many, many more things.
So if they’re not nurtured and fed the right types of food, they can’t function. And if you don’t take care of them, here’s the thing, if you’re feeding them those added sugared foods and the ultra processed foods, there are also some bad players out there, the bad microbes will be fed. When they’re fed and they take over it upsets the balance of the gut and that’s what leads to inflammation over time and conditions like leaky gut. Because the breakdown products of those foods are toxic and the toxic breakdown products damage the cell lining, the single cell layer layer of the gut. And that’s where we really lead to inflammation, leaky gut and ultimately this feeds back in a loop to the brain.
So gut inflammation over time can become brain or neuro inflammation and the cycle continues. So we have to think carefully about the choices we make.
Betty Rocker (16:01):
The time that you and I are recording this is the month of May. And May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which I love.
Dr. Naidoo (16:07):
Betty Rocker (16:08):
And no matter when you guys are listening to this episode, it’s always a good time to pay attention to and take care of your mental health. And so I love that this book and your work is so connected to supporting mental health, to helping us have equilibrium, to have a good-
Dr. Naidoo (16:28):
Betty Rocker (16:29):
We don’t have to be in a good mood all the time. Right? Like it’s natural-
Dr. Naidoo (16:32):
No, no we don’t have-
Betty Rocker (16:33):
… to have these just different moods.
Dr. Naidoo (16:35):
To have a fluctuation, yeah.
Betty Rocker (16:36):
Yeah, to have a fluctuation.
Dr. Naidoo (16:37):
This is life.
Betty Rocker (16:39):
But to unintentionally create stress and to contribute to bad feelings and negative thoughts in your brain because you’re inadvertently eating certain foods, that’s what we want to, I think avoid. Right? And-
Dr. Naidoo (16:58):
That’s exactly right. It’s not about a… It isn’t a perfect state of mind. There isn’t a perfect food, there isn’t a perfect diet. But what can we do? We can feel better than we may be feeling. We can feel better on more days than not.
Will it change the fact that you’re upset after an argument? No. But could you feel more relaxed? Could your mood be brighter? Could you feel less brain fog? Maybe you have been a problem focusing right now. Food can impact that. It’s not the only thing, but it’s one of the factors that most people are overlooking and it’s right within their reach.
Betty Rocker (17:35):
What is for example, what are some of the key foods that you would recommend if someone was struggling with their memory, like if they were having trouble, I don’t know, remembering things.
Dr. Naidoo (17:48):
So we always start with where do we clean? What do we clean up, what do we cut back on? What do we kind of limit or start to really remove if possible?
Some of the things are foods like olive oil. Olive oil is actually protective because it has healthy fats. There are herbs and spices like turmeric with a pinch of black pepper. The black pepper in turmeric actually helps to activate the turmeric, and the curcumin in turmeric can make it about 2000% more bioavailable to the brain and body making, meaning it gets absorbed and can be more active.
Spices like cinnamon. And by the way, cinnamon is great if you want a sweet taste without sugar. Saffron, rosemary, ginger and sage are some spices you could be adding to your food.
Believe it or not, coffee is thought to be beneficial with memory, but it’s usually about under 400 milligrams. So not a ton of it. If you do drink caffeine, have it in limited quantities, but it may potentially be helpful.
And interestingly, there’s a antioxidant called Luteolin, which is found in foods like fresh peppermint, sage, thyme, hot peppers, sweet peppers, radicchio, celery seeds, parsley and a few others, and these actually help to lift brain fog. So if you thinking that that could be helpful, there are foods you can add in for that reason as well.
Betty Rocker (19:22):
I feel like a lot of these must have overlap, right? Because sometimes when you’re struggling to remember things, you’re also dealing with some brain fog, or you’re having trouble focusing as well on your work.
Dr. Naidoo (19:35):
Betty Rocker (19:35):
And that those, kind of, could all, I guess, overlap in different ways. Usually someone doesn’t just like, “The only thing I have is memory, struggling with memory.”
Dr. Naidoo (19:47):
Betty Rocker (19:47):
It’s usually like a combination or a cluster of things.
Dr. Naidoo (19:51):
And then I’m so glad you said that because you know the classification that mental health clinicians and certainly psychiatry uses is the DSM-5-TR, which is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. And the truth is that people just… you know a system needed to be created. I agree with that, but people just don’t fall into checklists.
Betty Rocker (20:12):Yeah.
Dr. Naidoo (20:13):
People may have problems with brain fog and focus. Problems with trauma and sleep. Problems with depression and anxiety. So it’s often a combination of many different symptoms. And I think that’s another reason that food can be powerful rather than thinking of the checklist. So thinking about a medication first, but medications are unnecessary for some people so I’m not against them. They say the lives of many of my patients, but there are also these other things we can be doing.
We can be eating differently. We can be spending time outdoors. Even 10 minutes of daylight makes a difference to mood and anxiety because of our Vitamin D. So there are many, many things we can be doing. And I feel the focus is generally a little bit too much just on medication and not thinking about it in an integrated approach.
Betty Rocker (21:05):
Right, and that’s what I was getting at there with the integration and that there are many layers and nuances to treating a human being because humans are so… We are complex. We have many-
Dr. Naidoo (21:16):
Betty Rocker (21:17):
… complex systems and our bodies and our minds. And we feel things from so many different… There’s so many different things can impact our mood, our childhood history, what happened yesterday. There’s so much that, you know… And learning tools for mental strength and self-awareness, and many of the things that as a psychiatrist I’m sure you’ve helped people with.
Dr. Naidoo (21:45):
Betty Rocker (21:46):
And then this kind of combination of how can we also, like we were talking about before, this universal of what we eat every day can also help bridge that gap. Can help us get, go that extra mile and it’s just so…
What is nutritional psychology, exactly in a nutshell? Can you tell us about this? Because this is a nascent field, isn’t it?
Dr. Naidoo (22:13):
Yes. So nutritional psychiatry is the use of healthy whole foods and nutrients to improve your mental wellbeing. And it is particularly important to understand that this works in conjunction with any type of therapy that you may be attending or doing and working on, working with a therapist or medications that you may be being prescribed. So it’s really meant to be this integrated approach.
But a part of it is very powerful because we do eat several meals a day and food is something that is part of our daily lives. It’s not a choice and therefore… Well actually it can be a choice and there are people who do struggle with eating, but it’s meant to be something that you, it’s easy for us to do. It’s a low hanging fruit. It’s if you are having meals several times a day, my perspective is why not just try to tweak every single meal in one healthy direction?
It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You know it can be if your thing is like a salty, crunchy snack and you have to get potato chips every afternoon. And this is the stuff I hear, you know that this is what I’ve heard during COVID and I think some of it actually has lasted. You can make healthy kale chips in the oven. Oven roasted a little bit of avocado oil and the spices of your choice and have a nice crunchy snack.
You know if your thing became ice cream during the pandemic, there’s a way to make… In the recipe section of This Is Your Brain On Food, I have a recipe made for ice cream with bananas and you can even make it a chocolate flavor. And the cacao flavonols are good for your brain.
So there are ways to win and there are ways that food can be your winning strategy. You just have to pay attention to it and plan a little bit. Because it doesn’t, bananas don’t end up in your home without some planning. Neither does the kale for kale chips or the baby spinach for baby spinach chips. And you got to plan a little bit on that.
Betty Rocker (24:26):
You have some great videos on social media of you walking around in the grocery store talking about the importance of reading food labels. And you were talking about your banana, you probably have a banana nice cream. We call it a nice cream.
Dr. Naidoo (24:39):
Betty Rocker (24:40):
My… Yeah, I love that. I love that recipe. And what we do is we actually blend a serving of my organic protein powder in with it because you were talking earlier about some of the coagulants that, and the studies that were done on animals.
Dr. Naidoo (24:55):
Betty Rocker (24:55):
And when I was formulating my protein powder, which is a completely custom formula, we tell people like, “Hey, when you shake up our… If you just shake up our formula in water, it’s going to settle after several minutes because we didn’t put in all these additives.”
Dr. Naidoo (25:12):
Betty Rocker (25:12):
… “to make it sticky. If you blend it in a smoothie, you’ll never notice that. It’s just, if you’re just putting it in water.”
And if you’re not reading your food labels and you’re not paying attention on what you’re buying, you talk about in your grocery store videos, you might totally miss that this is something that’s going to talk to your gut bacteria and your gut. You know, if you have it just a couple times a week, you might not even notice anything.
Dr. Naidoo (25:37):
Betty Rocker (25:37):
But it’s this kind of compounding effect where we’re eating all of these things without realizing it and then our body just starts to talk back and that we just don’t feel as good. And we don’t know why, because we’re thinking, “Oh, I’m eating a protein powder, so I must be healthy,” but we’re not paying a attention to all of the ingredients in the protein.
Dr. Naidoo (25:57):
Betty Rocker (25:57):
Dr. Naidoo (25:58):
And I’m sort of glad you said that because whether it’s a protein powder, whether it’s a protein bar, whether it’s something else, the reality is that these food labels are hugely important because they are many ingredients like the one that the study was done on. [inaudible 00:26:20] cellulose, bit of a tongue twister, but important to understand that it’s a thickener.
And you are absolutely right because many people will come in eating a protein bar saying, “I’m having this great, great smoothie now.” First thing I’ll say to them, “Is it a clean protein powder?” And often it has other not so healthy ingredients.
I also want to go back to the point about processed foods, because earlier on we were talking about it and I just wanted to say that one of the things we don’t realize from food manufacturers is that they create foods. Like fast food restaurants spend a ton of money, research and development to create foods that we crave. These foods are called hyper-palatable in scientific research. And what that is we eat them and we want more of them. And so it sets up the cycle of craving and craving them. Have you ever gone to a fast food restaurant and ordered the french fries and said, “Oh, I’ll get the… I’ll upsize that.” And then what happens is you upsize it and you finish the whole thing. You were thinking, “Oh, I’ll get a size small.”
So, you know I think we have to understand that the food industry and many aspects of things like food labeling are not necessarily working for the benefit of the customer and we’ve got to be more savvy. We’ve got to be more savvy about what we read.
Another great example is something like a fruited yogurt. Now, whether you eat dairy or non-dairy yogurt, if it’s fruited, people know blueberries are healthier or they’ve heard that, but a fruited blueberry yogurt, a half a cup can have 8 teaspoons, 6 to 8 teaspoons of added sugar. And you wouldn’t add that if you were having a half cup of yogurt. You know? So think about it that way.
And I think just one of the reasons I walked around the supermarket is I just want people to know some basic things. You know I don’t want it to feel like it has to be rocket science. These are things all of us have access to. If we just know a little bit of, spend a bit time choosing those groceries, reading the food labels and things like that, it’s accessible to people.
Betty Rocker (28:32):
You said this in a really nice way, but it’s almost like you talk about how the food companies are researching ways to get us to eat the product. But you didn’t come out and say it, but its they’re not there to really feed us. They’re there to make money off of us. So that’s their primary focus. So in their departments, they have people who are like, they’re not nutritional psychologists, but they kind of are. They’re trying to figure out the psychology of how a person’s brain works so that they can convince us to get more of their product.
Dr. Naidoo (29:10):
To create cravings, yes.
Betty Rocker (29:11):
So they’re like-
Dr. Naidoo (29:12):
To make them hyper-palatable.
Betty Rocker (29:13):
Yes, and so you’re like the white knight on the other side of that equation. Fighting the good fight for us, protecting us by helping us understand the psychology of why these foods do this to our brain.
Dr. Naidoo (29:26):
Betty Rocker (29:27):
And then how we can choose something that’s nourishing for us in maybe a better choice for us. Not saying we can never have those foods just to understand-
Dr. Naidoo (29:36):
Betty Rocker (29:37):
When we understand the consequences it’s a lot easier to make a decision about your choice, when you know what the consequence would be.
Dr. Naidoo (29:45):
Yeah. Well, thank you for saying that. I personally feel that you’re absolutely right. Food manufacturers are there to make money. They are there to make money by the choices we make, and we make a choice every single day by where we spend our dollars. And we can buy more produce or we can-
Dr. Naidoo (30:01):
We can buy more produce or we can hang out in the packaged food section and buy lots and lots of foods that are either frozen foods… The one frozen food you should buy, or the two, are frozen berries or frozen fruit without added sugar, syrup, or salt. Or actual frozen veggies, great alternative. By the way, middle aisle does have some healthy alternatives for us, like dried beans, dried lentils, great choices, canned tuna, canned… Actually not my favorite. I should have said canned salmon, anchovies, and sardines, because they’re rich in omega 3s if you consume seafood. So there are some purposes that we should be walking through the center aisles.
But the problem is that when we read a food label and we say, “Oh, this is high in vitamin X”, “This is high in wheat.” I had an example of a young mother who was coming to see me for these sessions and she brought in her little daughter, very proudly said… Her daughter was little and was eating her cereal while we were talking. And said to the doctor, “Now you’ll be so proud of me. I got her the whole wheat cereal because you told me whole grains are really important,” and in fact I did. I said to her, I felt really bad, and I said, “You know what? Let’s just look up this cereal. Let’s just look it up together online. Tell me which one you bought.”
And we looked at it and the last… There was very little, whole grain in it because they’re actually things… There’s a whole wheat council, a whole grains council. They have actual labels, which tell you the amount of grain, actual grain. Had a ton of sugar, virtually no fiber in it, and a lot of fortified vitamins. And unfortunately, she’d been duped.
I felt really badly because this was an expensive box of cereal for a mom that was trying to do right by her children buying healthy foods. And it’s a great example of how the consumer gets duped into thinking they’re buying something healthy for their child and no, the food labels are not there to help us. We need to be savvy and learn how to interpret them so that we buy the best choices. Look, we can’t avoid package and processed foods, but buy the best versions of those if we can. And the one way you can know that is by reading that label.
Betty Rocker (32:34):
Absolutely. I’ll say what I look for and you can give me some more tips.
Dr. Naidoo (32:39):
Betty Rocker (32:40):
So one of the things I always look for is I look for the total sugars, but then I also look for added sugars underneath that.
Dr. Naidoo (32:47):
Betty Rocker (32:48):
Because some foods naturally have natural sugars in them.
Dr. Naidoo (32:52):
Betty Rocker (32:52):
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But then if they’ve added a lot of sugar to the product, that’s where I want to pay attention. And I love that you brought up fruited yogurt earlier because yogurt is one that I am always going on about with my audience because I think you have a million yogurt choices in any grocery store you go to. And it’s almost impossible to find a whole, full fat, for instance, because once they take the fat out, they have to put something in to make it taste good. So what they normally put in sugar, right?
Dr. Naidoo (33:26):
That’s right. That’s right.
Betty Rocker (33:26):
It’s very hard to find… Anyway. But when I read it, so when I look, look for what… Does it have added sugar? I often will also check the sodium. And some foods naturally are naturally higher in sodium. But you know, were talking about processed meats like the bacon or the nitrate free bacon and even though it’s very, very high in sodium and when you think about how many servings of that. They’ll do the tricky thing too where they’re like, oh, a serving is this teaspoon of this thing or one strip. And you’re like, yes, 860 milligrams. Who eats one serving? You’re going to eat four serving. So then you’re going to have 2000 milligrams of sodium, right?
Dr. Naidoo (34:08):
Betty Rocker (34:09):
So yeah, so speak to us about what else-
Dr. Naidoo (34:12):
Betty Rocker (34:13):
-should we look for?
Dr. Naidoo (34:14):
Yes. So you know, you’re actually right about serving size is hugely important. Always look at that because sometimes you think, oh, this is just 40 calories, it’s great, but actually the serving size literally is a teaspoon or an ounce or two ounces. And I actually interpret, by the way, I should, this is an important point. I interpret it back to ounces because our recipes in this country are standardized to pounds and ounces, but our food labels are grams and wouldn’t you know that confuses everyone because we don’t cook in grams, right? That’s not our system.
So for example, four grams of sugar is one teaspoon. And by knowing that, people can quickly convert the number grams in a yogurt or anything else that you’re eating into grams of sugar, then added sugar is hugely important. Sodium, important. Fiber, very important because they make you spend a lot of time worrying about protein.
But if you’re eating a healthy diet and you’re using, say clean protein powders, supplement that as well. It’s actually fiber that we are lacking because [inaudible 00:35:23] just don’t eat enough vegetables and beans, not seeds, legumes, whole grains and fruit because all of these contain fiber. You can’t get fiber from animal seafood proteins. So those are things we should be leaning into. Fiber grams are important. I’m less of a calorie counter, but I do ask people to pay attention to portion size. The size of the American dinner plate grew in the last 60 to a hundred years from about eight to nine inches in diameter toward 11 to 12 inches in diameter. So in fact, when we have larger plates, what happens? We feel badly that there isn’t food on it. So we eat more food over time and these are things that have just not helped us.
Protein grams are important. So important to know that you’re getting your protein. I’m not saying ignore that and I am not as worried anymore about the number of grams of fat. And I’ll tell you why. The thinking around saturated fat was really revised, but not all practitioners or clinicians believe it. It really looked at the studies around saturated fat and having a grass fed piece of beef a few times a week or however often you eat it. I’m not saying eat it every day, is not the worst option for you anymore. It’s not what we used to think. But not everyone’s on board with that.
So I say look at the fat, but there’s a lot of mixed versions of what the healthy fats are. So lean into rather your omega-3 fats, your olive oil, your avocado and things like that. And I wouldn’t be worried as much about that argument around saturated fats. The fats that are bad for us are hydrogenated, the trans fats, things that you find in packaged baked goods. The cakes that are packaged and you buy them on the supermarket shelf and they last a little while, that type of thing. So it’s just, I think understanding those things becomes important and really being an advocate for your own mental wellbeing.
Betty Rocker (37:47):
Yes, a hundred percent. And there’s something to be said about the process of nourishing yourself. We talked about nourishing our gut bacteria and how that they support our brain. And then there’s this, you have this wonderful breakdown in your book about let’s go to the grocery store. Let’s prepare the foods for ourselves. Let’s cook. And I’m a huge advocate for doing some cooking for yourself as well. We all understand that people have busy lives, maybe they can’t cook every night. I like to promote a few different options for people who are busy. I love batch cooking. I personally, on the weekend, I am lucky enough to have a day or two off on the weekend and I like to go buy grocery. I’ll make a plan of what recipes I’m going to make.
I like to prepare quite a bit of my food over the weekend because then I can slow cook things. I can prepare. I have time to chop my veggies. I have time to make myself cry from chopping all the onions and experiment with the garlic. But there is a lot to be said for cooking for yourself more and how important and what a self- loving act it is. And wonderful to be able to cook for ourselves. I feel like we need to get back to that practice or to move in that direction as much as we can. I think.
Dr. Naidoo (39:12):
I agree with you and I feel like you do. Part of the reason I wrote that chapter was because I wanted people to feel comfortable, even if they make simple things. It doesn’t have to be a souffle. Because I came from a wonderful family, but also full of wonderful cooks, I actually didn’t cook until I was older and I had to move away from them because there were always fresh meals prepared by my mom, my grandmother, my aunts, my older cousins. And I always was in the kitchen. So I learned a lot by it, by observation and being around. But it can be very intimidating for some people. And I think-
Betty Rocker (39:55):
Dr. Naidoo (39:56):
To your point, Bree, it’s such a self nourishing act of self-love. Just to say, you know what? I’m going to make sure that I have meals for breakfast. Whether you live alone or you have a big family, whatever your situation, it is taking care of yourself.
And sometimes I’ll tell you on weeks that I don’t have time for that meal prep day or that batch cooking day, I feel way off. There were weeks this past month when I was traveling and I had not forgotten on one day I was running late, I had not packed my snacks for the airport and I was hungry. And the best I could do is get a very expensive banana. But at least I was like, okay, well I like bananas, but I had forgotten my snacks. And a lot of the nuts and things at the airport, not all of them were just clean nuts. They had a lot of stuff in them.
So I think it’s such an important thing just to spend that little bit of time with ourselves. I think cooking can be a very mindful practice. It can be a very healing practice, it can be very nurturing, but not everyone likes it. And for those of you who are listening and don’t yet like cooking, maybe find your way in because it’s a way to really just look after yourself. And I guarantee you’ll start to feel better.
Betty Rocker (41:24):
Yeah, and I think I have many, many people who follow me who have a household and I always, I live alone and that works well for me. But I’ve heard from many of the women who I talk to that getting their family involved in the food prep and modeling that to their kids is a great way to get them to learn and also to get some help to have your little sous chefs to be there to support you.
Dr. Naidoo (41:54):
Yes. That’s actually what I talk about as well. That’s exactly it. One way, and I really appreciate you said that. One way to bring kids and younger ones into the fold of cooking and healthier eating is have them be part of that experience. Whether it’s buying different colors of foods in the supermarket, and by that I don’t mean skittles. I mean all those different colored veggies and berries and things like that. But bring them into it and help them do simple tasks in the kitchen so that they feel a part of it and they start to experience food. The touch, feel, flavor. Little tasks that are safe for them to do it. It’s so important to do that.
Betty Rocker (42:38):
This isn’t something that you talk much about in your book, but because I live alone and my family is my dog, I noticed I’ve always paid a lot of attention to what I feed him because I want him to be really healthy. And in the last couple of years I had switched over to a brand of food. It comes frozen, but it’s like I’ve eaten it before. It’s like a stew. It’s like a pre-cooked food. And I have never seen him have better energy, better fur, more healthy poops. He is just so healthy and happy on this. Yeah, really good real food. And I think that is something that… I don’t know how much you talk about pet health and brain health, but I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t correlate. It has to be connected.
Dr. Naidoo (43:30):
It’s an area of great interest to me because I hear this all the time. I see it. I unfortunately wish I could have a pet. I had pets growing up, but my schedule right now does not permit that. But I feel it’s so connected to how their health is, how they feel, how a pup or even a dog or cat can be super anxious and antsy. And my clients will even tell me this and cleaning up, I think their diet and just going for those healthier options. And I even had a client who, as part of her experience of really getting to nurture herself and move her own mental wellbeing in the right direction, what she would do is she would just flavor it differently, but she would cook the same meal for herself and her pet.
So her thing in her meal prep was she ate chicken as one of the things. She liked a lot of different types of poultry and she would spend that extra money on getting good quality, but she would make the same thing for her pet. And she actually told me how the two dogs were starting to really thrive with the diet. Now they didn’t have behavioral problems, but like you said, they were starting to look healthier, they were more relaxed, they were more fit. She noticed their fur changed. So I really do feel there’s a lot there to pay attention to.
Betty Rocker (45:00):
And for those of you listening who have kids, I mean, I hear a lot from women who are like, “My kids are picky eaters.” And I get that. And some adults too are very picky eaters and I think there’s a lot of legitimacy when it comes to, it’s not always that the person is picky. Sometimes they have a textural issue with certain foods or there’s some association from childhood with a food that they were forced to eat because it was healthy. So I feel that I have a lot of empathy for that. What do you say to picky eaters or how do you help people with those questions?
Dr. Naidoo (45:39):
I think that’s a tough one. I really do, and I use a few different approaches. One is what I shared, which is bring them into the experience and work with what they’re willing to eat. But again, it can be hard because the child may only want to eat frozen pizza or only want to eat the Skittles and how do you get around that? So I totally acknowledge that this is not an easy question. One of the things that I do help families think about is how can you take a healthy food and put it into something they’re eating? So if they’re big french fry fans, can you make carrot fries, zucchini fries and use an air fryer so it’s a healthier version and spice them up and make them play before? Can you add berries and spinach and make a monster smoothie? So it’s a weird color that may appeal to a child, but actually it includes largely healthy ingredients for them. I wouldn’t depend on the smoothie every single day, but I would give that to them as an option. Are there ways you can make your meatballs? And if [inaudible 00:46:47] you can make the same thing with lentils, but can you add… Cauliflower is pretty insidious. You can flavor it up and you can use frozen cauliflower and stack these meatballs with them and be adding a lot more fiber and vegetables. Same thing with things like spinach, but you have to be careful with kids because if they see a color they don’t like, they may not eat it. So you might want to think what their particular thing is and then work with it.
Kids usually love meatballs and sauce, so that’s an easy one because tomatoes can be super healthy with the lycopene. You can use whatever your sauce of protein is and stack a lot of veggies inside that they don’t realize. So you have to be a little bit of a detective by adding in things that are healthy for them if they’re going to immediately oppose it and trying to think of something they like and then make a healthy version. Like the ice cream we talked about or the fries or the crunchy snack, and work your way from there.
Betty Rocker (47:56):
I love what you said about the monster smoothie and that made me think of a lot of what appeals to kids and you gave so many great examples. Another way to think about this is the way that we use language with kids about food. So calling something a monster smoothie could be very appealing to some kids, but also talking about… I guess I feel like kids are very smart and they pick up so much from us and I wonder if getting kids involved in the cooking, because understanding we made the food, now we get get to eat it. So there’s a sense of accomplishment in this thing that we created together, but also oh, we’re including this chicken because chicken includes protein, which makes us strong. Or we include these lentils because they have all this fiber and protein and those two things…
We just talk about some of the benefits and just casually talking about that stuff. Why we ourselves reading those things can be really impactful I think for children because if we only get the message that we have to eat what’s on our plate, then we kind of rebel because that’s a natural response.
Dr. Naidoo (49:12):
Kids rebel. And it’s not something that parents haven’t used over time. I met a company that was producing really cool cartoon videos for kids to teach them to eat things like broccoli, but making the broccoli kind of funny and interesting that had interesting names, like some of the antioxidants involved. And I thought that was so smart because it’s a to exactly what you’re saying, teach the healthy nutrient from food and tap into what they want to be strong or they want to be more healthy or they want to be taller, whatever it is that appeals. Kids are very smart and we have to as the adults or the parents just try to figure out ways to outsmart them for their better brain health as I like to think about it. We are not being deceptive, we just try and outsmart them so that they eat healthy for their brain because we do know that the brain health of children is hugely important.
It’s especially important now because in children and teens and adolescents, the second most common cause of death is suicide and they’re really suffering. They’re just really suffering as are many people. But food is a very big factor in the level of focus, attention, energy functioning, and I just think it’s something that we can help them with by guiding them. It’s not easy, but finding a way in is important.
Betty Rocker (50:44):
You’re so right, so spot on. And I was just thinking as you were talking about that, how the adults out there who are picky eaters, that all of these things that we just talked about are great things to do for yourself or for a picky eater adult in your own life. And to think about the fact that why as an adult you may be a picky eater may come in some part from how you were treated as a child or how food was presented to you or the associations that you may have had with food as a child. And that if you can heal that process or you can find these fun ways to work with yourself in that process where you can find this is a food don’t always like, but I’m going to learn more about the benefits that it has to my body.
And that might be a reason to incorporate it into a new dish where you can’t really taste it very much, but you get the benefit so you start to overcome your aversion to the food and create a new association. These are just ideas. Or personifying a food, I think those cartoons could work for adults too.
Dr. Naidoo (51:47):
I totally agree, and I think that fact should be shared with the adults as well, but that’s exactly right. I think that at any age you might find someone that struggles to eat the avocado or the broccoli or they don’t like a flavor of something. And I think these apply and I feel that there’s so many things that we might be doing for children that we could be doing for ourselves and [inaudible 00:52:12] that we make it on a family. You said your audience has a lot of families and what you’re doing for your kids, you can be doing for yourselves. There are adult versions or spices can change up a certain food, but it makes it easier because you’re still prepping one thing and you’re just using it in a slightly different way, but it’s a way that we can get the task done.
Betty Rocker (52:33):
Yeah, absolutely. And then not to discount the fact that there are of course always going to be likes and dislikes, personal preferences that you may have. For me, for instance, I don’t do well with spicy peppers. I love some types of spice like wasabi, I really like that as a spice. I really like ginger and garlic, but when it comes to hot peppers, I’m a big baby. I can only do mild. So I steer more in that direction just because that tends to be my preference. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy other foods. There’s so many different foods out there and I guess I really encourage everyone to get a copy of Dr. Naidoo’s book and get a chance to read over all of these different foods for all of these different moods and situations that people find themselves in and how you can really heal your body just by intentionally incorporating foods into the food you’re already eating.
You’re already eating multiple times a day, just adding in a couple things here and there just to intentionally support yourself. I think that’s very much your approach, how can I intentionally support myself?
Dr. Naidoo (53:48):
It is. It’s like, what can I clean up a little bit and what can I enhance and what can I add to my plate that’s really important for my brain? Make it as simple as possible. I think there’s too much of elimination and exclusion of food and diet dilemmas and food wars going on. So I’m not saying I have to tell you what to eat, but I am saying whatever it is you eat, whatever pattern of food that you’re following, just make the best choices and add more to your plate because you can add tons of veggies to your plate and be very satisfied with that and still have your clean protein or your seafood, whatever else you’re eating. It’s about leaning into the things that help out brain health and enhance that than anything else. So yeah, that is it.
Betty Rocker (54:37):
That is it in a nutshell. Well, I’m excited for everyone to follow up with you and read the book. And of course your wonderful website is a great hub for everything that you have to offer. It’s umanaidoomd.com and you can find a link to this really great nutrition and mental health course from that. It’s a continuing education course, right?
Dr. Naidoo (55:06):
Betty Rocker (55:06):
And anyone can do this course. I was taking a look at it. Is that correct or do you have to have been in school-
Dr. Naidoo (55:12):
Sure. So there are two courses that I’ve actually released. One is at Mass General Hospital and that is mostly clinician based, although anyone can take it. If you’re looking for credits for say licensing for being a nurse or a physician or something like that, you can get those credits. If you are just wanting to learn, you can get a certificate of completion. And I also have my own course, which I developed because I received so much interest in how can I learn and do more even for my own family and my own health? And that we are releasing in the summer, so stay tuned to my website and to my social media @DrUmaNaidoo, which is @D-R-U-M-A-N-A-I-D-O-O, and you’ll hear more about it there. So thank you. I’m excited to share that with more people.
Betty Rocker (56:03):
Yes, I’m so excited for them to have access to those resources. I look forward to checking out all of it myself. And no matter when you’re listening to this episode with us, we hope that you connect with us again, leave us any questions or comments and follow up with your questions and keep taking good care of your health all of you out there. Dr. Naidoo, thank you again so much for your time and energy and sharing with us, and great to have you on.
Dr. Naidoo (56:35):
Thank you, Bree. It was such a pleasure to talk to you. It’s such great questions. I look forward to us keeping in touch.
So I have a question. What happens if you are eating super clean and you’re doing your workouts consistently and you’re just still not seeing results? What could be the issue? Isn’t it frustrating when you just can’t seem to pinpoint what maybe you’re doing wrong?
Well, I don’t know that you’re really doing anything wrong. I think there just might be some subtle tweaks and a little bit of knowledge that would give you some insight into how to approach your food choices a little bit more strategically without a lot of complexity.
And that’s exactly what I put into the Body Fuel System. I give you each of the different nutrients and how they work in your body, along with some excellent options for how to put it all together with simple whole food recipes and six weeks of guides of meal plans that break down every single day for you so that you can use them as a guideline or you can even follow them if you like. But people get amazing results using this program, following it sort of haphazardly. You don’t have to follow it exactly to really see changes.
Most of the value of it is going to come from you understanding how these foods are working in your body, because once you have that knowledge, no one can ever take it away from you, and you can go after almost any dietary strategy you want once you understand the foundational pieces of how these nutrients work for you in your body. So check out the Body Fuel System. You can grab it right over on thebettyrocker.com/bfs.
This podcast is for information purposes only. Statements and views expressed on this podcast are not medical advice. This podcast including Bree Argetsinger, Betty Rocker Inc and the producers disclaim responsibility for any possible adverse effects from the use of information contained here in. Opinions of guests are their own, and this podcast does not endorse or accept responsibility for statements made by guests. This podcast does not make any representations or warranties about guest qualifications or credibility. Individuals on this podcast may have a direct or indirect financial interest in products or services referred to here in. Before starting a new exercise, fitness or health protocol, or if you think you have a medical problem, always consult a licensed physician.
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