Beans, Greens, and the Best Foods for the Brain

Bret S. Stetka, MD


July 07, 2015

In This Article


For the past 3 years, the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting has included a session called "Food and Brain,"[1] a whirlwind look at how diet can influence mental health. Only this year there was a twist: raw oysters shucked live at the podium.

"Some people think 9 AM is too early to have fresh oysters, but we don't," commented co-chair Drew Ramsey, MD, assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons in New York City, before announcing that throughout the presentation questions would be posed to the audience; get a question correct and walk to the front of the room to gulp an oyster.

Oysters, it turns out, are incredibly good for the brain, as Dr Ramsey reminded the audience throughout his presentation. And for the next hour and half, he and session co-chair, Emily Deans, MD, a private-practice psychiatrist in Massachusetts and a part-time instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, walked the audience through what, besides bivalves, constitutes a healthy-brain diet and why.

Dr Ramsey, in collaboration with the new International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry, is in the process of developing a standardized "brain food diet." "Food is a very effective and underutilized intervention in mental health," he started off. "We want to help our patients have more resilient brains by using whole helping get patients off of processed foods, off of white carbohydrates, and off of certain vegetable oils."

Though the field is in its infancy, food psychiatry is increasingly being embraced by clinicians and researchers, as a paper[2] published earlier this year in the Lancet Psychiatry attests. "Although the determinants of mental health are complex," the authors wrote, "the emerging and compelling evidence for nutrition as a crucial factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders suggests that diet is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology." Other recent work found that simply discussing diet with a counselor for just 6 hours over the course of 2 years dropped Beck Depression Inventory scores by 40% in elderly patients with depression.[3]

"The data are very promising that we can positively influence mental health through dietary interventions," commented Dr Ramsey.


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