Stories from Food and Nutrition

‘I’m a Nutritional Psychiatrist, and This Is What I *Always* Have on My Grocery List for Mental Health’

Tehrene Firman

Tehrene FirmanJuly 19, 2020

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What you put in your body directly impacts your mental health. Past studies have shown certain foods can help improve your mood, and nutritional psychiatrist Uma Naidoo, MD, says it’s now more important than ever before to pay extra-close attention to what you’re putting on your grocery list.

Dr. Naidoo recently noted the country’s rates of anxiety and depression are worsening due to the global pandemic. And in these stressful and uncertain times, it’s not uncommon to find comfort through food. But while all those packaged goods and fried foods make you feel great in the moment, they can be detrimental to your well-being and mental health down the line.

Whenever she goes grocery shopping, Dr. Naidoo starts with the outer ring of the grocery store in order to fill up her cart with the healthiest options before reaching for anything else. “Eating more fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and healthy fats—such as olive oil and avocado—while cutting back on added sugars will go a long way to a healthier balance of your gut bacteria, which has shown to help alleviate anxiety, stress, and depression,” she says.

Some of her favorite foods for mental health are sweet potatoes (“a more complex carb that takes longer to digest”), roasted spaghetti squash as a pasta alternative, organic black beans, frozen fruit without added syrup, and ground chicken or turkey opposed to beef. After filling her cart with the good stuff, Dr. Naidoo limits anything that’s highly-processed and loaded with preservatives or filled with added sugars (baked goods and candy, to name a few).

“I call these the ‘usual suspects’ because even though we may know they aren’t the best for us, we may not realize they also worsen mental health conditions,” she says. “While it’s important to have some enjoyable treats at a time like this, the key word is moderation. Have your favorite not-so-healthy snacks, but share them among your family or simply ration out smaller portions.”

If you follow Dr. Naidoo’s advice of eating a mostly-wholesome diet and enjoying treats in moderation, she says you won’t throw your body—and mental health—for a loop. Instead of food worsening how you feel, it will make you feel better, no matter what the latest headlines say.

Here are some healthy choices a dietitian gets at Whole Foods:

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