How Your Gut Affects Your Mood?

What inspires your passion for the connection between food and emotions?

When I think about the advice I give as a doctor, such as “don’t eat cholesterol” and “stop eating fat,” I realize that it doesn’t help people eat. I became interested in this idea of helping guide people to a happier, more nutritious relationship with food. Helping them think, “How do you want to exist as a foodie?” The intentionality of eating has been lost for people. For me, the first thing is to help people prioritize their mental health, and food has become this wonderful way for us to do that. We often eat for things like heart health or to avoid cancer, but what if we could eat to avoid depression, what if we could eat to avoid Alzheimer’s? We can’t cure all of these diseases through food alone, but there are things we can do in our daily lives to tip the scales in our favor. It empowers patients to know that they can fight back with tools other than medication and psychotherapy.

Does food really make us happier?

Since we published The Happiness Diet in 2011, there has been an explosion of data around what dietary patterns are most associated with depression risk. It’s become very clear that following a more traditional eating pattern, such as the Mediterranean diet, greatly reduces your risk of depression and dementia. But there’s also a common sense check. How much science do I really need to prove that what you eat affects the way you feel? It’s a fascinating and powerful disconnect. We all know that what we eat affects how we feel, but somehow we haven’t made the connection between our brain health and our mental health with what we eat. Mental health is a combination of what’s happening in your gut and your brain.

How do you cultivate a joyful relationship with food?

One of our goals with Happy Eating is to find a way to increase the nutrient density of the things you love. If you love carbohydrates, great. How do you eat more nutrient-dense carbs, which means more nutrients per calorie and more nutrients per gram of sugar? I’m a big fan of purple sweet potatoes. People have been confused about carbs being bad, but when we prioritize eating for our mental health and brain health, you start to think, “Well, what does the gut love?” And the microbiome, the bacteria in your gut, they like to eat resistant starches. So, purple sweet potatoes, those are very common in our house.

What “pop-up” foods are you most excited about?

My number one favorite food is bivalves: mussels and oysters. A few dozen oysters a month can be a total game changer – they’re nutritious. If you want nutrition and don’t want to deal with raw seafood, mussels are a very inexpensive way to get all the nutrients you need: long-chain omega-3 fats, protein, and B12.

How can people make positive changes in their lives?

In addition to food, consider the context in which you are eating. Eating with people we care about, sharing food, and preparing food together is one of the ways that food connects us. It’s one of the most important mental health aspects of food, and it has nothing to do with nutrients. It’s that when we sit at a table with people, something magical happens. Many of our fondest memories and most wonderful conversations happen over a good meal.