The 7 Core Principles of Nutritional Psychiatry

Table of Contents
  1. #1 Neuroplasticity
  2. #2 Inflammation
  3. #3 The microbiome
  4. #4 Nutrient density
  5. #5 Food categories
  6. #6 Connection
  7. #7 Eater evolution

These are the 7 core principles of nutritional psychiatry. What sets nutritional psychiatry apart is nutrition and lifestyle factors that are causing the modern brain to struggle. Nutritional psychiatry revolves around these seven principles.

#1 Neuroplasticity

Number one is neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the new science that your brain grows, changes and repairs itself. BDNF is the exciting molecule that helps our brain grow and repair itself. Things like nutrition and lifestyle choices are really involved in BDNF expression. So neuroplasticity is one of the ways that the research indicates that nutritional psychiatry helps us heal our brain and support mental health.

#2 Inflammation

Number two is inflammation. Inflammation is one of the currents that’s really pushing our health towards very dangerous territory. Inflammation is driving obesity, diabetes, and for a lot of people, inflammation is driving depression, anxiety and cognitive fog. This used to sound like an aspect of the wellness world, but in all aspects of medicine, whether it’s integrative or conventional, inflammation has become a huge and important concept. We know food choices are one of the major factors driving inflammation so that’s a great intervention for us in mental health.

#3 The microbiome

Number three is the microbiome. The microbiome is the collection of organisms that lives in our gut, mostly in our colon, which are mainly bacteria. The microbiome is involved in regulating our immune system and really involved in inflammation. We also increasingly understand this gut brain axis which is the way that gut health informs our mental health, affecting mood, cognition, anxiety, and more. It’s a very exciting and cutting edge area of nutritional psychiatry research.

#4 Nutrient density

The next core principle is nutrient density. Nutrient density is the only reason to count calories. Calories don’t give us a lot of information about food, just the amount of energy they have and in calorie counting, a can of soda and a kale salad are equal. Nutrient density allows us to understand what we are getting for that caloric load. What does that hundred calories give us? At the center of the antidepressant food scale that I’ve published with Dr. Laura LaChance is the idea of nutrient density, which foods have the most of the most important nutrients to fight depression per calorie. So that’s the concept of nutrient density.

#5 Food categories

The next core principle is food categories. Instead of focusing on a single food we want to focus on food categories. So instead of kale, we think about leafy greens. Instead of just wild salmon, we think about the food category of seafood. In nutritional psychiatry we work with individuals to help them diversify where they get those nutrients and also allow people to focus on making little steps, whatever that may be within a food category. For example, maybe you don’t like almonds, but you’re willing to try pumpkin seeds or maybe you really don’t like black beans but lentils are something you’re interested in. Food categories allow us to be more creative as we think about behavioral change and food changes.

#6 Connection

A fundamental principle of nutritional psychiatry is connection. That is a key tenet of mental health. Connection is important when it comes to ourselves, our intentions, our culture, our values, our discipline, all the things that come into play with food choice. It is also important when it pertains to our food system whether that’s our farmers, farmers markets, individuals who share some of our food hobbies such as sourdough cooking, or fermenting foods, or growing herbs in your garden. There are all kinds of ways for us to connect around food. It’s a central aspect of all of our cultures in the world. So connection with food is a huge tenet because connection really helps support our mental health.

#7 Eater evolution

Finally, the seventh key principle of nutritional psychiatry is eater evolution. It is important that we continue to evolve and grow as eaters. Our tastes change, our knowledge changes, the research and evidence changes. This really allows us to embrace a lifestyle by which we’re evolving and growing as eaters. Nutritional psychiatry asks us that while we grow, we keep our neurons and our mental health in mind when we approach food. Those are the seven core principles of nutritional psychiatry, this new field in mental health and in medicine, that’s merging psychiatry and nutrition.

Drew Ramsey, MD

Drew Ramsey, M.D. is a psychiatrist, author, and farmer. He is a clear voice in the mental health conversation and one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of using nutritional interventions. He is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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