Eating right begins with your brain.
That’s the message behind “Eat Complete: The 21 Nutrients That Fuel Brainpower, Boost Weight Loss, and Transform Your Health” ($26.99), by Drew Ramsey, a practicing psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at Columbia University who specializes in brain nutrition.
The cookbook features 100 recipes that incorporate foods that are rich in such nutrients as vitamins B12, A, C and D, zinc, magnesium, iron and omega-3 fats, which can help boost brain health.
We spoke with Ramsey, the author of “Fifty Shades of Kale,” about his latest book.
What are the biggest challenges you see when it comes to meeting nutritional requirements?
I think the biggest challenge eaters face is that they’re focused on the wrong organ. They’re not focused on feeding their brain. And so instead of picking the foods that have the most nutrients that we need, a lot of people spend time counting calories or avoiding fat. By counting calories and focusing on the wrong aspects of food and not brain health, people end up making food choices that generally lead to not feeling your best, as well as gaining weight.
How is eating for brain health tied to weight loss?
The whole idea behind “Eat Complete” is if you focus on the most critical 21 nutrients for brain health, that leads you to a core set of foods that set a foundation for your diet. You’re getting the optimum number of nutrients you need without having to count calories.
How did you arrive at the 21 nutrients?
These are the nutrients that are of greatest interest to the science community ... in mental wellness. For example, vitamin B12 — if you don’t have enough vitamin B12 in your diet, your brain simply doesn’t function that well. You feel foggy in your head, you feel depressed and you don’t have any energy. Feeling your best goes beyond looking your best. People want to make sure their brains are fully fueled.
What are your thoughts on supplements?
My concern with supplementation is it leads people away from food to a myth that you can get your basic nutrition through supplements. If you have a serious deficiency, of course a supplement makes sense. But what we’re talking about is dietary insufficiency — it’s a notion that your diet is missing it. The part that concerns me about relying on supplements is that they’re often expensive, they’re often contaminated and they leave out all the brain health benefits of food, like eating together, cooking for yourself or sharing a meal with your family and friends.
Are there any foods you rule out completely?
I tell people to avoid things that come in packages or have ingredient lists. I believe that your entire diet should be made up of things that have one ingredient — like apples, kale, salmon, oysters. That’s at the top of my list. What I really like to get people off of is breakfast cereal. I like to get them off of non-fat dairy products and any highly-processed, no-fat products. I want people to stop using vegetable oils like soy bean oil or corn oil or sunflower oil — also called seed oils — I want those out of people’s diets. White rice, white flour, commercially produced baked goods, any margarine or butter substitutes. The only three fats I recommend in “Eat Complete” are olive oil, coconut oil and grass-fed butter.
What was the recipe development process like?
I was working with chef Jennifer Iserloh, who I co-authored “Fifty Shades of Kale” with. I started with a core set of foods — the top foods for each of these 21 nutrients made the core of the book, and then I worked with her to develop recipes that were very straightforward and simple.
What are some of your favorite recipes?
Probably my favorite from the book is one I make a lot, the mushroom quinoa frittata. It’s a really great way to upgrade your egg dish. And it’s really great because it’s really simple. You replace typical breakfast meats with mushroom and quinoa, which is very filling yet very low in calories. And instead of eating three to four eggs you eat one egg. There’s a spiralized zucchini with garlic shrimp on top — I love spiralized vegetables as a noodle replacement. And the chocolate truffles because all of us love a sweet treat sometimes, but oftentimes that’s where we make some bad decisions about what’s at the end of our fork.
What deficiencies do you tend to see a lot in people?
We see a fair amount of vitamin B12 deficiencies. People often struggle with getting enough iron in their diet. And omega-3 fats. We’re one of the only developed countries that don’t have a recommended daily allotment. Probably 99% of Americans don’t reach the international recommendations for these fats every day. These are the set of fats that can potentially prevent depression and decrease schizophrenia. A huge goal of the book was I really wanted people to think about their brain health. There are simple food swaps that can completely change their risk profile in terms of dementia, anxiety and depression.
What’s a good starting point for people when changing their diet?
The basic take home is seafood, greens, nuts and beans, and dark chocolate. If you focus on eating those primarily, that is a great set of foods for overall health and brain health. That is what your diet should be based off of, what the human brain needs to survive.
What are your thoughts on food kits like Blue Apron?
I think the food delivery concept is really changing and revolutionizing healthy eating. So a company like Blue Apron I find really inspiring. It’s changing how we source and deliver food and helping people really have access to nutritious, healthy meals.