A Brain Food Prescription from the Farmacy: Drew Ramsey at TEDxBloomington

Translator: lisa thompson
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven I brought this kale plant
to share with you this morning, from our farm down in Southern Indiana, where I grew up. Today, I’m a psychiatrist
in New York City, where I take care of my patients
and their brains. You could say it has been a trip
from farm to pharma. (Laughter) And I’m here today – and I won’t be even joking about it – I want to change your brain. And I want to change your brain, not with my usual techniques
as a New York City psychiatrist – no mind-altering drugs, no interpretations about your mother – I want to change your brain with an invitation to change
how you think about food, to put your food right at the center
of your dietary choices. It turns out that our
American brains are in trouble. This modern diet that we’re eating of highly processed,
highly palatable foods, foods that come in packages, foods full of sugar
and refined carbohydrates and the wrong fats
and a host of new chemicals, they are actually shrinking
the human brain at a rate we’ve never seen before. Soon, depression will be
the leading cause of disability in America and the leading cause worldwide. 40 million Americans
have anxiety disorders, and 25% of the women that you know will someday have clinical depression. A few years ago, I changed how I was thinking
about our brains’ health. I started going back to our family farm, and I feel it holds the key to all of us – our collective brain health. It started with a patient
about five years ago. She came into my office, and she was feeling down
and blue and depressed. She was an intelligent and creative woman, but she had symptoms that many of us have. She couldn’t sleep.
She was anxious all the time. She felt low-energy. And I had done my very best to help her. I had given her my best thoughts
about her psychology. I had given her the best
medications that I had: evidence-based treatments, medications to boost her mood and to calm her down
and to help her sleep. And as her physician, I was failing. She was still blue and sad and anxious. I flashed back to my very first day
of medical school, right over here in Jordan Hall. As you walk in, if you look up, carved into the limestone, it says, “The nature of the human body
is the beginning of medical science.” And at that moment, with that patient, I so badly wanted to know what was the nature of this human body, of this human brain
that was not functioning well. And I couldn’t know at that moment. So out of desperation or frustration, I asked her a question we don’t
really hear much in healthcare these days. Maybe your doctor
has never even asked you. I asked her what she had
eaten for breakfast. And in that moment,
both of our lives changed. It turned out, she hadn’t eaten breakfast. She was on a juice fast. She was trying to energize
and detoxify her body. She hadn’t eaten meat
or seafood for years, concerned about her health. She had not eaten any fat because she was convinced
that fat would make her fat. And she hadn’t eaten any eggs, of course. You know, that cholesterol. It struck me as very strange. We were both working so hard to help this brain be healthy
and vibrant and happy, and it hadn’t gotten any of the nutrients that a happy, healthy brain
actually needs. She jokingly told me
that she had come for my pharmacy, for the many evidence-based
treatments that I have, the many medications
that I can offer patients. We know that about 12%
of adult Americans take anti-depressants. They are now the most prescribed class
of medications in America, and that rate has doubled
in just 10 years. Part of that is good news. That means more people
are getting treated. That means we’re decreasing stigma. That means we are all having
a national conversation about what is going on
with our mental health. But I wonder, what else could we be doing. What more could we be doing? There’s a horrible epidemic
that is upon us. What if we jumped into mental health by building the best brain possible? So I’ve been obsessed with this question: Can you eat to build a better brain? If we feed a brain with these foods, with whole, fatty fish, full of those omega-3 fats
that your brain is made of; and whole fruits and vegetables;
and nuts and beans – If you eat that way, do you have
a healthier, more resilient brain? See, back on my farm, I felt like I had discovered
a whole new class of medications, a whole new drugstore. Back on the farm, I found the “farmacy.” (Laughter) And the nature of that human brain
seemed clear to me. The nature of that human brain is that it is made of whole,
minimally processed foods. Now, the brain is an amazing organ. We talk so much about diabetes
and heart disease and cancer, and we talk about what we eat. But it makes sense
to talk about our brain. Just 2% of your body weight, it consumes 20%
of all the food that you eat. It’s about 60% fat, specifically a lot of those omega-3 fats, and it has high concentrations
of nutrients like folate and iron. It is an amazing organ. A hundred billion brain cells
that reach out, and they connect
with thousands of other cells. Your brain is actually electric. And everything that you’re
experiencing at this moment, everything you’re feeling and thinking,
every movement, every sound – it’s all coming in through your brain. The most exciting piece of neuroscience
these days – brain science – is that your brain
actually grows and changes – something we didn’t know
back when I was in Jordan Hall. It’s a new discovery. We found a molecule called BDNF: brain-derived neurotrophic factor. It’s fancy science talk for, we were looking in the brain,
we found this molecule. You put it on brain cells, they grow.
They thrive. They make connections. A hundred billion cells reaching out and connecting
to 10,000 other cells. If you do a calculation, it turns out that your brain, that your unique human brain has more connections than there are
cubic meters in the entire universe. Your brain has a universe of possibility. But that universe gets
smaller and smaller if you don’t feed it the right foods. Nothing illustrates this better than the legend of the vampire. (Laughter) In the 1500s in Europe,
food suddenly had changed. There was a new food, a tasty food, and it spread throughout and became
a basis of the diet of the poor: this brand-new food called corn. And you may think of a vampire as a, you know, sexy undead person
who races around drinking blood, but that’s not true. In real life, vampires suffer
from a medical condition called pellagra. They look like this. This man has only eaten corn for years, and he doesn’t come out during the day because of that horrible rash
on his skin that the sun burns. He’s aggressive and irritable and angry. He’s restless, and he gets into fights. He craves all kinds of strange foods,
like bugs and blood. But the problem is he’s only eaten corn. When Christopher Columbus brought corn
back from the New World, he forgot a secret
that we’ve always known. Traditional people have always known that
when you eat corn and subsist on corn, you have to soak it overnight in lime. That releases vitamin B3. This man has pellagra,
a condition of vitamin B3 deficiency. And it’s all to say
how our brains can change, how when we change our food,
we change our mood. We change our brains, and we come up with
all kinds of explanations for it. And think about
how much we’ve changed our food, more in the last 100 years
than in the past 100,000 years. Food doesn’t even look like food anymore. It doesn’t come from farms;
it comes from factories. Thousands of new molecules
that we’ve put into our food supply to color our food and enhance our food
and preserve our food. We’ve changed the way
that we consume our food: on the run, in a car,
with our heads in a screen. We’ve changed the way
that we calculate what is good for us. We count calories. Imagine a soda, 140 calories, and there’s not one good thing
for your brain in here, just sugar. Americans are eating plenty of that. The average American eats
32 teaspoons of sugar every single day. And then compare that
with a medium-sized kale salad, four or five cups of kale:
also 140 calories. But with those calories, oh, you get 500% of your vitamin C, 3000% of your vitamin K, 1000% of your daily need of vitamin A, not to mention folate, calcium,
magnesium, protein, fiber. Which do you think is better brain fuel? The science is pouring in. When we look at women
and they eat more processed food, they increase their risk
of getting depressed by 60%. People who eat the most trans fats, those partially hydrogenated oils that you’re only going to find
in processed foods, you drastically increase the risk
of feeling blue or getting depressed. And our kids – our children’s brains, the most dynamic time to have a brain,
when you’re a child. When we feed our kids junk food,
we double their risk of depression, we double their risk
of attention deficit disorder. This morning, I woke up to an e-mail from a woman that I met
at a conference some months ago. Every morning, she wakes up and she drives her Honda Accord
around upstate New York to organic farms,
collecting eggs and produce, and she takes them back to her school where she cooks home-cooked meals
from scratch for those kids. She asked me if I remembered her. Julie, I can’t forget you because what you’re doing
is you’re saving brains. We know if we look at studies of kids, when we take them off junk food and we put them on whole,
unprocessed foods, in just six weeks, 80% of them
have improved behavior by both parent and teacher rating scales. 50% of those kids no longer
meet diagnostic criteria for attention deficit disorder. Real food heals brains. And that’s what happened with my patient. She started eating food. We started talking about salads
and where to find fresh seafood. I convinced her to eat an egg. (Laughter) She started feeling better. She started dating. She got married. She had a baby. Food is medicine. We know that from
the very first doctor, Hippocrates: “Let thy food be thy medicine
and thy medicine be thy food.” 3,500 years ago. And science is telling us these molecules in whole foods,
like the flavonoids, they not only are antioxidants
as you might think of them, but they actually change
how your genes get expressed. Your genes aren’t your destiny. And these molecules
that you find in whole food improve the situation for your brain, improve your brain’s health. Now, a lot of people
are telling you what not to eat. Don’t eat meat. Don’t eat wheat. Don’t
eat soy. Don’t eat dairy. Don’t eat fat. And that’s a problem for me
because I am an eater. I love to eat, and I love food. I love to grow food and harvest food and to share food with my friends
and with my family, and so I thought it would be best
for patients and for my patients’ brains if we could talk to them
about what to eat, if with whatever prescriptions they get,
they also get a brain food prescription. Foods that they like.
Foods that you like. Foods that you can eat at every meal. So what’s a brain food
prescription look like? Well, it has a lot of plants in it,
lots of leafy greens, that source of folate and fiber
that keeps you full. Look for lots and lots of colors. Tomatoes and watermelon, full of lycopene,
that protect that brain fat. I want you to see – Whoops. I want you to see whole grains
and legumes and lentils, like this great salad that my wife made –
or soup that my wife made. It’s covered in garlic chives. And always go for the color purple. It’s great for your brain, no matter what. Look for colors and lots of plants
on your plate. And fungus, a great source of vitamin B3, the niacin that would have prevented
that poor man from developing pellagra. Eat lots of seafood and fatty fish because it is the source
of those omega-3 fats. And if you don’t like fish,
I challenge you: there are a lot of fish in the sea;
try other types. (Laughter) And don’t forget the mollusks. Oh, boy. These are the foods
that your brain evolved eating. Full of vitamin D and B12
and more of those omega-3 fats. And you can even eat red meat. You can make a better choice. Get rid of industrial meats,
processed meats and deli meats, and instead eat whole,
real grass-fed meat. It has fewer calories and better nutrients
for your brain and a better mix of fats. A brain food plate looks like this: lots and lots of healthy,
delicious vegetables, a nice piece of nutrient-dense,
grass-fed lamb coated in rosemary. It’s savory; it’s delicious.
And it fills you up. Don’t forget eggs.
They’re a great way to start your day. You don’t need to fear
dietary cholesterol. Your brain is the largest deposit
of cholesterol in your entire body. This is a healthy breakfast. And don’t forget beans. People say it costs too much to eat right. I challenge you.
Dried beans: $2.29/pound in Manhattan. (Laughter) There’s my wife, soaking them for us. We eat them every week. Don’t forget berries, a great source
of sweetness in your diet. Of course, we crave sweetness. Don’t forget the most medicinal food
out there: dark chocolate. In between these berries are cacao nib. Now, you might know this already, but chocolate is one of the few foods
that’s been shown to boost mood, that’s been shown to boost concentration and boost blood flow to your brain. So remember: your brain – your unique, human brain has a universe of possibility. And with this tool – (Laughter) (Applause) You decide how big
that universe is going to be. So I ask you: what are you going to eat for lunch? (Laughter) (Applause)

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