How Food Affects Your Mood transcript

IMG_4476Namaste, everybody! It’s Frances here with you, the creator of Namaste Nutritionist, registered dietitian, and yoga instructor. I’m delighted that you’re joining me today at Namaste Nutritionist, where we drop love nuggets and wisdom bombs. The health wizards that I interview help crack open the insider’s secrets for creating a strong and lean body, a brilliant mind, and a thriving spirit. Thank you so much for joining in today, and give yourself some appreciation for tuning in to something that will enrich your life.

Listen to the podcast here.

Today’s interview is with Cheryl Harris, a registered dietitian and a food mood go-to queen. She was recently selected as the emerging dietetics leader of the year for 2012 for Virginia, the states of Virginia in the United States. And, I first met Cheryl when she was presenting on the food and mood topic in a webinar for dietitians, and she pretty much had me hooked. She really does have an impressive bio, and I’m just going to keep this posted next to the blog for this audio and next to her pretty face on my website, so you can find out everything you want to know with the show notes, the links, how to find out more, all that good stuff that we give you and the blog post at And, in this interview, it’s really, really fun because we’re going to cover depression, anxiety, seasonal-affective disorder, also known as SAD, ADHD, breast feeding, gut health, putting you in the mood with your food, and more. So, we actually end up covering quite a lot of ground. You can expect that we move a bit quicker that usual in this interview, because I just had to many questions to ask her, and only a little less than an hour. So just buckle up and get ready to shift your mood with better food in this interview. And, I hope you enjoy!



Francis: Hi Cheryl! Thank you so much for joining us today! How are you?


Cheryl: I’m good, Francis! Thank you so much for having me!


F: It is my pleasure. I think this is such an important topic, and, so I’m just helpful that you can be here to help shed light and awareness on factors that, the nutrition factors that impact our mental well being.


C: My pleasure. I certainly agree that this is a crucial topic, and it’s one that I’m very fond of, because I think for many people, it’s something we want to know about. So whether people have actual, you know, emotional issues that they are dealing with, or mental issues or they just want to live life and feel good, I mean, it kind of, it touches on all of us, doesn’t it?


F: It absolutely does. I think that this will ring true for a lot of people. So, let’s get a background on you and maybe if you can just give us just a two or three minute story about who you are and how you came to be the food and mood go-to gal.


C: Well, my name is Cheryl Harris, I’m a dietitian and coach in Northern Virginia. Gosh, I have wanted to work with food as long as I could remember. I’ve always been fascinated by food. Grew up in a Middle Eastern family where, my joke is that, you know, Middle Easterners, we have feeding disorders, you know you eat because your happy and you eat because your sad, and you eat because it’s Monday. It’s just food is love and food is just such a part of culture and food is how you express everything. In terms of how I got interested in the mood part, I’ve certainly, part of my focus is really looking at people as whole people, and to that end, I’ve been very interested in meditation and mental health, and actually, my very very first job was as a suicide counselor, so keeping people healthy has always been something that’s really on my radar and helping people feel good, because I think that our emotions are huge. It’s kind of like we talk about how nutrition effects mood, but mood effects nutrition in a huge, huge way. And so, I think that for most people, it’s part of who we are, whether it’s in a huge way or in a small way. And I don’t think that you can really address someone and help them really eat well, without effecting, without addressing some mood issues to some points and some stress issues to some points.


F: It sounds like it’s really a cyclical impact, your food effects your mood and your mood effects your food.


C: Absolutely.


F: Well, hopefully we can help people get straightened out on how to use food to effect their mood. So, let’s start with the macronutrients and we’ll talk about fats first, because there’s a lot of confusion around fats being evil or being heavenly, so why don’t you please help us understand fats and the roles that they play in our moods. And I know that there are so many types of fats, if you could just help us distinguish those different fats.


C: Okay. And just for starters, when you were saying that, you know, “fats are evil”, and I remember the eighties and I’m sure you do too, when fat was public enemy was number one. You know, we always heard about “fat is so bad for you” and this, that, and the other. We now understand that fats are absolutely vital, so every single cell in your body has a cell membrane and that has fat in it. So, fortunately we’ve moved away from the idea that fat is bad, because we need fat. But the question is the kind of fat, and that’s what I really heard you saying, “Okay, well not just fat, but which kinds of fat?”. And the idea is the fats that are most crucial for mood are Omega-3’s, and I know we hear a lot about omega-3’s, omega-3’s are in salmon, and they’re in sardines, and they’re in trout and oysters. They’re also found in some plant foods like flax seed and chia and walnuts, but the idea is that most of the fats that have the biggest impact on health are actually the fish-faced fats, they’re not so much the plant-based fats, and that’s sort of another longer issue that we can get into later, if we’ve got time. And so, omega-3’s mainly from fish, fish oil, really are crucial. And so, on the other side, and those seem to help you in a very concrete way, so whether that’s depression or whether that’s other issues as we’re going to go through, omega-3’s are key. On the flip side, in terms of the fats that we really, really, really want to limit, the number one that we really want to eliminate is trans-fats. And, trans-fats are not only linked to depression, but they’re linked to aggression. So, not only do they make you more depressed, they make people, they’re basically linked to anger and lots of issues along those lines. And so, you know, trans-fats really, really seem to hurt mood in a really large way, and I can’t help wondering, you know, as they keep doing studies and everything else, you know whether or not, you know, when New York City went trans-fats free, whether it made a difference in things like say, accidents, because it does really seem to make a difference in terms of moods. The rest of the fats, you know, it’s more of a grey area in terms of mono-unsaturated fats and saturated fats, but it’s very clear that omega-3 is the good guys, trans-fats are the bad guys


F: And I know coconut oil is now helping saturated fat come out from the evil dungeon, because you know, it’s, people are, research is starting to show that there are different types of saturated fats, and so I don’t know if you want to add anything about different types of saturated fats.


C: You know, I think we’ll be able to speak better on coconut oil three to five years from now, because I think what research has shown so far is that first of all, saturated fat doesn’t seem to be as bad as we thought, and it seems that coconut oil is better than some others, but it really has, there are very few studies that are not funded by the coconut industry, and I have this, no matter what industry we’re talking about, I have the same kind of philosophy that I tend to shy away from studies where there is some commercial bias or potential for commercial bias. So I certainly agree with people that coconut oil is not as bad as we thought, that’s pretty clear. In terms of whether it’s actually beneficial, I think that we’re going to  hear more about that in the next few years. And so I think that’s one of those things where there are a lot of people who feel very strongly one way or another, but I’m still kind of hanging out to see where things go on that one.


F: And how about low-fat diets?


C: I think that in a lot of ways, and granted, so there are some conditions where people need to be low fat for very specific reasons, because we always know that there are some exceptions to the rule, where certain things are necessary, but I think we’ve finally kicked that to the curb, in terms of general public and what’s needed. You know, that for most people, the idea of the Mediterranean diet and good fats and the olive oil and the walnuts and the almonds, and so on and so forth, is really a plus, that we’ve come to understand that. You know, aside from things like, you know, estrogen-negative breast cancer where low-fat is really a plus, for the general population, for general heart health, for general mood health, you know, good fats are a plus.


F: Excellent, excellent. And the whole thing about depression and aggression is so interesting, because there is some research that indicates that if you are, kids who don’t have enough omega fatty acids tend to  display more aggressive behavior.


C: Absolutely, absolutely. And, some of the question is there are certain things that we’ll see, and we’re going to touch on this again, where they do studies, they find that people are low in omega-3’s and those are things like ADHD, where kids with ADHD tend to be lower, but then the second question is, “Okay, but if we raise them, does it go away?” And that’s the part that we don’t have answers to as solidly yet. But it’s, you know, at least there’s a biological hypothesis, at least there’s something there. And, of course, omega-3’s are good for everything, you know, so whether it’s good they’re for your heart, or good for you skin, or good for your eyes, or good for your brain, they’re just plain good for you.


F: Wonderful, well said. And then quickly before we leave this topic about fats, do you see, can you say anything about any differences between man-made trans-fats and naturally occurring trans-fats, which is in beef.


C: That is a really good question, and there’s a lot of debate on that, and so there’s both people who feel like, say, CLA, which is in dairy, which is a trans-fat is actually helpful, there are also studies that show that CLA, which is in dairy, may be harmful, so that’s still more of a grey area. We’re clear that the really big negative effect, when we’re talking about man-made trans fats, but there’s still a lot that we don’t know, a lot of it because some of these things we really haven’t thought to study. Generally, the things that are studied are the things where there is a lot of money, and studying, you know, studying these things in depth, unless the dairy industry decides to fund it, you know, it’s not going to happen. So it will be really interesting to see as time goes on, most of the studies are done on rats, and at the end of the day, we’re not rats, so I think that there’s, certainly there’s many studies, or there’s a few studies showing that, especially from grass-fed dairy, there seems to be more of a protective effect with the trans-fats than dairy from cows that are, you know, in little pens their whole lives. So that’s really somewhere where there seems to be a push one way or another.


F: Isn’t that interesting? Okay, thank you!


C: Well, the way we eat, they are what they eat, they are how they live. It does make sense!


F: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s a whole new area that we could go down, that’s a little bit of a rabbit hole, because I do believe that, how, what we’re eating and how it’s been raised matters a lot. So let’s talk about carbs. I think everybody knows just by being alive that carbs help our mood, so when we’re feeling down in the dumps, you know, it might be Ben and Jerry’s it might be donuts, so that’s pretty much not something that people are going to argue, but can you just help shed the light on how carbs impact our mood, and why is this lift short-lived?


C: Okay, do you remember when you were five or six when someone gave you a Pixie Stick?


F: Oh yeah!


C: Did you ever have those? You eat it and then you run around like a crazy little person. And so, yeah, carbs are, and some of the deal is that we link, we lump all carbs together. So, the effect that you have with a Pixie Stick is way different than the effect that you will have with beans. You know, both of them have carbs, except they will effect you differently. And some of that is based on glycemic index, how quickly those carbs will hit your blood stream. In terms of why it has an effect on your mood, at least to some degree, a lot of it, it comes down to this: we’ve all heard of, you know when we talk about food, when we talk about mood, we’ve all heard of seratonin re-uptake inhibitors, the SSRI’s, those are the, you know, the Prozac’s and the Wellbutrin’s of the world, I think Wellbutrin, but a lot of the anti-depressants are SSRI’s. How they work is they keep the body, they make sure there is more seratonin. A lot of it is that there are more seratonin receptors in your gut than in your brain, and that it seems that carbs effect, raise your seratonin. And so, to some extent, when you eat that Ben and Jerry’s, you’re not only kind of hitting the carb receptors, but you’re hitting the pleasure receptors, because fat, you know, things like that when you mentioned the Ben and Jerry’s, like it’s not just the carbs and the sugar, but it’s also the fat and the satiety, and the distraction, and the deliciousness. So, it has effects on a lot of different levels on that front. So carbs effect people in different ways, certainly the simple carbs can give you that kind of quick boost, but then the other problem is that one of the things that we found with studies of people with diabetes, is that people who have blood sugar swings, the ups and then the, you know, the way ups and then the way downs, seem to have worse moods than the people who are more even-keeled. And so there’s really something to be said for carbs, yes, but sort of slow and steady rather than the, you know, the Pixie Sticks of the world where you’re going to get shot up in Carb-Land, and then go crashing down.


F: Okay, so there’s a few points here that are really, really good that I kind of want to tease out. So, first you started by distinguishing the types of carbs, Pixie Stick versus beans. I think most people don’t think of beans as carbs, they think of them as protein and gas-producing foods, but they are carbohydrates, and so it’s important for people to realize that there are different types of carbs that are going to have a different type of effect on us. And I think you’re talking about, you know, Pixie Sticks and, you know, a high, like the blood sugar highs and the blood sugar lows, those were seen more commonly with simple carbohydrates that are quickly digested, quickly, the sugars quickly absorbed, and it makes our blood sugar go up. And so, a lot of people may not be familiar with that, so, and that’s kind of, that creates a roller-coaster for us, because as our blood sugar goes up, we feel lifted, but then we come crashing back down, and we now need another boost. And usually, what do we go looking for? More simple carbs.


C: Yeah, one of my clients, this was the first time I had heard the term “hangry”. And hangry being a cross between hungry and angry, and she would talk about how, and I’ve heard many people describe it, it’s not really something you see in the literature, but, you know, when you’re on the simple carb roller coaster, you’re, you know, you’re hungry, and you’re cranky, and you’re angry, and it’s like, you know, if you don’t eat right away, you get grumpy again, and it’s more something I hear from clients a lot more of when they’re eating the simple carb types of foods, versus when they’re eating more of a mix of carbs, and protein, and fiber, and fats.


F: Well said. And hangry really should be a scientific term, it just says it.


C: Webster’s needs to pick that one up. And you know, a lot of it is that it’s no fun for you and it’s no fun for the people around you, when you’re on that hangry roller-coaster of simple carbs.


F: And on the subject of carbs and other macronutrients, you talked about fat, and protein, and fiber, so, those are also important for helping to prevent those blood sugar swings when you have a little bit of fat, a little bit of protein, and fiber when you’re eating your carbohydrates. You won’t have those moments that lead to devastation, where my blood sugar’s just crashing and I’m hangry.


C: Absolutely, absolutely. I think the stereotypical example is when someone eats, oh gosh, something like, you know, Chinese food, where you’re eating a lot of noodles but not a lot of protein, or maybe not a lot of fat, and, you know, an hour later your hungry. Or when you just have something, you know, when people eat a croissant, and then, you know, whatever it is, an hour later they’re still hungry, because they’ve eaten food, they’ve gotten plenty of calories, but they haven’t gotten the satiety that they’re needing.


F: And good nourishment. So, I think that we could say that proteins also effect our mood as well.


C: Absolutely. I think, you know, one of the things in terms of protein is, no matter what, if you’re not getting what you need, you’ve got a problem. So, when I see people and they have a diet recall, and basically they’re just not getting enough protein, or they only eat a little bit of protein with dinner, or whatever else, there’s no way they’re going to get what they need. And so, no matter what, you need to be hitting the basics. Protein, or at least complete proteins, contain basically what’s called, all these, a full complement of amino acids, so a full range of basically what they body needs to repair, and for growth, and for everything else, and if you’re not eating those, you know, you’ve got a problem. You’re not going to feel so great.


F: Well said. Yeah, I recommend that people eat protein with every meal and snack.


C: Yep. I’m with you on that one.


F: So, let’s see, so we did actually just talk about my next question which is the connection between sugar and mood and how uncontrolled blood sugar impacts our brains, is there anything you’d want to add to that?


C: No, I think mainly we know about it in terms of diabetes and the effect on people with diabetes, I think that it really translates, I mean, I can say that I’ve seen enough people, and oh my goodness, I’ve seen myself, where, you know, if people aren’t eating full meals, or meals where they’re getting enough protein and fiber and fat that there’s much more in the way of mood swings versus when they’re eating, you know, just simple carbs. I think that’s something that I feel comfortable saying based on just observation. And, you know, I think with a lot of the things that we’re talking about, what I would say to the people listening, is think it over in your own life, and try it out in terms of having more rounded meals, more rounded meals, and see what you notice. There’s nothing that really informs like noticing by doing experiments on yourself.


F: I love that. Yes, because you really do learn how your body is different and we’re all anomalies in one way or another, you know not everybody fits the recommendations exactly, but when you can, when you experiment on yourself, you can really learn to trust your own experience.


C: Oh yeah. I can remember back when I was first in college, and basically breakfast would be, you know, something from the cafeteria, so it would basically be a bagel and an ice tea, and then I would basically be in a food coma for the next two or three hours because all I had had was carbs. So check it out and see how it fits in your life and see if it fits, you know, when you think back to the things you eat and how you feel from it.


F: Excellent, and that’s where food diaries really help because sometimes you don’t notice how you’re feeling until, you know, a day later and you realize that what you ate the day before is effecting you today. So, great. Great, great. Alright, so we’ll move on because we have so much to talk about. I want to get there with you, cover all of this. So we’ll talk about quality of food next, and pesticides and herbicides, that’s kind of a hot topic. I would like if you could help us understand how they connect to our moods.


C: Well, one of the things that I want to say because this totally hot of the presses, and I don’t know if you’ve seen this yet, American Academy of Pediatrics just in December released a statement on pesticides and herbicides, and their summary, their bottom line was quote, “Children’s exposure to pesticides should be limited as much as possible.” And, I think this is really significant because AP is not one of those “woo-woo”, tree-hugger, liberal groups, it’s a really conservative group. And a lot of where this came from, first it came from studies with pregnant women, and it first came from agricultural workers where they would be in the fields, and they would have, you know, be working with the pesticides, and their children were much more likely to have ADHD. And people kind of poo-poo’ed it, you know, sort of like, “Well, that’s not a lot of people, that doesn’t effect the general public”, even though, obviously, it still effected that population, but what we’ve found since then, in more recent studies, children with ADHD are much more likely to have pesticide residues in their urine, much more likely, and that’s really significant. And so, I think that’s where really people got started paying attention, it’s still something that’s pretty new and pretty hot off the presses, I mean that comment just came out. But I certainly would say, especially for people who are pregnant, and especially for children, and also the populations, like, you know, people who have cancer and so on and so forth, that really limiting the pesticides is an important point.


F: And that’s even a little bit grey, because it’s like you don’t always know where your pesticides are coming from. They could be from your water, they could be in the feed that they are using to feed the cow that you are going to eat for dinner tonight.


C: Mmmmhmmm. And I think, you know, I think when you say that, you bring up a really important point, because I find, especially among my pregnant moms, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You know, a lot times when people get pregnant, there is this since of “Oh my god, now I need to look at everything and make sure everything is perfect.” And some of it is looking at, you know, we don’t have a perfect world. And so there is just so much that we can do. But a lot of it is doing the best we can. You know, none of us are independently wealthy, okay, most of us are not independently wealthy, if you are, you can send me a little check. But, I really like the Environmental Working Groups, they have a guide to pesticides on their website,, and so basically it’s a list to the “dirty dozen” and the “clean fifteen”, and if I had to sum it up, you know, in a sentence or so, if it comes in nature’s own packaging, so if it’s, oh gosh, like an avocado or a banana, or, you know, something that comes in something that you peel of, like a mango, it tends to have a lot lower pesticide residues, or like an onion. Then something where you are directly eating the skin, and things can go through the skin, like, say, an apple or berries or peaches, or things like that. I think it’s a really good resource, and if it’s something, you know, some of your listeners haven’t seen, that’s definitely something to check out.


F: Yeah, I’ll be sure to share that resource. I’ve written a little about the “dirty dozen”, “the clean fifteen”, and why organic is better even if you can peel the skin off because vegetables and fruit are, like, almost entirely water, it’s like, you know, eighty to ninety percent for most vegetables and fruits. And so then it’s absorbed, you know, it becomes part of the cellular makeup, too, if it’s being sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, or grown with fertilizers. However, not everyone can afford, I can’t always afford to do the organic versions, I’ll try and grow a lot of my stuff, but sometimes it’s just a matter of cost analysis, and so it’s really nice to have an awareness of what are the “dirty dozen” that you should always try to get clean, organic, or just opt out of eating that particular piece of produce and just go for something different altogether.


C: And I absolutely agree with you. The other part is that we know from studies, and it’s, again, if it’s something that you can afford, you know, even if you’re not getting as effected by the pesticides on the skin, someone is still spraying, you know, there are still the workers that are handling those foods, there’s still the impact on the environment, so there’s a lot of other solid reasons, where if it’s something that you can avoid, or something you can afford, where it’s still a, you know, it’s not just by the things that are the “dirty dozen”, but it’s, you know, do the best you can, this is a guide, this is where to start.


F: Right, right, right. Oh yeah. And even just the workers get very sick from all those pesticides.


C: They do.


F: So, moving to preservatives and processed foods. Preservatives are in a lot of things, and a lot of them, you know, if they’re being used, they’re considered FDA-approved, or not generally recognized as safe, but, what can you tell us about how preservatives or processed foods impact our moods?


C: Well, I’m gonna, if it’s okay with you, I’ll touch on preservatives in a minute…


F: Sure


C: …because that’s slightly different. But in terms of processed foods versus not, there was a neat study done in Australia, whoo, maybe two, three years ago, where basically the author showed, and it was done on women, showing that when women eat a healthy diet with veggies, and fruits, and whole grains, and high quality meat and fish, 30 percent less likely to have depression and anxiety, and people who eat what’s called the “standard American diet”, so the typical WEstern processed foods and whatever else, were 60 percent more likely to be depressed. And I think that really speak volumes in terms of what you eat seems to really have a concrete impact on whether or not you develop, you know, mood issues.


F: That’s really significant.


C: It is!


F: So, 60 percent more likely to be depressed by eating the standard American diet.


C: Yes, yes. And I think that’s, I was, it is really, or was certainly an eye-opener to me, when I had seen that study. There’s another study which I think also is a great one, and it was a pretty large study, and basically that was a prospective study, meaning that they started following the people, you know, you find out the results afterwards, and that one, you know, basically, because, some of the things that are wrong, or potential issues with the first study is they say, “Well, maybe people were, you know, eating poorly because they were depressed.” You know, how do you know the chicken and the egg on that one? Because you know, in high school, you know, boyfriend breaks up with you, you eat half a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, or maybe that’s just me. But, you know, so this study was prospective, meaning like starting with people who are not depressed, and, you know, they tossed the data from people who were diagnosed with depression in the first year or so. And basically what they found was that the people eating the more processed, fatty foods, and pastries, and so on and so forth also had more depression. So I think it’s something that we can concretely say, we know which is the starter, we know which is the cause and which is the results. To some extent, you know, eating a lower-quality diet does seem to lead to more depression. Certainly there is, it does go the other way around too, when people have mental illness, certainly they’re more likely to not take as much care with food preparation and so on and so forth, but we do have an idea of directionality on that one.


F: And then how about with preservatives?


C: Preservatives go back to the ADHD piece, that, and I know that ADHD was one of the things that I’m sure you’re wanting to explore, that studies have shown, and basically in Britain there are certain preservatives like sodium benzoate and a lot of the different dyes like the red dyes and the yellow dyes and the this, that, and the other, do seem to effect and worsen symptoms of ADHD for some children. And so, there’s a lot of question, you know, is this something for everyone, is this something for children with ADHD, you know, how generalizable it is. But certainly there were studies showing that sodium benzoate and the different dyes, when they took those out of the diet of these children, even in a randomized, placebo-controlled studies, which anyone who is very science focused knows that that’s considered, you know, the best of the best, the gold standard, showed that those children, when they were taken off the dyes, showed a significant improvement in terms of ADHD, in terms of attention, and mood, and focus.


F: Wow. Okay, and do they, in Europe, there’s a lot of labeling with preservatives, right?


C: Yes, and you know, getting back to what we were talking about, so Britain basically put sort of warning labels on foods, and so there were groups in the US who approached the FDA and said, “Hey, how about it? Why don’t you put warnings on these foods?” and the FDA said, “No, don’t think so. It’s just kids with ADHD, and so we’re not going to worry about it.” Which is really unfortunate, because in a lot of areas, because companies don’t want warning labels on their foods, they basically would just use beets to color or, oh gosh, turmeric, other things as coloring agents. And so, they take it a lot more seriously. Another that I really appreciate is that when children have ADHD, the first line is not give those kids drugs, the first thing is okay, let’s take out the artificial flavors and colors. And to me that is a much more sensible approach, because it can’t hurt, and it may help. Whereas medications, yes, they can be helpful for some children, but they also can be harmful. And so I think that they really have, from my perspective, they have the right idea.


F: Wow, that is awesome. And so for parents in the United States, and countries where labeling is not really valued as much as it is in Britain, having awareness around which food ingredients have been shown to impact ADHD is probably the first step. So, you talked about sodium benzoate and food colors.


C: There’s a variety of food colors, and for people who are interested in learning more, you can Google “Feingold Diet”, and they will talk, you know, on their website they have copies of one of the large articles that was published in The Lancet, and that talks about which dyes specifically. But, taking dyes out of your diet, I think would be a great first step for kids with ADHD.


F: And I’ll include a link, so it’s Feingold, F-e-i-n-g-o-l-d diet. And, alright, thank you very much for that, that was great.


C: Wonderful


F: Next topic is really exciting for me because it’s about gut health and how it affects our mental health and our mood, and I think this is going to continue to be very exciting over the years, as we discover more.


C: And I really agree, in terms of, I think we’re just at the, you know, just at the edge of learning, and one of the things that’s really cool is that I don’t have any doubt that, you know, five, ten years from now, we’re going to know so much more than we do now. But as I touched on before in terms of mood and gut, there’s the seratonin link that we mentioned in terms of more seratonin in your gut than in you brain. One of the things that we’ve also hypothesized or started to see, is that gut bacteria really play a role, even in mood. And, one of the things that’s really interesting, what they’re starting to show in studies is that you can actually change the behavior of mice by giving them antibiotics. And that, you know, mice that were given antibiotics were more likely to do high-risk behaviors. Which is kind of crazy when you think about it, especially if this does translate into humans, effecting those gut bacteria, could really be playing a large role in how risky teens behave, or what have you. And so, we’re just at the very, you know, just at the cusp of understanding this. But this is, you know, this really is fascinating.


F: So, like, what kind of high-risk behavior do mice display, like walking the streets or going out after curfew or something?


C: Basically what the studies have shown is they put them in this maze and normally they don’t venture down these little hallways or whatever, they stay in the main part, but apparently the mice that were given antibiotics were more likely to kind of go further in the maze and go different places than they would have otherwise, so, don’t know quite how that would translate, but it’s something that’s really interesting, it’s something that people are finally starting to pay attention to, because I don’t know about when you were growing up, Francis, but I remember that, you know, your ears were hurting a little bit, they gave you antibiotics, it was kind of like a knee-jerk thing, and I think now we are starting to think twice, in terms of doctors are more cautious about just giving antibiotics just because, I mean, they do play a useful role and I don’t want to take anything away from that, but it’s less of a knee-jerk, I think, than it used to be.


F: Well, and what’s interesting is I think doctors have gotten blamed a lot for antibiotic use, but what’s the statistic, is it like eighty percent, nienty percent of, correct me if I’m wrong, we use so many more antibiotics in farming these days, in our feedlot operations to keep animals from getting sick because, you know, how they’re raised, it’s so filthy that they’re all immune-compromised. So that’s where a lot, most of the antibiotics are being found.


C: There certainly is a lot to that, and there is also certain things like you’re not allowed to give antibiotics to chickens or turkeys, so there’s certainly nuances, and certainly that’s a way that you can tailor your diet. One of the things that someone had this years ago and it stuck in my head because it’s really funny, is people would talk about getting bison instead of beef because nobody’s going to stick a bison in a pen, and nobody’s going to shoot a bison with antibiotics. So, you know, there’s certainly something to getting animals, you know, thinking about that in terms of the animal’s health and what the animal’s been exposed to. And certainly there’s a lot more speculation and though and concern that antibiotics and animals are really changing our gut ecosystem as well, and I think that’s something we’re going to learn a lot more about.


F: Absolutely. And even the sugar that we eat effects out gut health. Because when you take a round of antibiotics and you’ve wiped out a lot of your gut bacteria, there’s this sort of little war going on in the ecosystem where the yeast in the gut, the yeast and the bacteria actually help each other achieve some sort of balance, sort of like Democrats and Republicans, but then once you wipe one out, now the other one has the chance to get very strong, so the yeast becomes very, very strong and it tends to play a problematic role for people with sugar cravings.


C: Since I’m right outside Washington, D.C., I can certainly say that when Democrats and Republicans go at it, it doesn’t lead to good mental health.


F: So it’s all about balance, kids. It’s all about balance. Well, those mice, though, the way you described them, venturing down into the dark halls that they normally wouldn’t venture, they sound a little bit like entrepreneurs, if you ask me. I hang out with a lot of entrepreneurs, very risky people, well, I mean, you know, calculated risk, anyways.


C: Indeed, indeed.


F: So let’s, okay, well, we could talk a lot about that topic too, but we have still so much more to cover, so I’m going to move on to another big, big topic, which I think will interest a lot of people which is about gluten. And so, there’s a lot of confusion about what gluten is, and why things now need to be gluten and should I be avoiding gluten. Tell us how, if you could just give us a little background about why gluten is important today, and why it’s important in our mental health because people who don’t know that they should be avoiding gluten and continue to eat it, gluten might be having an adverse effect on their mental health.


C: Okay, and I’ll give the caveat that this could be a three-hour talk in and of itself. But gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and some oats. Gluten is absolutely toxic for people with Celiac’s disease, which a pretty high number of people have, so one to two percent of the population has a condition called Celiac’s disease and it’s an autoimmune condition, and so, most of the people who have it, so eighty to ninety percent of the people who have Celiac don’t know it, but even beyond people with Celiac disease, there are certain groups and in some ways this is related to mood, people with schizophrenia seem more than average to be effected by gluten. One of the interesting things is that part of the reason that they started noticing this is at the end of World War II when there were grain rationing and whatever, one of the things they found is that, you know, when people had less grains, there were less admission for schizophrenia, there were less issues with mental illness, which is pretty incredible. And so, some of the studies that have been published are absolutely astounding and one of the things, one of the take-homes, is that not everyone with schizophrenia, but that some people with schizophrenia will see a complete, complete, complete, complete resolution of symptoms on a gluten free diet, even though they don’t have Celiac disease.


F: Are you serious? A complete resolution of schizophrenia for some people, even if they don’t have Celiac disease?


C: Yes. And I want to make clear that’s not everybody, so it’s not like they go to the wards and they so, “Oh, gluten free diet for everyone” and all is well, it’s not – I don’t want to oversimplify. But for some people, and I mean schizophrenia is a really, really life-altering disease for the person, for their family, knowing that, I mean, I, in my humble opinion, you know, I think that everyone with schizophrenia, or has a family member or whatever else, should be considering that really seriously as a trial, because the results can be very profound. Just in the last year, there have been studies showing a link between bipolar disorder and gluten as well. And part of the question is, you know, is this the same thing? One of the things they found is that there are, oh gosh, I’m going to try to just simplify this as much as I can, but there are certain markers that are not markers of Celiac’s disease, but they are markers of reaction to gluten, and people with bipolar disorder are much more likely to have these markers, and that the higher these numbers are, the more likely people are to relapse and get re-hospitalized. And so, we know that by going gluten-free, those markers go away, and then the logical conclusion is, okay, if these people went gluten-free, they wouldn’t maybe have the same relapse or whatever else. That’s more of a leap, and I’m hoping that that’s the next study that gets done in this series, but I think there are enough, there are enough breadcrumbs going down that trail, but again I think that its something that people should really consider if that’s something that, you know, that is going on in there life or relevant to people they know and care about.


F: Well, and it’s so much easier to go gluten-free nowadays than it was even just a few years ago.


C: Absolutely.


F: You’re really not displacing a significant nutrient source if you do decide to go gluten free, because I’m gluten free and I find that it’s actually really easy to avoid it nowadays.


C: I would agree, I’ve been gluten free for eight years, and I’ve found that, oh my gosh, there’s so much of a difference now than there was when it was like, “What? You don’t eat glucose?”, you know, people’s understanding of, and gosh, well, the stories I could tell, but anyway, we’re a little short on time, but people’s understanding of what it is and availability of food is just night and day from what it was way back in the day.


F: Oh, that’s wonderful. So thank you for that, you did a great job summing up just a mountain of a subject. So we’ll talk about, actually, I think I’m going to skip ahead a little bit just because we just talked about schizophrenia bipolar, let’s just bridge that to psychoses, is there anything else that we can say about our diet and its relationship with psychoses?


C: Yes. There’s actually some interesting studies that show that people at really high risk for psychosis show improvements with omega-3 supplements, and this was pretty profound, they gave people supplements, omega-3 supplements for a couple months, and up to a year later, there were lower rates of people developing psychosis. And, you know, when we talk about omega-3 supplements, I do want to just, you know, the whole piece, we talk about supplements because supplements are easy to measure, you’re better off eating fish than taking omega-3 supplements because your body uses the omega-3’s in them better, and yet, if people are more likely to take omega-3’s and that helps them, hey, I’m all for it.


F: Excellent. Okay, so how about, I mean, we talked about gluten and its relationship with schizophrenia and bipolar, is there anything else, any other food nutrient related to those two disorders.


C: Sure, with bipolar disease, there’s certainly links with omega-3’s as well, and one of the things that I want to point out is that with bipolar, most of the studies are done, are pretty high doses of omega-3s, and so that’s not the sort of thing that you want to just do that at home, it’s basically above the level where it’s considered at just as a food, in other words, considered non-pharmacologic dose, and at, you know, ranges of, you know, six grams or whatever else, it’s basically something where there are links in the research, it’s something to think about and to consider, but it’s certainly something where you want to make sure that your doctor’s on board. I mean, I feel really comfortable saying to anyone, “Okay, eat more fish”, we’ll talk about the kinds of fish and whatever else, but when you’re talking about bipolar, the doses that are needed, it seems to make a difference, you want to make sure that the healthcare team is working together on that one.


F: Excellent. Okay, and then anything else you want to add about seasonal affective disorder? You mentioned it with processed foods.


C: Seasonal affective disorder certainly one of the things that, you know, we’ve noticed in the literature and people have noticed the links between carbs, that a lot of times people crave more carbs, certainly there is some link with vitamin D, which is, you know, the sunshine vitamin, a lot of things link with seasonal affective disorder, both food based and behavior based in terms of exercise and so on and so forth.


F: Okay, okay. Excellent. So I’m just, I’m looking at my questions, and I feel so, I wrote these feeling very ambitious, but also, just feeling like, you know, this is such an important topic, I don’t want people to miss out on the opportunity to really hear from someone as well studied as you. And so, I know that I’m not going to make it through all of them without being really rushed, so I think I’ll ask maybe a couple more questions and then let you leave us with some resources.


C: Sure


F: And then if you’re interested in coming back to the show, I would love to have you do it, because I know there will be no shortage of interest on this.


C: It certainly is an interesting one.


F: Okay, so let’s talk about one that people sort of really love, is the connection between caffeine and its effect on our mood, especially anxiety and depression.


C: Okay, and so, you know, coffee, green tea, whatever else, they do have some health benefits, and so I don’t want to just, you know, say that they are really bad for everyone and whatever else, but I would say is, you know, when people already have anxiety disorders, more, anything that’s jitteriness-promoting is kind of like pouring fuel on the fire. I think that one of the things with caffeine is that people will use it to over-push our body’s boundaries. So, we’re not tired because of a caffeine deficiency, we’re tired because there’s something else going on that needs to be addressed. And so, while I totally understand, you know, you’re going on a long trip and you need some coffee and things like that make sense, you know, I think that when we look at someone being chronically tired, one of the other things that we need to look at is, well, what’s going on in your life so that you’re tired all the time so that you can’t get through without your coffee. So there’s certainly, caffeine will promote more anxiety, and it has useful benefits in terms of people, you know, people stay awake, but I think longer term, when it kind of promotes the sleep deprivation cycle, that’s going to even lead to more depression. So that’s something that I would approach with caution.


F: Can caffeine ever be beneficial for depression? Just to, you know, kind of pick up a person’s energy, which maybe helps their spirits?


C: Short term, I think so. One of the things that I have certainly observed is not so much depression, but anxiety, when people that I work with who are suffering from anxiety have caffeine, it really seems to exacerbate symptoms. Depression certainly, especially things like green tea because of the antioxidants, that can be a plus, but it’s also, some of it may come down to, okay, you observe yourself and keep a diary in terms of how you feel then, how you feel two hours later, how you feel eight hours later, how you feel the next day, when you’re having it when, and when not.


F: Okay. And then dehydration, I noticed people don’t drink enough, how does that effect our moods?


C: Absolutely, dehydration can lead to just more irritability, more depression, and I completely agree with you that many of us are chronically dehydrated, there’s a lot of debate in terms of exactly how much water do we need, is it six glasses, is it eight glasses, is it ten glasses, you know, some of it is, some of it is going to depend on the amount of physical activity you’re doing, and how hot it is and whatever else. But, certainly there are many, many, many people that I see where I ask how much water they drink and the answer that I get is like, a glass, and that’s someone definitely needs more fluids. So, for a lot of people, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that when people are drinking more and drinking more regularly, they just feel better, so they’re less tired, sometimes they’re even a little bit less hungry, they’re a little less grouchy, certainly in terms of healthy people, that’s a good one, an important one.


F: Yep. That’s beautiful. I tell people just to schedule it in. Okay, so, how about memory, I mean there is such a connection between Alzheimer’s and the development of Alzheimer’s and our nutrition, which I’ve written about, why don’t you help us understand just how our memory helps, is effected by nutrition.


C: So, I think the key nutrient that we usually focus on in terms of memory is vitamin E, and I want to make clear, that, you know, when we talk about vitamins, when we’re talking about omega-3’s and vitamin E and whatever else, it’s foods with vitamin E. What we found is that, when people are eating foods with vitamin E, some more, you know, more almonds, more sunflower seeds, more oils, that is something that seems to be protective, in other words, you know, the Mediterranean diet, that’s certainly something that’s a plus. Taking vitamin E supplements, not so much. So, taking, you know, real food, whole food vitamin E, or eating whole food vitamin E is a plus. In terms of memory, another thing that’s connected to it is folate, which is something you find in, you know, your green leafy vegetables and beans and things along those lines. Certainly the antioxidants that are in berries are a plus, I know we mentioned the omega-3’s extensively earlier, all those are things that are shown to be a positive, not just for Alzheimer’s, but also, you know, for memory issues in general.


F: Excellent. So, is there an optimal mood food?


C: You know if there is anything, I would probably say, you know, the fish, like salmon kind of fish, kind of fish, kind of food, is really one of the best in terms of mood. I would say, so since it’s winter time, a lot times warming foods are very soothing for people because you have to slow down, you know, you can’t just chug a glass of tea, and a lot of times, we’re so busy in overdrive, so the emphasis is really on just eating real foods. But, foods with omega-3’s are probably tops in terms of the ideal mood food.


F: I love that. I am such a proponent of eating real food, I love that you just said that. How about intimacy? So, which foods actually enhance, I mean there’s a lot of rumors about which foods, like green M & M’s enhance a loving mood, can you tell us what you know actually helps with intimacy and the mood, the sex mood.


C: You know, what I would say, and this is going to sound funny, but what I would say is how you eat and the amount you eat are going to make so much of a bigger difference, because people will talk about, you know, okay, well, put it the other way around, there is nothing that’s a bigger mood-kill than a heavy plate of Fettuccine Alfredo. So like, when people have these elegant Italian dinners and they have all this wine and whatever else, and then they’re lying down, I mean people have reflux, so some of it is just eating a small, I mean a reasonable, moderate amount, or a small amount of good food and enjoying it and eating slowly, you’re going to be much more in the mood than eating those big heavy, greasy meal, which really isn’t going to do you any favors. I mean, I promise, that’s really just not going to do much for your mood.


F: So what I’m going to say about that, my takeaway is, lighter food and less food to stay in the mood, the lovin’ mood.


C: Well, a lot of us overeat because we’re distracted, in the same way that you slow down when you’re eating really good food, food that you’re really enjoying, and eating mindful, mindfully, those sort of things also put people more in a loving kind of mood, because you [unclear] of tastes, and smells, and they relax more when people are eating more slowly. So, I know that isn’t the take when normally people are talking about green M & M’s and oysters, but I think that is a really big part of more of the intimacy and food question.


F: Excellent, thank you. Well said. So, let’s go on to sometimes, well, we’ll talk about breast milk, breast feeding, how does it effect rates of depression and, you know, other potential mental illnesses, or just mood disturbances.


C: So, I’m actually a lactation counselor, and ran breast feeding programs for a few years, and so that’s certainly a question that’s near and dear to my heart. Obviously we know that breast feeding is so critical for a lot of different reasons and whatever else, and it can be kind of a mix, so one of the things is that when women breast feed, they have lower rates of postpartum depression, and so that’s a big plus, and yet, postpartum depression can affect breast feeding, so it’s kind of like the chicken and the egg thing. It’s important that both as professionals, so for the two of us, and for everyone, that people support breastfeeding mommies, but it’s nobody’s job or business to pressure, because a lot of people with mood disorders, or people maybe with PTSD, or who’ve had abuse issues, really, really struggle with breastfeeding. So it is better for mom, it is better for baby, it is better for moods all around, but it’s also important that, it’s, there’s not so much pressure that moms can make whatever decision they need to for their own health, kind of more globally. Sometimes we focus so much on the trees we forget the forest, like healthy mommy more important than breastfeeding mommy, but breastfeeding really is critical.


F: So for moms who choose to breastfeed, can you talk about what they’re helping, what they’re doing to help their child’s gut establish for lifelong health?


C: Well, two parts, and so one is that breastfeeding, breast milk has immunoglobulins in it, it has basically, so if, okay, so mom and baby are out, you know, there’s whatever germs, whatever cooties around, moms will actually produce some protective factors in her breastmilk against whatever cooties are floating around, and that will be given to the baby, so that definitely boosts that baby’s immune system in a really significant way, and that’s something that obviously you can’t ever get out of the cans. So breastmilk is tailored day by day for what the baby needs. The other thing that I wanted to mentioned is that, okay, so no matter what mom’s eating, the breastmilk is going to have carbs and the breastmilk is going to have protein, but the breastmilk will actually change depending on the kinds of fat that mom eats. So if mom is eating Twinkies, oh, I’m sorry Twinkies aren’t around anymore, I can’t use that! Bummer!


F: Ho-Ho’s!


C: No, I think that’s the same company, I’m not sure. If mom is eating Krispy Kremes, the kinds of fats in her breastmilk are going to be different than if mom is eating, you know, walnuts, and salmon, and, you know, almonds and other things along those lines. So, while no matter what babies get the essentials from breastmilk, so it’s not like, “Oh, I’m not eating a good diet, I shouldn’t breastfeed”, but, by eating higher-quality fats, babies definitely get higher-quality fats.


F: Beautiful, beautiful. I love your passion, I actually was a lactation counselor at one time, too.


C: Pretty neat!


F: Yeah, it’s a beautiful thing to help women with breastfeeding. So I know that we are about out of time, and so I want to give you the chance to wrap this up by leaving us with a take-home message. And what I’m interested in finding out is what are the top three things that you recommend people do to improve their moods with foods.


C: Number one would be omega-3’s, it would be eating, you know, getting the fish in your diet, getting, you know, the salmon, the trout, the oysters, and things along those lines, getting those in your diet on a regular basis, or supplementing, if that’s just, for whatever reason, not workable for you. The second would be eating real foods. I don’t know enough ways of stressing it, but, so there’s both the things we can study and there’s also the intangible, so some of it is that we know that there’s more nutrients in unprocessed food, generally, than more high-processed food. But the other thing is that people will report feeling better, or in some ways knowing that they’re taking care of themselves when they just made themselves this lovely dinner versus when they nuked a Lean Cuisine. So, the more you can eat real food, the more nourishing it is for your body on a lot of levels, so both sort of on the emotional level, but also on the physical level, most of the time. Another thing that I would emphasize in terms of mood is regular meals. And so, if you’re not fueling your body, it’s just, you’re not going to have the energy you need, and that kind of gets back to the blood sugar spikes that we were talking about before, so eating small meals throughout the day, small meals and snacks, is much, much, much, much wiser than just grabbing as you can. Then, oh, if it’s only three, that would be my top three.


F: Well, you can give us another one, we don’t mind bonus tips here!


C: I think it just, a lot of the big take-homes that I give to people, and sometime it resonates depending on the time of life, you know, that or where someone is in their life, a lot of it is food is a gift you can give yourself, you know, it is a way you can take care of yourself. A lot of times, there’s so many things where people have to take whatever medication or whatever drug, but food is a way that you can nourish yourself. The more you can look at it as taking good care of yourself versus “Oh, my doctor said I’m not allowed to have that” or “The dietician said this is bad”, it’s looking at it as like, you’re taking care of yourself because you want to feel good and live well. The more it’s out of getting to do something good, rather than punishment, the happier and healthier people are.


F: I love that. It’s a way to love ourselves.


C: It is!


F: Beautiful, thank you! So, this has just been so, so insightful and just rich, packed with content, we could have done this show out of probably any one or two of these questions independently, so we skimmed over the surface a lot, and I think people will walk away with a much broader understanding and if people want to dive in and learn more, are there any places, any resources that you would recommend people go to that are good resources? There’s a lot out there, it gets confusing to look up.


C: There is! Some of my favorite resources that may not be just related to mood, but I love CSPI, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and one of the reasons I really give them a shout out is because they don’t take money from advertisers, just from subscribers, and so, I really like the idea that the information I’m getting is unfiltered. So it’s not based on interest groups and what they have to say. I think that helps, certainly to some degree, filter through the noise of someone, you know, someone being paid by some other lobby group and whatever else, I think they’re a great resource.


F: Excellent, thank you. Okay. And then I know people are going to want to know where to find you and how to follow you, so can you give us that?


C: Sure, I’m on Twitter @cherylharrisrd, and it’s probably easier if I just send you links to, I have my, I have a, my business, what’s it called, Facebook page, sorry, I just had a mental, and I also have, you know, my blog Gluten Free Goodness, GF Goodness, you know, each of them has a slightly different, on my website I have more of kind of the science-y stuff, whereas my blog has more of the fun recipe stuff. We devote December and July to self care, so that’s where we are known, more than food per se, but each thing has a slightly different focus, and I certainly would love to see you all there.


F: Okay. Well, definitely please send us your links and we’ll make sure that gets back onto the show notes. But it’s


C: It’s


F: gfgoodness, because that way, not everyone will make it back to the site, so.


C: Oh sure, and my website is So those are the main two, and you can probably find your way to the Facebook pages from those. The Harris Whole Health, I have monthly gluten-free newsletters, and, whenever I get around to it, regular newsletters on fun things like fish and BPA, and, you know, eating well for the holidays and all of that good stuff.


F: Excellent. Wonderful. Well, again thank you so much for all your generous time, we actually managed to get through everything.


C: Woohoo!


F: That was an accomplishment, so wonderful! Well, thank you so much!


C: Thank you, Francis, this was certainly a lot of fun.



Well, I hope that you enjoyed today’s session. Isn’t this topic fascinating? I’m pretty convinced that nutrition plays an important role in mental illness. Almost all of us personally know someone who suffers from or is close to someone who suffers from one of the ailments that we talked about in this session. I hope that you will consider sharing this podcast with them, because it might just help open their eyes to a new way of addressing a deep pain. And, if you are dealing with your own pains around mood or mental illness and nutrition, just be sure that you have a savvy dietitian on your health and wellness team.


Now, for those of you who are wondering why I didn’t ask Cheryl about chocolate and mood, well, that’s simply because there’s still a lot of debate on this in the scientific community, and some conflicting research. Chocolate isn’t really regarded as a strong mood enhancer, besides, I don’t think you really needed me to endorse chocolate for you. Most people feel pretty great about eating it without a dietitian’s approval. I can trust that you will be moderate and mindful about your consumption, right?


As always, I just want to point you back to my website, where you can find Cheryl’s guest blog post and our show notes. So it’s And you can sign up for my riveting newsletter so that you can stay updated on helpful tips for combating fat, fatigue, and nutrition frustration. And while you’re at, you can also leave me and audio comment or question, we’ve just installed a brand-new feature that let’s you instantly and easily leave me audio feedback or you can ask a question right from the website. It’s free for you and it’s super easy to do. Just look for it in the right hand side bar, and I can’t wait to hear from you. Thanks for listening and being a part of my posse. I’m looking forward to catching you the next time. Bye bye!

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