Happiness. The intent and goal for almost every being on Earth, can seem so simple, yet so elusive. We spent countless dollars and hours trying to chase the blues away in therapy: be in of the retail variety, or otherwise. We self medicate with booze and prescription drugs all to easy to prescribe, blaming that nagging sense of apathy on stressful jobs and unsupportive spouses. But what if the answer was laid out for us, quite literally, on a plate?
I took an interest in The Brooklyn Grange after hearing about their rooftop farm. It was early spring, and the lingering chill of New York was beginning to hack into my psyche the way that a prisoner might chisel her cell. Gazing at the sunny photos on their website, I dreamed wistfully of partaking in one of the rooftop dinners, or getting my hands dirty in a gardening workshop. Knowing that it would be months before those dreams could materialize, I scrolled up and saw a class called “Food and Happiness” scheduled within the week. Within moments, I’d signed up and was feeling happier already.
Dr. Drew Ramsey, a professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University believes so strongly in the link between diet, and psychological health, that he co-founded National Kale Day (yes, it’s a thing). He also looks like he stepped straight off the set of Grey’s Anatomy, the kind of doctor that “just plays one on TV.” With shiny hair and flawless skin, he almost appears too young to have earned an MD or fathered the two children that he claims. So when this man started preaching “the secret to happiness is in your diet”, 20 pairs of eyes and ears perked up, pens at the ready to capture his every word.
As we’re told to suckle a grape he gives us (a practice about being mindful about what we consume) Dr. Ramsey tells us that the human brain consumes more calories than ANY other organ in the body (even the heart!), at 20%. That means that ⅕ of the food you you eat, 420 calories daily, goes directly to supporting brain function and creating new cells. Apparently the brain also has the largest deposit of cholesterol in the body, and is made up of 60% fat. This certainly makes a case for treating fat less like the enemy it was for years, and more like a fundamental ally in our quest for health and happiness.
...the human brain consumes more calories than ANY other organ in the body
Dr. Ramsey also claims that vitamin B12 and DHA (a type of Omega 3 fatty acid) are the two most important nutrients for brain health, and are linked to the creation of the happy-making neurotransmitters we’ve all heard of like dopamine and serotonin. Foods high in these nutrients include seafood, grass fed beef, yogurt and cheese… So much for veganism.
Dr. Ramsey makes it clear that he doesn’t stand for, or against any specific diet. However, a diverse but largely plant based diet like the mediterranean diet, seems to do a pretty good job of providing the brain with what it needs. In fact, studies have shown that mediterranean dieters to have a 42% decreased rate of depression and dementia.
This certainly makes a case for treating fat less like the enemy it was for years...
So what exactly does Ramsey recommend for “brain food”? Oysters top the list of animal based foods–offering a whopping dose of iron and zinc, both essential for focus and mental clarity. Clams, beef spleen and chicken liver follow next, and at the bottom of the list: seal and caribou. But if organ eating isn’t your thing, and you can’t find a caribou steak anywhere, even in Brooklyn–mustard greens, spinach and a whole bunch of cruciferous vegetables make up the plant based side of the list.
But before we could get discouraged wondering if FreshDirect sells kohlrabi, Dr. Ramsey reminded us that the biggest takeaway should be mindfulness about what we eat; treating food like preventative medicine. He urged us to stay away from packaged foods, and just eat foods, and to choose and prepare our food with the same care we take to Instagram it. Did I Instagram my dinner afterward? Sure did. But that grilled salmon and parsnip puree made both my tummy and brain happy enough to share.