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Diet is crucial for good brain health

By Veita Bland, M.D. / June 3, 2016

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) recently held its annual conference. One presentation was given on the crucial role diet plays in brain health. This is particularly so when it comes to depression and dementia states Dr. Drew Ramsey, from Columbia University in New York City.
There is now an evidence based scale that rates animal and plant based foods and their effects on brain health. Ramsey believes such scales should help patients eat better.

Dr. Ramsey and his colleagues searched the literature and compiled a list of their so called “brain essential nutrients” (BEN) which they believe can impact the treatment and prevention of depression.

Their top BENs were long chained Omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium, calcium, fiber and vitamins B1, B9, B12, D and E.

They then accessed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Research Service Nutrient Data information and were able to find the best sources for BENs by assigning a score to various foods.

They found that plants were a top source for these nutrients. The researchers emphasized that they wanted to also find animal sources for these BENs as some of these nutrients, such as vitamin B12, are predominantly found in meat and other animal products and they are “absolutely critical for brain health.”

Ramsey and his team believe that these nutrients help brain health by stabilizing brain cells and reducing inflammation in the cells. An analysis of 2009 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that most Americans are not getting enough of the BENs.

In addition to green leafy vegetables, researchers highlighted the importance of organ meats, game meats, nuts (pecans, walnuts, and peanuts), bivalves (mussels, clams, and oysters), mollusks (octopus, squid, and snail) and fish (salmon and sardines). They also noted that it is recommended that patients eat eight to 12 ounces of fish a week but it is important that patients choose fish that is low in mercury and limit the consumption of swordfish and shark for this reason.

Dr. Ramsey also stressed that he would like patients to make better choices when it comes to meat and suggested grass-fed and pastured animals. As for vegan and vegetarian diets, the researchers felt it is important to have sufficient B12 levels since this vitamin predominantly comes from meat and meat products.

Dr. Ramsey stated that plants are very “nutrient dense.” Mustard greens, kale, spinach, bell peppers and other plant foods contain “phytonutrients.” Research shows that lycopene and carotenoids help to protect the brain and contribute to the bacteria in the gut that plays a tremendous role in our overall health.

The first randomized controlled study is now in progress testing the impact of a BENs rich diet on major depression. It is known as the SMILES Trial and the results should be out later this year.

Veita Bland is a board certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Email Dr. Bland at


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