Dr. Drew Ramsey has an interesting spin on eating mindfully.

He is a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and one of modern medicine’s leading proponents of a nutrition-based approach to clinical mental health treatment. The right foods can help as much as the right medications is his point.

He has written several books on the topic. The first, a cookbook called “Fifty Shades of Kale,” tries to make nutrient-dense kale look sexy while explaining how it plays a huge role in brain health. The second, more of a lifestyle book, called “The Happiness Diet,” tells readers how to avoid the common “mood busters” (sugar, bad fats, chemical additives and dangerous pesticides) commonly found in processed foods and to choose whole foods that give the brain the nutrients (magnesium, vitamin B12, iron, vitamin D and good fats) it needs for optimal health.

In his latest book, “Eat Complete: The 21 Nutrients That Fuel Brainpower, Boost Weight Loss and Transform Your Health,” he explains just how hungry the human brain is. It needs, at a minimum, 420 calories a day to simply function. Now I understand why my Fitbit tells me each morning that I’ve burned just about that much energy while I slept!

But they can’t be just empty calories, Ramsey says. He offers a prescription (and 100 seriously good-looking recipes) for how to get the recommended daily amounts of omega-3 fats, zinc, vitamins B9 and B12, magnesium, pre- and probiotics (the good bugs) and complete proteins that form the foundation of a healthy brain.

He outlines a strategy for consuming foods with enough vitamins A, D, E and K, phytonutrients, mono-unsaturated fats and selenium needed to protect your brain from free radicals (the waste) and inflammation. And he tells you how to get enough iron, vitamin B1 and C, choline, calcium, potassium and iodine to feel more energized.

Christine Burns Rudalevige gets recipe ideas from Dr. Drew Ramsey. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Could I combat my lingering winter blues without driving myself crazy driving around (an unsustainable activity in and of itself) looking for obscure health foods that are neither local nor sustainable for a Maine eater? This was the question I had on my mind in early March when I decided to give Ramsey’s approach a try. While nothing rescues me from the tide of full moon emotions that wash over me, six weeks in I can honestly say I feel lighter, brighter and only a tad preoccupied by making the numbers work on my plate.

On the sustainability front, I only had to indulge in my usual winter non-local foods (avocados and lemons) and tap Canadian flax seeds to make it happen. Granted, I focused only on getting the foundation elements into my diet to keep myself sane amid the flurry of a busy life.

Including the good fats was easy. The best omega-3 fats are found in cold-water seafood like salmon, mackerel and sardines; shellfish like oysters, mussels and clams; eggs and meat from pastured animals; hearty brassicas like kale, Brussels sprouts and broccoli; and the ubiquitous (at least in this book) flaxseed (see cracker recipe). Ramsey says studies show that having enough of these in your diet can help fight depression, dementia and ADHD.

Forty-two percent of the American population is deficient in dietary zinc, so I assumed I was likely included in that statistic. But eating oysters, pumpkin seeds and ground local turkey and beef was a pretty accessible fix.

Recent blood tests told me I’ve not done what I needed to pull in the right amounts of B12, though. But local clam season is just around the corner: A 3-ounce serving will give me 1,401 percent of my recommended daily dose.

Magnesium – needed for the proper function of both nerve and brain cells – requires more cooked dried beans and uncooked leafy greens, both in good supply here in Maine year-round.

Wintertime B6 (aka folate) requirements needed to form S-adenosylmethionine, a substance in the brain used to make serotonin (a lack of which causes depression) can be met by eating chicken liver (which I don’t), chickpeas and Brussels sprouts in winter, but springtime asparagus and spinach will be a welcome change for me on this front.

I’ve never been good about good gut health, and that has likely prevented my body from fully absorbing the nutrients I do eat, Dr. Ramsey advises. He says I’ve got to both seed the gut with good bacteria from fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut and subsequently feed it with fibrous foods like navy beans (see hummus recipe), raspberries and collard greens. All widely available, sustainable options in Maine.

As with every eating regime I’ve tried that has made me count things – calories, glasses of water, points – this one made me keep track of nutrient intake, a process I found more complicated than I routinely have time for. So I can’t attest to a total conversion to Ramsey’s principles. But I do intend to use a bit of my noticeable extra energy eating this way to see if it continues to bring a brighter outlook on life for me.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a recipe developer and tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and author of “Green Plate Special” (Islandport Press, May 2017). Contact her at: [email protected]


Ingredients for Sunflower-Parmesan Crisps with Navy Bean-Rosemary Hummus. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellett


This recipe is adapted from one printed in Dr. Drew Ramsey’s “Eat Complete, a book on the nutrients to consume for optimum mental health.” This recipe is boosted, in Ramsey’s formula, by nutrient-rich salmon roe. Browne Trading Co. in Portland offers many options on that front.

Makes 24 crackers and 11/4 cups hummus

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup flax seeds

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup freshly grated local hard cheese (like City of Ships from Hahn’s End)

2 egg whites (from pastured chickens)

11/2 cups cooked navy beans

2 tablespoons finely minced fresh rosemary leaves

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 garlic clove, finely minced

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/3 cup olive oil

Sea salt

2 ounces fish eggs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with a silicone mat.

Combine the sunflower and flax seeds in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse about 15 times so the sunflower seeds are finely chopped. Add the cheese and egg whites and pulse to combine the mixture into a thick batter.

Drop the batter by scant tablespoons onto the prepared sheet. Use a flat-bottomed glass or measuring cup to press the batter flat to a 1/8-inch thickness. Bake until the crackers are lightly browned around the edges, 10-12 minutes. Transfer the crackers to a baking rack to cool completely.

Wipe out the food processor bowl. Add the beans, rosemary, lemon juice, garlic and paprika to the bowl. Process until it forms a smooth paste. With the processor running, slowly add the oil and continue to process until creamy.

Season with salt to taste. Serve with the frico crackers and the fish eggs.

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