You feel how you eat. Professor Felice Jacka’s love of food led her to question whether what we put in our mouths everyday affects more than our waistline. Felice set out on a journey of discovery to change the status quo and uncover the truth through rigorous science. Beginning her PhD in 2005, she examined the association between women’s diets and their mental health, focusing on depression and anxiety. What Felice found fundamentally changes the way we think about mental and brain health, and the importance of the nutrition-mental health link. Brain Changer explains how and why we should consider our food as the basis of our mental and brain health throughout our lives. It includes a selection of recipes featuring ingredients beneficial to mental health. It also highlights the practical things we can do to help prevent mental health problems in the first place, and offers strategies for treating these problems if they do arise. This is not a diet book to help you on the weight scales. This is a guide to good habits to save your brain, improve the lives of future generations, and to optimise your mental and brain health at every stage of life.
About the Author
Professor Felice Jacka is director of the Food & Mood Centre at Deakin University in Australia, founder and president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research, and immediate past-president of the Australian Alliance for the Prevention of Mental Disorders. She holds Honorary Principal Research Fellow appointments at the Centre for Adolescent Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Centre, and the Black Dog Institute. Professor Jacka’s current research focuses closely on the links between diet, gut health and mental and brain health.
[00:00:00] Best Book Bits podcast brings you Felic Jacker. She’s an Alpha Deacon, professor of Nutritional psychiatry, co-director of the Food and Mood Center at Deacon University and founder and president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. Professor Jacker has been responsible for establishing the highly innovative and impactful field of nutritional.
Psychiatry influence in policy and clinical guidelines and practice in psychiatry globally. She’s an isi, highly cited researcher, putting her in the top 0.1% of publishing scientist worldwide for impact. In 2021, she was awarded a medal of the Order of Australia for her services to nutritional psychiatry.
Felic Jacker is a director of Deacon. Food and Mood Center and founder and president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. She’s also the author of the book Brain Changer, and at Children’s Book there is a zoo in my poo. Felic, thanks for being on the show. Thanks for having me, [00:01:00] Michael.
Now we’ll deep dive into the books a little bit later on, but yeah, for my audience please tell us how you got into this field. And I know it was a little bit unconventional, so could you mind sharing? I’m one of those classic people who had a very misspent youth and did lots of different things.
So my when I was at school, I was gonna be an artist, so I never studied anything useful like maths or biology or chemistry or anything like that. And I did actually go on to do fine art and do a degree in fine arts, like painting and printmaking and sculpture. , but I was always really interested in food and my family background was very unorthodox.
My father was a very well-known naturopath and so whilst there was a lot in what he used to promote or promulgate that is not necessarily evidence-based, what I did. Take from that was this I guess this understanding or this paradigm as a, of food, as the absolute fundamental driving force for virtually everything that happens in our body and our health and all the [00:02:00] rest of it.
Very interested too in the environmental and ethical aspects of food. But anyway, I went on and did my fine art degree but then with, still I have like many people do, Quite profound experiences of common mental disorder when I was young. So as again, many do, I had a anxiety disorder when I was younger.
That turned into a really full blown panic disorder when I was 12 or 13, and then developed major depressive disorder, which I had episodically over my adolescence. And when I was 19 or 20 I started to run and to exercise, and I found that really helped me a. , but the psychology of, how do people work, what was going on?
Why did I experience these things? Prompted me to go back and study psychology as a second degree. So I did that, and while I was studying psychology, I came to recognize that I wasn’t particularly interested in being a psychologist per se, but I was very interested. in the brain and in the sort of more, [00:03:00] biological aspects of humans.
And which is, problematic because I didn’t have any background in this of course, but then I did manage to go in and start working in research, which was just wonderful. Cause I didn’t even know research existed as a thing when I was young. So this was really exciting. So it was a very circuitous route into research.
But very glad I made my way to where I. Yeah, it’s a great story and I know we’ll unpack it a little bit later and I find it great that you didn’t have any background in it at all. And they’re some of the keys to life as well. You know what they say, ignorance is bliss, but sometimes you find yourself in situations that work out for the best.
We can always go back and connect the dots, but it’s very hard to look forward and connect the dots in the future. So congratulations with all the work you’ve done through there. Can you touch on a little bit about your early work, how you came into link in nutrition with mental health? Yeah, so when I was doing my psychology undergrad, I ended up through a funny set of circumstances doing work experience, if you like, with a [00:04:00] newly set up research group in the area that I live in, and led by a very well known and fabulous psychiatry researcher.
And so I came into research. I was still in my undergrad, and I’m looking around and I’m reading, starting to read papers and things, and I’m thinking, This is really interesting. There’s no no real data or certainly no good quality data on the possible role of diet and nutrition in mental and brain health.
And I remember as a, as an undergrad going to a seminal lecture by a wonderful researcher Izzy who later died unfortunately. But he talked about the framework for understanding mental disorders and all these different aspects to them, and one of them, how we were starting to understand that the immune system was really important in our mental and brain health and not just, our body.
And then of course our stress response system. And then things like, not just neurotransmitters, but this new understanding that there were parts of the brain that actually grow new neurons throughout life and that these are involved in [00:05:00] mental health as well as learning and memory. . And as I listened I realized that pretty much all of the aspects of what we were starting to understand contributed to mental disorders were affected by diet.
So there was new information and research coming out of the US in animals showing that if you manipulated diet, you would really have an impact on this key area of the brain, the hippocampus that is so key in learning in memory, but also mental and brain health. and this field that I mentioned, psycho neuroimmunology, this understanding that there’s this bidirectional, very close relationship between our immune system and our mental and brain health.
And of course diet is really important in our immune system. And then of course, there’s an aspect of neurotransmitters being produced by tryptophan in the gut and. There were a lot of different strands where I could see that diet was related to these mechanisms, these factors in the [00:06:00] body, but had never really been investigated as possible contributory pathways to mental disorders.
And of course this is before we understood about the gut and the microbiome that live in the gut and how that kind of ties all those things together. So I set out with my PhD study, I proposed to look at. And the whole of diet quality and how it related to clinical depressive and anxiety disorders in this large, very well-characterized study of women that was very representative of the Australian population.
So women right from age 20 up into their nineties and everyone thought I was a bit bonkers cuz it really just hadn’t really been looked at. But that’s what I did for my PhD and it ended up being a very influential study. It was published on the front cover of the American Journal of Psychiatry.
It had a big impact. It was one of those things of being in the right place at the right time with the right idea. And I think being old enough [00:07:00] because it was my second career. To look the naysayers in the eye and say, no, there’s a good reason for looking at this, and we’re gonna do it in a very rigorous scientific way to really evaluate this hypothesis that what we eat is related to our mental health.
Yeah. Thanks for sharing. It’s such an amazing story. One of the things you talk about is the SIM similarities You had doing the research with women similar characteristics from the same town, same diet, same things, and they all had sort of one thing different. What was those differences in the finding?
That you came up with? What we found I think, really was concordant with the hypothesis, which is that the quality of women’s diets was related to whether or not they had a clinical major depressive disorder or an anxiety disorder of some sort. And really importantly what I did was take into account all these other factors that could explain that link.
For example, their level of education their income. Very importantly, their body weight. People imagine that the quality of our diets is related [00:08:00] to mental health via body weight. That doesn’t seem to be the case. And later on when we did the intervention study, the SMILE study, we also found that by improving diet, we could have a major impact on people’s.
Major depressive disorder without them changing their body weight at all. So that was really an important finding that this was, this link wasn’t being explained by other factors such as where people lived, their income, education, et cetera. Other sorts of health behaviors like, cigarette smoking or physical activity.
And so then we looked at particular components of diet as well. And one of the most interesting findings to me because I was brought up as a vegetarian and I’ve lived my life mainly as a vegetarian, was that there was a really clear u-shaped relationship between the amount of red meat, so this is beef and lamb that women were eating.
and whether or not they had a mental disorder. We took out the 20 or so women who were vegetarian. So we were just [00:09:00] looking at this more than a thousand women, those who had less than the dietary guidelines, those who were eating roughly the dietary guidelines, which is, three to four palm size servings of red meat week, and those that are reading more than the dietary guide.
and then we took into account their overall diet quality. Cuz of course, they could be eating lots of meat, but also lots of veggies and beans or lots of meat and lots of fries and everything else. And what we saw was this very clear U-shaped relationship. So women who are having less than the recommended intake or more than the recommended intake, were twice as likely to have one of these clinical depressive or anxiety disorders.
Now of course, that doesn’t prove that red. Actually has a causal role in mental disorders to show that you would need to do a randomized control trial, and that’s very difficult cuz you’d have to randomly assign women to either eat meat or not eat meat or eat different amounts of meat. For [00:10:00] a long period of time and see whether they developed a mental disorder.
So for obvious reasons, that would be a very difficult study to do. But it is interesting how striking it was across all of the disorders. Major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders. Now remember this is in women, so it may, if it is a causal relationship and we dunno that for sure. But it may be to do with, menstruation, particular needs of women.
So that was an interesting finding that was not concordant with my hypothesis. And in science, that’s always the most interesting thing when you see something that doesn’t fit and you go, Ooh. That’s interesting, . Yeah. That’s really important for people like yourself doing, decades of research and long-term studies and not jumping to conclusions, but seeing results that come outta the box from that as well.
Jumping into brain changer, when did the book come out and what was the motivation to writing the book? . So it was published in 2019 and I wrote it in a pretty short timeframe. I [00:11:00] just took myself off and worked 10 hours a day over a period of about five weeks to just smash it out because I wanted people to have evidence-based information.
What I see out in the internet, and it’s only gotten worse, is a huge amount of misinformation parti. Promoted by American, influencers and things like this. Because I’m a scientist and I really pride myself on very rigorous science and because I’ve done many studies, so it’s not just that first study in adult women was very influential.
But then I went on to show that. Early life diet. So what women eat during pregnancy, what kids eat in the first few years of life is related to children’s mental health. And that’s now been shown in many other studies as well. That adolescents mental health, which is often, when people develop a mental disorder for the first time, that was very clearly linked to their mental health.
And we were we ruled out reverse causality as being the cause here. So people eating differently because they have a mental disorder. And then of course I went [00:12:00] on to do the Smiles trial, which was the first randomized control trial to show that you could take people with moderate to even very severe major depressive disorder, help them to improve their diet, and that had a major impact on their mental disorder.
So I wanted people to have the evidence to know what we knew and what we didn’t know, and to say where there wasn’t enough evidence to be. Or where we didn’t know whether this was a causal relationship or it was really about educating people in a way that was very accessible. About science, how you do science to show something or to disprove something, but also to talk about how this came into being and the whole field, because I’ve led all of those seminal landmark studies and then set up the society, et cetera.
I’m in a very good position because I have an overview of the whole field and so I was able to describe all the different studies and what it might mean for people and give them [00:13:00] information that they could take into their own lives to make changes. And I’ve had emails from people all over the world talking about what a difference it’s made when they’ve changed their diet.
It achieved its aim for me in that. Yeah, congratulations on the book and we’ll deep dive into some of the chapters soon. Talk to me a little bit about the Food and Mood Center. When did that start and what’s your role in the Food and Mood Center? So 2017, which was when the Smiles trial was published.
It was, I was just working, I had two fantastic PhD students. . And again, because of science communication and the need and the desire to have evidence-based information out where people could access it, I wanted to set up a website that had, links and resources and maybe some blog posts and.
Somewhere where people could go to actually get information that wasn’t coming from an influencer with some supplement to sell or some diet book to sell, and so I went to set up a website and I was working with [00:14:00] the communications team at my university, deacon University, and I was gonna call something like Center for Nutritional Psychiatry.
And they said, oh, don’t be silly. No one’s gotta look at that. Just call it the Food and Mood Center and went sure . So we set that up and of course then that started to really attract researchers and students. And so the Food and Mood Center has grown incredibly quickly between 2017 and now, COVID, not withstanding, I’ve also had breast cancer twice, so there’s been some interruptions, but we are now, I think by the end of this year we’ll probably be about 60 researchers and staff students.
All working on nutritional psychiatry. We’re the only center in the world doing this. We are really leading in the world. We’ve got a very high international profile. Our work has been cited in more than 80 very high level policy documents around the world. I’m working with the World Economic our workers influence clinical guidelines in psychiatry.
So in a. The Royal Australian New Zealand College of Psychiatry [00:15:00] clinical guidelines. So they’re guidelines for clinicians and psychiatrists around how to treat mood disorders. So depressive and bipolar disorder. They now have what is essentially lifestyle medicine as the foundation. So diet, movement, exercise smoking cessation, sleep.
As really the foundations and they call it the foundations and they say this is non-negotiable. You have to address this before you go on to do anything else with these patients. Not instead of, but as the foundation, like you gotta get that right because everything else will then work. But of course there’s this huge education gap because doctors and psychiatrists, they generally get about two hours of nutrition research in all their years of training, and they know as much as your hairdresser most of the time about nutrition.
That doesn’t stop them, of course, going on the internet and writing books and saying all sorts of things that don’t necessarily have an evidence base, but. So one of the things we are doing at the Food and [00:16:00] Mood Center that’s very important is a lot of education and training. So we’ve done a free online course on food and mood, which is now one of the most popular in the world.
It’s enrolled nearly 80,000 students from more than 180 countries. We’ve got now accredited training for physicians. That was developed with the college. So we are really trying to address that knowledge gap and make sure that physicians have the information, the evidence-based information to put it into practice with their patients.
And so people know what we know as scientists about what you should and shouldn’t eat for good mental and brain. . One thing that I like what you said was about the doctors and the health practitioners. So when you go to the doctors, they don’t necessarily ask you, how’s your diet? What did you eat this morning?
How’s your sleep? One of the things that you are trying to implement or have implemented is those conversations that are, will be coming through to doctors. Not just prescribing you medication as well, asking you, how’s your stress levels? How’s your diet? How’s your exercise? Things that aren’t necessarily normally related, but now you are [00:17:00] changing the conversation.
Can you expand on that? A. And the fact, and so when I wrote that book, that was back way before the new guidelines have been published. So now they’re embedded in official clinical guidelines by the peak psychiatry body in Australia, New Zealand, to say, you gotta do this, you gotta take it seriously.
Because if the clinician takes it seriously, then the patient tends to take it seriously. Now, that’s not to say that every di every doctor needs to be a dietician or an exercise physiologist. But if they know the basics and really it’s not complicated. It’s not like there’s some special diet that you have to follow or it has to be organic, this or anything special.
If they know the basics, they can have that conversation. Then if the patient is wanting to know more or get more support, then they can go see a dietician. The problem is, at the moment, that in Australia you can, if you go to the doctor with a mental disorder or some sort of mental health problem, you can get supported access to go and see a [00:18:00] psychologist for 10 sessions through what’s called the Better Access scheme.
But there’s not a similar pathway to go and see a dietician or exercise physiologist. . So that’s something we are working on. And with the Food and Mood Center, my co-director, professor Adrian O’Neil, has led a very important study through Covid looking at whether diet and exercise support is at least as effective as psychological support.
And so what we are showing is really exciting and it’s basically, if you think, if you’re trying to getting to see a psychologist in Australia, you’ll often have a six month waiting list or there just won’t be any in your region if you’re out in the rural areas. We are designing support for people that they can access via Zoom and testing it and testing to.
Cost effective as well. And so with all of that information, we are hoping that over the next couple of years we might be able to get the government to give Medicare item numbers for [00:19:00] dieticians and exercise physiologists for people with mental disorders, not just for psychologists. Yeah. And one of the things I also wanna touch on is that like you look at culture.
So for example, you got Master chef you watch TV and you’ve got your mom and dad cooks at home. But on Master Chef you’ve got people cooking gourmet meals that you can look at and say, I can never cook this. It’s too hard. And then you’ve got things like the Biggest Loser. So you watching, everyday obese people losing a whole bunch of.
In a very short time. It’s very unrealistic tv, so it’s expanded on the polarities of extreme. What I like, what I would love to see is like regular people like yourself showing us. Day-to-day lifestyles. What you go to the shops, what you buy from the market, some simple meals that you create.
Nothing fancy, nothing hard habits, consistency, just small lifestyle changes as well. I think from a cultural point of view, we get inundated with the extremes of. Exercising in the extremes of, gourmet meals. Now how can it be? But realistically, life is not that hard. It’s [00:20:00] simpler than we give it credit for.
We try to distract it. And jumping into the book, brain changes. So chapter one, you talk about diet and mental health and the biggest elephant in the room is obesity. Diet. It’s one of those things that, the food manufacturing industry as well. Poor diet’s pretty much, the number one risk of death to middle to high income countries, and number two worldwide.
Do you wanna expand on that and just talk about the elephant room, which is poor diet and obesity? Yeah. The elephant in the room is really the industrialized food system, isn’t it? Because that’s where the. Comes from, and, the work I’m doing with the World Economic Forum. Now I know from their latest economic modeling, and it’s really startling, is that our industrialized food system globally is costing the planet nearly 20 trillion a year.
Now, the whole GDP of China per year is about 16 trillion. Now, roughly half of that cost is in. because of the impact of ultra processed foods in our modern food [00:21:00] environment on people’s health. And the other half roughly is environmental and those, it has a big impact on land use and water use and all of those sorts of things.
And there’s a bit more that goes into it, but it’s very a. expensive for the world, even though there are a lot of companies that are making a great deal of money out of it. And in fact, something like 70 of the top 100 companies in the world are ultra processed food manufacturers. The problem is that we’ve focused for a couple of decades now on obesity, body weight.
That’s a really dumb endpoint. It’s really dumb. A body weight is very complex. It’s very much driven by your genetics. And when you live in an environment where you have as much access to food as you need, people are generally gonna get to a larger body size. We need to get the focus away from that and onto nurturing and just eating healthful foods and changing the food system.
Now there’s a lot of really interesting stuff happening in this space where we can start to think about maybe ultra [00:22:00] processed foods instead of being health degrading really bad. And responsible for early death, all over the world actually, health enhancing, cuz there’s a real role for processed foods. For people who are living very far away from major cities or in war zones or whatever, you need foods that can shelf stable, that are accessible and easy to prepare, but you want them to be foods that are really helpful and there’s all sorts of really fascinating.
Happening with like insects and elgi and growing meat from air and things that don’t impact the environment and that are gonna be health enhancing. So I think the future is really interesting, but right here and now, we desperately need to take action about the food environment and change that because it’s almost pointless saying to people don’t eat, burgers and fries and things that come in packets with 40 ingredients.
just go and get fruit and veggies. A few tins of legumes, maybe a couple of tins of fish do it that way [00:23:00] when they’re just surrounded by these food products that are designed to interact with all the reward systems of the brain to make you crave them, to make you overeat them, and to make, they make you very, very sick.
So we have to change the food environment. So every time you walk down the street or fill up your car with petrol, you are not getting opportunities and marketing to consume. Highly ultra processed, very addictive yeah, it’s an interesting war between the multinational food companies that rely on factories and packaging and, products versus a decentralized farming system that we’ve grown up against.
And, it’s your choice in Australia, you go to Kohl’s or you go to Woolworths, or you go to the market or you go to Aldi. So the same sort of thing go to the supermarket. They’ve got the, the best real estate in the world. So they’re everywhere. These multinational companies, or you find your local market, your farmer get fresh produce as well.
So Roy’s gonna have that sort of 80 20 split. But at the end of the day, when they open up, a new town or suburb you’ve got your prime real estate with your multinational companies and where’s the farmer’s markets kept you. You’ve gotta go to some random website to find, , [00:24:00] which is, Saturday or Sunday.
And you can’t go really Monday to Friday cause they’re not really open and there’s that fork in the road, no pun intended. We have the information, we’ve got the books, we’ve got the people, we’ve got the teachers. We know the knowhow. I just think it’s resurgence of, health and wellness.
So you’ve got two choices, follow the crowd or you follow your own instincts as well. . The problem is that at the moment, it’s really still very much what I call the white worried wealthy. So the 10% of people who already know this stuff and what we are trying to reach is the 90 odd percent who don’t.
Or dunno how to do it or are very confused by what’s healthy or who think it’s really expensive or really difficult. Now, when I say to people, look, my, during the week, my diet is basically pre-prepared salads with, maybe some chickpeas or a small tin of tuna or something because I don’t have time to be doing anything fancy.
And it doesn’t need, we know from the Smiles trial we did very detailed cost. That a healthy diet that we were promoting was actually cheaper than the junk food diet people were eating when they came into the study. But, frozen [00:25:00] veggies, fantastic. I use them all the time. Tinned legumes, dried legumes, you dried lentils, red lentils cook in about 10 minutes.
They’re super easy. Things, tinned fish, things that are really easy to prepare, very accessible, and not necessarily expensive, but people don’t know what to do with. Yeah. Correct. And it’s, it’s all good to have well intentions and you go to the market and you’re buying fresh food, you’re gonna eat fresh food that you buy.
If you have the intention to say, you know what, let’s go let’s do these meals. Buy the food, clean up the fridge, clean up the pantry, clean up the freezer. That all starts with shopping first. The intention of putting in good food in your house, and then you’re going to eat good food. So the old saying goes, what you put in is what you get out.
It’s the same thing what you. Where you go shop in what you bring home. So focus on where you shop and you get around healthy places like farmer’s markets as well. Moving on to chapter two you talk about diet mental health in adults and you talk about the study of the Geelong osteoporosis study as well.
And I know you’ve mentioned that too, but do you wanna [00:26:00] touch on that and some of the findings that you found, 3000 men and women agents from 20 to 90, from regional hospitals getting an assessment every few years. What was the study about and yeah what was the things that. Yeah, that, that was the study I referred to earlier where we had, yeah, women, over a thousand women, very representative of the wider Australian population and where we, really in detail looked at their diet and their mental health and found these associations that we expected so that women who had a healthier diet were much less likely to have one.
Mental serious mental disorders, those with an unhealthy diet had more mental health problems. That was a cross-sectional study, so you couldn’t tease out, cause an effect. But it still had a big impact because it was the first one that had really looked at this in women in people with clinical diagnosis.
Like we did really detailed clinical assessments of people. But since then, of course, there’s been huge number of studies from across the world and all different countries and cultures, [00:27:00] Norway and Spain and Japan and China all showing the same thing. Even places like India. . And then of course, as I said, across the lifespan from right at the very start of life what mothers eat when they’re pregnant, right the way through to old age and how people age.
And often people develop, say depression as they get older for the first time that this link exists. And it also link exists prospectively. So when we look forward and we take into account people’s diet at the. and then look to who develops depression. We see that link independent of all those other factors.
Big Geelong osteoporosis study is one of the biggest mental health studies in the world. It’s one of the few studies that has the clinical assessments of people, and we are continuing to collect data from these people, but now we’re also collecting gut microbiome and oral microbiome samples. So really excited about over the next couple of years, the data that we will have from that.
Yeah, absolutely. Now you touched on the Norwegian diet too, the Mediterranean diet, [00:28:00] and did some studies in the Japanese diets as well. But you spent some time with Norway, is that correct? Yeah. So I spent a few months living there when I was doing my PhD, and then I’ve been back many times to work with them in Scandinavia.
The governments of far more progressive and enlightened than they are at most places in the world, and what they have is very good access to data on people. . As people go through the system, because everyone sees a public sort of doctor and public hospital and everyone has like a number.
And so all of their medical histories and diagnoses and everything else are in the system, and we can do research on them. It’s all de-identified, but it just means that we can follow people and go, oh my goodness, this happened in childhood and now that person has X disease or disorder. So we’ve done a lot of work there and that, the work that in particular, I was interested in.
The study looking at mother’s diets during pregnancy and then children’s diets in the first few years, and looking at the tra trajectory of children’s emotional health [00:29:00] over time. We did that in more than 23,000 mothers and their children, and saw these links between quality of diet and the children at later mental health.
More recently, we’ve used that same very large study, tens of thousands of women, and shown that the quality of women’s diets during pregnancy and also children’s diets is linked to their ADHD symptoms and diagnoses, which is a surprise to me and to many, because many people had thought based on the evidence that ADHD was purely genetic.
But now we are seeing that there’s a role for modern diets, and this makes sense because the work that we’ve done more recently in other cohort studies has shown that mother’s diets is linked to their gut microbiota and their gut microbiota, of course, we think is linked to the kids, the infant’s, mic microbiota, and the infant.
When babies are born, the gut microbiota of the infant in their first [00:30:00] days, weeks, months of. trains their immune system. But we also think has a role in their brain development. Now, if you think about children these days, their mothers are having terrible diets. Or even when women are pregnant, only about 10% of them are eating even vaguely, according to the dietary guidelines.
Their is terrible. They’re having a very non-diverse diet. Lots of antibiotics, which is what we have in the. The mother’s microbiome during pregnancy is releasing all these molecules that are going in and having an effect on the developing fetus. And then also when the babies are born, they’re getting some of their microbiome, usually from their mum, either breast milk, fecal, whatever, and very often they’re getting exposed to antibiotics right from the get-go because of cesarean.
So I had two Cesarean for example. They give you antibiotic. That has an impact on the early life gut of the ch of the infant. And now we are seeing these massively increased rates of allergic [00:31:00] diseases like asthma and food allergies. We’re seeing increased rates in young people of things like type one diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis.
We’re seeing increases in cancer in young people. 40% increase. Many researchers think that this is linked to the problem of the early life gut microbiota because it’s so important in immune development and we are doing so many things to totally ruin it. . So I think it’s really interesting thinking about how diet fits into that picture.
And this is where we are doing a lot of our work now in the Food and Mood Center. Yeah. And even if you’re a parent and you’ve stuffed up, so far in chapter three you talked about, diet, mental health in children, adolescence, and I like the word you use, it’s called modifiable. So there’s two things you can modify and that’s.
and exercise, and you can expand on that a little bit about, as a parent you can modify your child’s diet, you can modify, what they eat and what they do in terms of exercise as well. But I think the, the, we’re the major players in terms of [00:32:00] mental health and physical health as well, parents can you expand on that a little bit?
Sure. And just to say too, there’s a lot of fantastic resources on social media platforms like Instagram these days. I’m part of the. App in the uk. Tim Spec, Sarah Berry. Yeah. I watched that interview a few weeks ago. The guy’s amazing. He breaks down everything and he’s just a fantastic guy.
Tim Spector, he’s amazing. Very famous, wonderful professor of genetic epidemiology, King’s College in London. But there are a lot like the Doctor’s Kitchen, for example, is another great. Lots of great examples and information about how to eat better in a very simple way, but also to get your kids to eat better.
Dr. Flas is another one. She’s someone I’m working with and we’re actually writing a paper with NASA at the moment, which is very fun. But kids will eat what you give them clearly from when they’re an infant and they’ll eat what you eat. Sitting up at the. They eat whatever you eat right from the start and you don’t make a [00:33:00] fuss about it.
You just put it in front of them. If they eat it, great, if they don’t eat it, take it away. If don’t panic and go, oh my God, they haven’t eaten anything, I better give them some ice cream. And kids will take, because bitter flavors are not automatically things that babies they like sweet flavors, bitter flavors are harder to get used.
So what many are promoting now is that you start giving them, when you start feeding them solid food, feed them the bitter stuff first. Give them the broccoli and the I don’t know the vegetables that have got a stronger, more bitter of flavor that they won’t automatically like, because after 10 or so exposures, they get used to it and then they really like it.
So my kids always just ate what? , but there’s no point you tucking into pizza and then telling your kids to eat their veggies. It’s gotta be just what is normalized within the house. We never had junk food in the house growing up. Dessert was, berries and yogurt. Like we just didn’t do that.
And so it was never normal. So my [00:34:00] kids have always eaten really well. Exercise, similar thing, just going and doing stuff with the kids when they’re young, going for hikes, going, surfing, swimming, whatever you do, get them involved from the get-go. In Norway, every child pretty much goes to a really good quality government childcare from the age of one.
And even with Norway’s appalling weather, they will get them out pretty much by the time they’re three out hiking and up mountains and in the snow and everything because, , you just normalize physical activity and then it’s something that becomes a lifelong habit. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Said. People might be listening saying, I’m not a child, I’m not an adolescent.
Talk to me about aging. And in chapter seven you talk about aging well and you give a great story about your mother as well. Do you wanna expand on that and talk about how the older population can age well and how different it was for them? The story of your mother growing up a simple sort of diet and a simple lifestyle as well.
Yeah. My mom was born in 1920. and even though her diet wouldn’t have been [00:35:00] perfect all the time and there would’ve been food restrictions and all those sorts of things, they didn’t have ultra process foods. They tended to eat foods that were fairly, basic. They had chickens in the backyard and they’d eat eggs, they’d eat they’d grow their, some of their own veggies.
Just had a much more simple diet. My mum always ate, porridge and oats and just fish and even just meat three. And she had an amazing brain. I She died at 98, but she didn’t develop dementia until she was 93. And she, like many of her cohort were just healthier and more robust, I think.
And this is certainly what the evidence seems to suggest, and when we look at the risk factors for dementia, they’re very much diet related. They’re things like increased body weight around the waist and high blood glucose and high blood pressure, and things that we know are related to food. So if we want to protect our brains, we have to protect what’s going into our mouth and particularly into our gut.
And there’s more information now coming out about the bacteria that live in our mouth and how that [00:36:00] might be related to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. But of course, the mouth and the gut and the lungs, they’re all connected. Increasingly we’re interested in the microbes that are in the air and how they interact through our lungs and with.
all the other systems in our body. And when people talk about green space and blue space and the benefits, I think it’s been thought that maybe that’s just psychological. Cause it’s lovely to be out in nature and to look at it. But actually maybe there’s microbes there that we are breathing in that are really having an effect.
So this is a whole new area of research that we are really interested in. And this is where now comes in because if they’re gonna get people to Mars on the Mars mission and they’re gonna be away for, three years, four years. I have to think about what’s in the air, what people are breathing in a closed loop system.
So there’s all these sorts of really interesting things and new areas of research. Another interesting area that you touched on as well, you talk about a really shit topic, literally zoo in my poo. You wrote a children’s [00:37:00] book about poo got some great awards. Can you tell us a bit about that zoo in Wai Poo?
You’ve got trillions of tiny bugs live in and all around us, and there’s a zoo of bugs in our. So this was another passion project, and again, it was. Designed as a science communication exercise and something we know that kids are really often the drivers of what is purchased at the supermarket and what people eat in the home.
And kids are really cluey. We know that if you tell them about something very concrete, like the bugs that live in their gut and the fact that when they put something in their mouth it’s gonna go down to their. And their gut bugs are gonna do all of these things. And they have to look after the zoo in their poo.
They have to be the zookeeper. And my husband’s really great at drawing cartoons and things. So he did the illustrations. I did the text, but he also did the rhyme. So we tried to make it so that there’s part of the book that’s a bit Dr. Susi, so they’re little rhymes that your young children will find accessible.
And then there’s more information. [00:38:00] For the parents and the teachers and for older primary school kids to make it very concrete and very simple. And then the most fun bit for me was to do some of the recipes at the end, cuz these are just things I do at home. So there’s zoo poo stew and of bog burgers.
Burgers and farty toast. Beans on toast, really. So that was fun. Just, to get kids interested in food and making food and understanding that link between what they put in their mouth and how it affects their health. Yeah. Awesome stuff. I just wanted to really plug that in there as well.
But yeah, really amazing book and thank you for sending that across to me as well. But going back to Brain Changer for a second, we’ll finish off with some myths. You talked about red meat before. Is it good or bad for us? Look, I think it, it’s a complex question. I think that there’s very important environmental and ethical questions around.
Now what I eat is wild games, so deer, which in increasingly is available because there’s such a huge pest in Australia and there’s companies that are going out and humanely [00:39:00] killing deer and then processing it and turning into the most fantastic venison that you can just buy online. So that’s how we get a bit of red meat to ourselves.
I suspect for women, particularly menstruating women. I think that it’s probably important to have a bit, but it only needs to be a small amount. And remember that. It needs to be, the good protein sauce is a quarter of the P plate. Some sort of a whole grain is another quarter of the plate. And then the other half vegetables, salads herbs and spices.
These things are really rich in polyphenols and fiber, which feed you gut bugs. So have a bit of red meat. By all means, think about the ethical source. Don’t have too, Pair it with fiber and polyphenols because red meat can cause DNA damage. And the vegetables and the antioxidants help to counteract that.
And don’t have the processed stuff, like the ham and the bacon and the sausages. Yeah. I still eat bacon every day. gotta get offered. What’s a substitute for bacon? What do I substitute [00:40:00] bacon with? Bacon and eggs. I love it. Eat it. Every morning I wanna get offered. What do I substitute Bacon.
I have mushrooms are fantastic. I have leaks, which are very good for your gut bugs and really delicious. You can get all sorts of seasonings now, like smoke paprika is a great one to add to things for a bit of that smokey flavor. Some people use, for example, anchovies when they’re cooking up with garlic and oil, and it gives you that really fantastic umami flavor.
So there’s things that you can do that don’t, and you can just get used to. Yeah, I know. I’ve just gotta cut out the bacon in my life, but that’s one thing you talk about is dairy. Good for us as well. I do a lot of Greek yogurt. I like Greek yogurt at night and I put protein powder in it. I like that.
What’s your take on dairy? Is it good for us? I don’t drink milk, but what’s your take on. Yeah all of the data that we’ve generated, and I just had a student graduate yesterday with a PhD looking at diet and mental health. Everything that we see tells us that dairy seems to be pretty neutral.
But fermented dairy, so carefree and yogurt seems to be potentially good for us, which makes the. [00:41:00] Yeah. Oh good. What about the whole diet industry, like paleo diets, keto what’s your take on the diet industry? Paleo is not even a thing cuz you know, cave people ate a huge range of foods, including grains and seeds and all sorts of things.
It’s a, it’s just a myth. The keto thing, we think it might be useful in some very severe mental disorders, like bipolar disorder, but the evidence is not there. We do not have any randomized control trials that show that it’s useful for for a mental disorder. And in fact, there’s not a lot of information to say that it’s useful for anything much.
And if you think about a keto diet, It’s usually the complete opposite of what we know. Comprises a healthy diet for mental and brain health, for gut health, for the whole body, which is very high in plant fiber and polyphenols and that’s not keto. So I think in the US it’s been very popular because it’s a way for people to, I think, cut.
Alt ultra processed foods, cuz of course if they [00:42:00] go keto, then they’re not having donuts and these alt ultra processed refined carbohydrates. But the other aspect to this is because people’s gut microbiome are so sad after a standard American diet, they’re so non-diverse. They’re so not healthy, they’re so lacking.
The bacteria that can break down dietary fiber when they go on keto, when they completely remove any sort of fiber in the diet, they feel. Suddenly their gut isn’t getting irritable every time it meets a fiber. , but that doesn’t mean that’s good . No. Yeah, correct. And a lot of times they just go from eating unprocessed food to real food and that’s the difference.
But it’s not the actual diet. It’s to say when to eat real food versus non-real food as well. To finish off the conversation, talk about Brazilian diet and you say Brazil why is Brazilian diet. Fantastic. You can talk about 50% salads and vegetables, 25% proper whole grain, and 25% good source of unprocessed protein.
Why the Brazilian [00:43:00] diet? What’s so good about that? I think it’s just that with it, it’s not the Brazilian diet per se, it’s their guidelines. They just made it very simple. They didn’t say things like, oh, only 10% saturated fat, or 5% this, or whatever, which people don’t really respond to and they don’t really understand.
It’s really just about that plate. Half of it should be a diverse range of plant foods like vegetables and salads and things. A quarters a good form of protein. So this could be anything from eggs to fish to unprocessed red meat to nuts and seeds, and then a quarter of sort of whole grain. But then you eat it with people.
You sit around a table you have that social engagement as well, and that’s built into their guidelines, which I really. Definitely think the guidelines and has a recommendation, a holistic lifestyle. Like for example, you get sleep, you get water, you get diet, you get exercise. The four pillars.
You, you can’t say, get 50% diet, right? Yep, great. 25% exercise and get 25% water, but don’t worry about sleep. And you’re like, don’t worry about sleep. None of those [00:44:00] things matters. If you don’t get adequate sleep. So if you can’t just cut out a macronutrient, you gotta embrace it and just eat real food as well.
And just one of the la last things before we touch on as well is the Moody diet. What is the Moody Diet, the top 10 tips, that’s a really good recommendation. Where does that come from? The Moody Med Diet. So that, Modi me comes from a very famous Smiles trial, which was the first randomized control trial that showed that if you took people with even severe major depressive disorder, Help them to improve their diet, which is basically just reducing the junk op processed foods and increasing helpful forms of protein, fats, fire, extra virgin olive oil, vegetables, legumes, so you know, your chickpeas and lentils, et cetera.
That it had a major impact on people’s mental health and there was no body weight. It was just improving diet quality. So Modi Meat is a great example because it’s meshing together the stuff that we know is really good from a [00:45:00] Mediterranean diet, which is basically plant foods and lots of diversity and a bit of fermented foods.
But having a little bit more of an emphasis on getting that little bit of red meat. And not maybe having worrying too much about dairy. So that’s just one form. But you could, you’ve got, the Nordic diet, you’ve got healthy forms of Japanese diets. There’s all sorts of diets that are culturally specific.
They’re all great if they’re using Whole Foods, not processed foods, and a lot of diversity of plant. Yeah. Got it. Yeah. It’s not even like that, like a personal story essay, like about making choices that you know that when you eat foods you’re gonna feel better than the food that you would normally eat.
You feel worse. So for example, I was in a random suburb yesterday and I was getting some work done to my car and I was hungry walking around and you had your standard, corner block shops like McDonald’s. You had K ffc. and then you had this thing called Gomez wa Gomez, a Mexican kitchen.
And I was like, I’ve had this before. It feels really good. I’ve got a burrito bowl. Sat down, felt great. A good meal is when you don’t [00:46:00] feel good or bad after it, you just feel satiated and, eating McDonald’s or K ffc or pizza, you feel crap after it. And these are the choices you make eating, it’s, are you eating for nutrition or are you eating just for afu as well?
Food and mental health correlate because when you eat good food, you feel good and it’s good for your gut health as well. Just making those micro choices in those micro moments, I’m gonna eat this instead of that. I’m gonna choose to feel good instead of feeling shit. The, these are the things that sort of interlink the whole, web of diet in, and we all know what’s good for us and this is all things with mental health as well.
Eat good food, feel. Eat bad food. Feel bad. Cuz at the end of the day, I was at the gym as well and there’s a lot of things that I was funny. I went to this gym yesterday and I did a great workout session. I had this amazing gym and they’ve got all this, food in the fridge and I had a protein drink and had 40 grams of protein and zero sugar.
Smashed that down. I felt like I had a big meal protein. So that’s another topic there, what we can discuss later on. But again, [00:47:00] that’s a cultural thing that we need to realize Maybe we’re eating too much. That’s right. And stop worrying about body size and weight. Just stop it and don’t have the protein powders.
They’re not doing you any good . It’s another poly process thing that’s going in, and it’s quite redundant if you’re eating, vaguely well. Do you have a look at those protein things and just how many ingredients are in there and how processed they are? They’re not doing you any. Where can people find more about you and find out more about your work and check out your books there as well.
Where can they find you online? So the Food and Mood Center website. So if you just Google Food and Mood Center, you’ll find us. It’s got a huge number of like bog posts and information and links to the resources. And my books, you just Google me and you’ll see my books. They’re both published by Pan McMillan in Australia.
Brain Changer is also published overseas in the UK and Europe by Yellow Kite. So you could go, I think Amazon or any of those will, will stock them. And if you’re interested in the actual science, like the papers, you go to Google [00:48:00] Scholar, and this is a good tip for everyone. If you’re interested in finding out something about a particular topic, you’ve got a Google Scholar and you put in your search terms plus the word review or systematic review, and you.
Hopefully good quality reviews that will bring all together all of the information. But if you search me on Google Scholar, you’ll see my 200 and, I don’t know, 50 odd publications that you can look at. Oh my God, that’s great. I just Googled it. So Google Scholar, it’s like original Google back in the day, how it looks.
You can do articles, case laws. I’ve never heard about that. Thank you so much for sharing. The best way to find out if you wanna know if someone’s speaking rubbish or not, one of the first things you do, go to Google Scholar, Google your search terms, plus systematic review. You’ve probably saved myself a lot of time as well.
Yep. Systematic reviews. It says stand on the shoulders of giants. Yeah. Thank you for being a giant in your field and yeah, thank you for all the work you’ve done. This thing with the brain, the gut, the food, the diet it’s not going away. We live with it. It’s not going away. So thank you again for being on the show and to my audience, go [00:49:00] check out for Lisa stuff and read her books and enjoy the rest of your day and I’ll speak to you soon.
Okay. Thank you so much, Michael. It’s been a great. Take care. Okay, bye.