Anya Gruber '16 Assistant News Editor This December, Smith’s new college psychiatrist, Dr. Georgia Ede, gave her first talk, “Brain Food: The Impact of Nutrition on Mental Health.”
Prior to arriving to Smith this August, Ede practiced for six years at Harvard University Health Services after completing her psychiatry residency at Harvard’s Cambridge Hospital. Ede is particularly interested in the links between nutrition and mental health.
“I first became interested in the connection between nutrition and psychological disorders in 2007 when I noticed that making changes to my diet for [physical] health reasons also surprisingly improved my overall mood and sense of well-being,” she said.
Ede worked at the Hallowell Center in New York, a practice that is particularly focused on helping patients with attention-related disorders, conducting evaluations and consulting.
In her talk, Ede described when changes in diet helped her patients’ conditions: “I have had numerous patients tell me that their mood or attention problems have improved with dietary changes.”
Ede used case examples and went into detail about the science behind the results. She said, “[I’ve seen] people with depression whose mood normalized after removing gluten from their diet; people with anxiety and/or panic attacks whose symptoms completely resolved with a low glycemic index diet. A low glycemic index diet removes ‘fast’ carbs such as sugar, flour, fruit juice, cereals and white potato.”
Ede explained how different foods and nutrients are absorbed into the body in different ways, for example, how various types of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are absorbed. She also outlined which nutrients are the most important to health and which are unnecessary. For instance, proteins are much more essential than carbohydrates.
Ede spoke about the benefits of different kinds of diets: “A low-carbohydrate diet is one that allows a maximum of 30 to 50 grams of carbohydrate per day. A ketogenic diet is a low-carbohydrate diet that also limits protein to only the number of grams the body needs per day.” She also spoke about the benefits of a whole food diet, in which foods are eaten in their most natural state possible; this includes whole fruits, vegetables and grains.
The talk resonated with the students who attended. Carmen Pullella ’16 said, “In an ideal world, I think all of us would want to be generally healthier, have a steady workout routine and follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. However, it isn’t always easy as students at a top-tier and high-stress liberal arts college; most of us look for that instant sugar rush that will tide us over until 3 a.m. as we furiously whip out the paper that is due the following morning.”
After the talk, a student asked what Smith students should be eating to supplement the dining hall food and stay healthier. Ede’s advice included: “Avoid refined and high-glycemic index carbohydrates as much as possible; … minimize alcohol; if you are prone to anxiety, panic, irritability or insomnia, minimize caffeine intake; …alcohol is toxic to the brain and body and is known to interfere with sleep quality, destabilize mood, contribute to depression and impair concentration/motivation; …[and] vegans and vegetarians should be sure they are eating enough protein.”
After now nearly completing her first semester here, Ede said, “I am truly enjoying working with Smith students and am delighted that so many students attended the nutrition presentation and asked such intelligent questions!”
To find out more about the links between nutrition and mental health, visit www.diagnosisdiet.com.