You Are (and Feel) What You Eat!

Nutritional Psychiatry is Treating Mental Health Problems with the Right Diet

Dr. Drew Ramsey, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and the author of several books that address food and mental health, is a big fan of oysters. Not because he likes to order them off the menu but rather because they are rich in vitamin B12, which studies suggest may help to reduce brain shrinkage. Oysters are also packed with long chain omega-3 fatty acids, deficiencies of which have been linked to higher risk for suicide and depression.

Given the evident connections between nutrition, the brain, and mental health, Dr. Ramsey has largely pioneered an emerging field of medicine that prescribes food – and the nutrients that we are missing in our diet – to counteract depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. The field is termed nutritional psychiatry and its practitioners, like Dr. Ramsey, together with chef and food coach Samantha Elkrief, counsel patients on how better eating can ease their particular mental health challenges.

You are, after, what you eat.

Bad diet = impaired mental health

It makes sense that any deficiency in the nutrients, vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats that are essential to brain health would affect its function. This influence extends much further than simple performance (the ability to think quickly and efficiently, for example). It also influences our mental health. It therefore stands to reason that consuming the nutrition our brain needs to function optimally would also improve mental health. Determining the precise pathway this happens for each patient is, of course, the challenge that Dr. Ramsey has taken on.

According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is a dominant driver of disability for Americans aged 15 to 44. And it’s Dr. Ramsey’s argument that a poor diet is a major factor contributing to this epidemic. The irony, he says, is that “most Americans are overfed in calories yet starved of the vital array of micronutrients that our brains need, many of which are found in common plant foods.”

The results of a 2017 survey published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that only 10% of adults meet the minimal daily federal recommendations for fruit and vegetables: at least one-and-a-half to two cups of fruit and two to three cups of vegetables per day. Read full report here.

The usual approach to treating mental health issues is a combination of pharmacological, using prescription drugs like antidepressants, and talk therapy. The argument being made by Dr. Ramsey and other proponents of nutritional psychiatry is that the right food choices – mostly, plant-based – are an indispensible component of the treatment approach. Americans change the way they eat all the time: to slim down, lower their cholesterol, and control blood sugar levels, etc. Yet, few pay attention to diet when it comes to the organ that requires the most energy in the body: the brain.

What does a mental health friendly diet look like?

Our understanding of the impact of diet on mental functioning is in its infancy but studies are being conducted around the world on this subject and the outcomes are indicating that plant-based diets are the way to go:

A 2016 American Journal of Public Health study examined more than 12,000 Australians and found that those who increased the amount of fruits and vegetables they ate reported being happier and more satisfied with their life.

Another study of 422 young adults from New Zealand and the United States showed higher levels of mental health and well being for those who ate more fresh fruits and vegetables. Interestingly, the same observations did not extend to those who consumed canned fruits and vegetables.

 “We think this is due to the higher nutrient content of raw fruits and vegetables, particularly B vitamins and vitamin C, which are vulnerable to heat degradation,” said Tamlin Conner, a study author and senior lecturer at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

In 2017, Felice Jacka, Professor of Nutritional and Epidemiological Psychiatry at Deakin University, performed one of the first randomized controlled trials to test whether diet could be used to help treat depression. In the study, the participants who were coached to follow a Mediterranean diet (rich in whole grains, legumes, seafood, and nutrient-dense leafy vegetables) for three months reported mood improvements and lower levels of anxiety. Those who received more traditional therapy showed no improvements.

“Our imaging studies show that the brains of people who follow a Mediterranean-style diet typically look younger, have larger volumes [of healthy gut bacteria], and are more metabolically active than people who eat a more typical Western diet,” said Dr. Lisa Mosconi, director of the Women’s Brain Initiative at the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. Such brain benefits may be protective against the onset of dementia, she said.

Changes you can make today

According to Mosconi, “there is no one diet that fits all” but there are changes you can make today that will have a definite impact on whole body (and mental) health:

  • Eliminate processed foods from your diet. Processed foods are those that have had a series of mechanical or chemical operations performed on it to change or preserve it, for example: frozen pizza, microwaveable dinners, jarred sauces and gravies, deli meats, canned fruits, etc.
  • Minimize meat and dairy. Diets high in animal products have been linked to an increased risk in heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and cancer.
  • Eat more whole foods. These are plant foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, before being consumed. They include whole grains, tubers, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Fresh, fatty fish is also considered a whole food.

It’s important to remember that not everyone is the same and while a particular diet may help improve the mental health of one patient, another might require a slightly different approach. It’s also important to understand that dietary changes and improvements are considered an adjunctive (add-on) to the traditional mental health treatment approaches.

“It’s about slowing down and becoming more mindful, noticing your body and noticing how you feel when you eat certain foods,” says Samantha Elkrief, the food coach who assists Dr. Ramsey.

Fusion Farms is passionate about, and supports the move towards healthy, whole food diets. For more information about Fusion Farms and to become an investor in this opportunity, go to www.fusionfarmspr.com or email Info@FusionFarmsPR.com

Aquaponics is the Answer

Fish poop is powering a new agricultural model that can feed Puerto Rico’s hurricane-stricken population while using less water and less land.

Outside, the rain hammers against the facility roof and the wind howls with intense voracity, tearing up power lines and ripping the roofs off unprotected homes. Within the reinforced concrete walls of the PRIDCO building, however, thousands upon thousands of heads of lettuce proliferate and thrive, wholly unaware of the carnage going on outside. Here, fed by nutrient and nitrate-rich water and renewably sourced power, agriculture can continue irrespective of the weather. The island’s people may lose power in their homes; they may even lose the roofs on their houses…but they will have food.

This is the model being put forward by Fusion Farms, an organization striving to bring hurricane protected Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) aquaponic farms to the Caribbean island nation of Puerto Rico.

Learn more about Fusion Farms’ mission to establish a food sovereign future for Puerto Rico.

The solution proposed by Fusion Farms

In September 2017, Puerto Rico’s existing problems – lack of infrastructure, unreliable power grid, importing vast majority of its food – became exponentially worse with the landfall of Category 5 Hurricane Maria. And without the necessary organization, relief, and support, the nation struggles – to this day – to get back up on its feet.

What Puerto Rico needs is a protected, local food source that can thrive irrespective of the weather – providing the island’s population with fresh, locally-grown fruits, vegetables, and fish that are available all year round. And so, Fusion Farms proposes to build a series of hurricane protected, climate controlled aquaponics farms.

What is an aquaponic farm?

Aquaponics is a sustainable method of farming that combines aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (cultivating plants in water). It is an elegantly simple agricultural model that leverages the existing natural relationship between various components of the food chain, namely plants and fish. In an aquaponic system, plants are grown in a closed environment fed by nutrient rich water (not soil).

This nutrient rich water is created by fish (i.e. fish poop), which is fed through the vertically stacked tiers of plants. The plants filter out the nutrients and nitrates, thereby cleaning the water, which is then returned to the fish tanks. In this way, an aquaponics farm is one great big loop that requires lesser inputs than a traditional farm and is certainly far less vulnerable to external influences.

A Deep Water Culture hydroponics system where plants grow directly into the nutrient rich water without a soil medium. Plants can be spaced closer together because the roots do not need to expand outwards to support the weight of the plant. Source: Bryghtknyght – Own work, CC BY 3.0.

The benefits of aquaculture

Harvest 365 days a year

There are no seasons in a controlled environment facility and so plants and fish can be grown and harvested 365 days a year. Furthermore, and according to the resident scientist and lead aquaponics technician at EcoLife Conservation, Martin Niwinski, since nutrients are constantly available to plants’ roots, plants can grow up to 25% faster than in soil.

Using less water

By recycling its water, aquaponics requires substantially less water than traditional farming. This is especially beneficial in the parts of Puerto Rico that receive lower rainfall, as well as in other water-restricted communities and countries around the world.

Requiring less land and conserving indigenous vegetation

Through carefully constructed systems, plants can be grown in vertical tiers – one on top of the other (as shown in the 3D rendering below). This means that much less land is required to produce exponentially more produce, thus negating the need to clear indigenous vegetation to accommodate farmlands.

3D rendering of vertical racks of hydroponically grown plants inside Fusion Farms’ proposed facility.

100% Pesticide free produce

In a closed environment aquaponics farm, both fish and plants are less vulnerable to external influences, so pesticides aren’t necessary. In any case, fish are extremely sensitive to chemicals so you couldn’t even hope to maintain such a system using pesticides.

You can grow what you like

Many of the fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens that are popular in the United States need to be imported to Puerto Rico because they do not grow well in the island’s tropical climate. With a controlled climate facility, Fusion Farms will be able to grow the produce that is in the greatest demand.

For a sustainable future

Currently, Puerto Rico imports a staggering 90% of its fresh produce, which has to travel hundreds if not thousands of miles to get to grocery store shelves. By establishing a reliable, local source of fresh produce, Fusion Farms will eliminate the need to import food, thereby contributing to a much more sustainable future.

Overcoming Challenges

There are many challenges to funding, setting up, building, and running an aquaponics farm, especially on the island of Puerto Rico. But the team at Fusion Farms has already devised the answers to many of these challenges. By combining elements of hydroponics, aquaculture, and renewable energy in a fully contained and controlled environment, Fusion Farms could potentially solve many of the crises facing the island nation today.

Extensive scientific research on looped aquaponic ecosystems has paved the way for repeatable, scalable food production, which represents an innovative advance in the way food supplies will be grown in the future!

You can help Fusion Farms establish a food sovereign future for Puerto Rico and many nations like it by investing in our pilot project.

Become an investor!

For more information about Fusion Farms and to become an investor in this opportunity, go to www.fusionfarmspr.com or email Info@FusionFarmsPR.com