These Books Might Make You Happier

With the pandemic receding and a fraught election season looming, Americans seem more concerned than ever about mental health — yours, mine and that of the next leader of the free world. According to the C.D.C., a whopping 57.2 million Americans a year make visits to the physician where the primary diagnosis turns out to be a mental disorder. That’s a whole lot of anxiety and depression.

Not surprisingly, there’s a small library of titles that touch on these subjects in different ways. Most are pretty bad; I don’t need to spend $30 for someone to tell me that the secret to stress reduction is a combination of affirmations, nature walks and journaling. But a few new books offer fresh approaches to seeking contentment and peace.

“You are what you eat” has never been my favorite expression, since it means I’m essentially a bag of Tootsie Rolls. Nevertheless, nutrition affects our brains as well as our bodies. The question is: How much? Can we really blame our global mental health crisis on ultra-processed foods? Georgia Ede, aHarvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, can and does. In her book, CHANGE YOUR DIET, CHANGE YOUR MIND (Balance, 464 pp., $32.50), Ede posits that even the best antidepressant medications are only moderately effective — and that the modern diet leads to a host of horrors, including brain inflammation, hormonal imbalances, emotional instability, depression and dementia. Ede suggests that diet can have a bigger impact than medication and, she writes, “If it’s optimal mental health you seek, you will need to start grounding your food choices in brain biology rather than dietary ideology.”

I’ll admit, I flipped to the back of this book, silently screaming Just tell me what to eat. It turns out, there isn’t a single brain-healthy approach; there are several that can be effective. (Ede is a proponent of the ketogenic diet.) The idea is to eliminate foods that cause inflammation — processed sugars, refined vegetable oils, refined carbohydrates. My scared-straight moment: A 2022 study at Wake Forest University showed that Alzheimer’s patients had linoleic acid blood levels that were 56 percent higher than people without cognitive impairment. I may be confused by much of this book, but you can bet I went into the kitchen and chucked the Pringles.

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