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Dr. Drew Ramsey, Part 1: Happiness On Your Plate

Dr. Drew Ramsey's new book "The Happiness Diet" links healthy eating with a healthy brain. Don't worry -- He's not asking you to kick your burger habit.


Just Another Diet Book?

The Happiness Diet is pretty straightforward — eat whole foods and stick to plants as much as possible. According to co-author Dr. Drew Ramsey, this is the first book of its kind to relate diet to mental health, but he acknowledges that books like this can all seem the same after a while.

“There’s so much dietary information given out there today that people have nutritional whiplash almost,” he says.

Get Happy One Bite At A Time

What separates The Happiness Diet from other diet plans is that it puts the brain at the center of dietary decisions.

Ramsey specializes in mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and dementia through his work as an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. But he has roots in southern Indiana, where he grew up eating farm-fresh veggies. Through this new book, he’s combining his food values with his work in psychiatry.

“The Hoosier in me always comes back to common sense,” he says. “If something is neurotoxin and is designed to kill insects, I don’t want that on my food.”

His research started with this question: What besides medication and psychotherapy could be used to help people feel better?

When you see an 18-year-old kill themselves because of a bad depression, that is a level of tragedy in illness that is devastating. If there’s anything we can do to prevent that with diet, and I think there’s some data that you can, we should really be pushing that in mental health.

Burger Time

The idea behind The Happiness diet is brain food swaps — replace highly processed foods (made from sugars, refined carbohydrates, vegetable oils, artificial flavors and colors) with whole, organic foods.

The Happiness Diet is primarily plant-based but it does include some carefully selected meats — like the Happiness Burger that graces the cover of the book. “That burger is different than what the average American eats,” says Ramsey.

At first glance, it looks like a typical burger:

The Happiness Burger

Yield: 4 patties


  • 1 1/4 pounds grass-fed beef
  • salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • ketchup
  • mayonnaise
  • mustard
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 block Vermont cheddar
  • 1 head Boston lettuce
  • 4 whole grain buns

Three details make this burger special — grass-fed beef, organic vegetables and a whole grain bun.

Ramsey acknowledges that red meat has been demonized, but he points out that while there have been plenty of studies linking red meat consumption with poor health, there isn’t much data about the health effects of eating grass-fed beef. One thing is for certain — grass-fed beef is more nutrient dense than conventionally-raised beef. It’s also leaner. A 6 ounce grass-fed New York strip steak has fewer calories and less saturated fat than a chicken breast.

“If they wanted to market it better they would call it low-calorie beef,” he says.

More: Keep an eye out for part 2 of Earth Eats conversation with Dr. Drew Ramsey in the coming days!

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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