The Best Foods to Combat Cold and Depression – Podcast

Written By: Gloria Tsang, RD

Title: Founding Registered Dietitian

Alumni: University of British Columbia

Last Updated on:

Dr John La Puma tells us the top foods and nutrients to fight depression and colds

Host: Gloria Tsang, RD
Guest: John La Puma, MD

Suffering from depression or a cold is more common during the winter months. But there are ways to combat them just by eating the right kind of foods. Dr John La Puma, author of Chef MD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine tells us the top foods and nutrients to fight depression and colds.



Gloria Tsang, RD: Suffering from depression and cold is more common during the winter months. But there are ways to combat them just by eating the right kinds of foods. Welcome to the Nutrition Tidbits Podcast. This is Gloria Tsang, Editor-in-Chief for Joining me today is Doctor John La Puma, Director of the Santa Barbara Institute for Medical Nutrition and Healthy Weight. And author of Chef MD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine. He’s here today to tell us how to choose the right kinds of foods to fight depression and cold. Thank you for joining me Dr. La Puma.

John La Puma, MD: Gloria, what a pleasure. So nice to speak with you.

Gloria Tsang, RD: Now let’s talk about depression. Are there any foods that a person should avoid if they are suffering from depression?

John La Puma, MD: There are actually. Some foods that one should avoid are those of course that are high in alcohol primarily because it causes mood swings and as a sedative can worsen depression and it doesn’t help people cope no matter what we think. And caffeine as well. In fact, there is a study of 3600 adult twins that showed a link between lifetime caffeine consumption and major depression. Also, one should avoid foods such as simple sugars as well. As you know, what Chef MD is about and what my own work has been about is what to eat instead of what to avoid. People don’t need me to tell them not to drink alcohol and cut back on coffee if you are depressed. I think the more interesting data is foods that are high in EPA and DHA, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish and seafood. An analysis of ten studies shows that these seem to actually help people with mild to moderate depression. And many people who are depressed are actually Vitamin D deficient. In fact, one study showed that 80 people tested, half with mild Alzheimer’s (they were older people) and half without, those with Vitamin D deficiencies were more than 12 times more likely to have a mood disorder than those who are not deficient. So, the good news is that if you look at culinary medicine, which I think of as blending the art of cooking with the science of medicine to give restaurant quality food, helps to prevent disease. There are, in fact, recipes and foods that seem to help major diseases processes including depression. And in my book, Chef MD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine, I have a chocolate blackberry smoothie for depression. And of course, who doesn’t like chocolate?

Gloria Tsang, RD: That sounds yummy. I read in your book that you have linked folic deficiency with depression. Can you tell us more about that?

John La Puma, MD: Folate is sometimes deficient in people with depression. And so foods that are high in folate include lentils, chilli peppers, turkey and tuna. In fact, folate deficiency is a correctable problem for people with mild dementia as well. It’s remarkable actually how powerful foods can be. And that’s why I wrote this book because I want people to have a food lover’s roadmap to preventing disease with what they eat. It’s one thing to have to eat nutrients whether they are macro or micro or phyto. It’s another to have for example saffron scallop, shrimp and chickpea paella as a dish that is rich in folate, good omega-3 fatty acids and good healthy chickpea, fiber and protein. So, this is an easy new approach to the question “What do you eat for that?” – with have been talking about depression and people also want to know. What do you eat for arthritis? What do you eat for Alzheimer’s? What do you eat for menopause? What do you eat for pre-menstrual syndrome? And it turns out through the 3000 different studies that we have crunched to give you 300 pages and 20 pages of references. As well, we can simplify it to say in these 40 conditions, there are foods to avoid and foods to increase and here are 3 recipes for every condition. With 50 recipes in the book that can help you lose ponds not flavor, I think this is the missing component in good-for-you food.

Gloria Tsang, RD: Now since that the flu season is actually coming, I am always interested to find out more about yogurt and probiotic bacteria. Tell us more about some of the scientific evidence that high levels of probiotic bacteria can actually help alleviate cold symptoms.

John La Puma, MD: There is some evidence in children especially. Food that’s rich in these healthy bacteria, probiotics, includes yogurt. Kefir, which I think people don’t quite know how to use but is just wonderful in smoothies and as a topping in cereal and even as a dressing for tuna and chicken. There are other naturally fermented foods like sauerkraut as well that contain probiotics, or healthy bacteria. These foods seem to reduce upper respiratory infection and help people boost their immune system in a way that is meaningful. What we do here is say look, there are foods that can help. And just by combining them properly, you can learn a recipe that works for you and actually teach it to someone else. That’s what I want people really to do. To get people cooking just a little bit and then share it with others. If you even store a watermelon properly on the kitchen counter, you increase the beta-carotene and lycopene in that watermelon by 139% and 40% respectively. If you bake a pizza with a whole wheat crust, because the antioxidants are in the wheat germ and the wheat bran and not in the starch, at 550F instead of 450F or for 14 minutes instead of 7 minutes, you more than double the antioxidant in that whole wheat crust just by baking it hotter. If you add black pepper to your curry, then you actually absorb more of the turmeric in that curry because of a chemical in the black pepper called piperine. And the turmeric in the curry (what makes curry yellow) can help you reduce inflammation and actually even stabilize ulcercolitis in ways that don’t fight with medication but instead work with it. These are just simple ways we can get more from our food, enjoy food more, learn a little about it and actually have great tasting flavour that we wouldn’t have expected.

Gloria Tsang, RD: These are all fascinating tidbits that we all should know about. Now your website,, tell our listeners what they can see or read on your website.

John La Puma, MD: is free and we send out quick, easy, healthy recipes every week with nutritional analysis in addition to pictures and photos that anyone can use and share. On the site as well, there are 75 broadcast quality videos that originally appeared on Lifetime Television – which I am on every Sunday morning at 7:30 eastern and 8:30 central demonstrating a recipe, going to the market and getting people to do just a little bit better to find out what they can eat, what is good for them, what takes 30 minutes or less, with 10 ingredients or less and simple cooking techniques. You will find all of that, the videos, free recipes and the email sign up on

Gloria Tsang, RD: Great, we’ll definite send our readers and listeners there. Thank you again for joining me Dr. La Puma.

John La Puma, MD: Gloria, it’s my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

Gloria Tsang, RD: We’ve been talking to Dr. John La Puma, author of ChefMD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine. For more healthy eating tidbits and information about this show, go to


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