Monday, February 21, 2011

Food Sensitivities, Mental Illness and a New Recipe

I'd like to introduce a friend of mine, Nancy Ludwig.  We met about a year ago at a public lecture, "Food Sensitivities and Mental Illness", where she presented information about the connection between the two.  I kicked off the event with my personal story of helping my son overcome anxiety through diet.

Nancy Ludwig, M.S., R.D., L.D. 
Last Friday, I was wishing Nancy could've been a guest on Oprah.  In case you missed it, Oprah interviewed Laurie, a mother whose son, Zach, has violent rages, hears voices and has sensory processing issues.  The point of the story was to highlight how the family has coped.  Zach has been taught to focus on positive energy and to resist the negative.  It seems to be helping, but not enough to keep him out of a special school for mentally ill children or from hearing voices.  When Zach was interviewed, it was hard to miss his facial tics and red ears, two red flags that he should be tested for food sensitivities, among other things.  As I watched, I waited and hoped someone would say something about this.  While I believe in the power of positive thought, I was disappointed when medical intervention (other than prescription drug treatment) wasn't mentioned.

  Over 20 years ago, Donahue did a show featuring a number of children who became violent, sad, depressed, anxious, or simply difficult to be around, upon eating certain foods.  Dr. Doris Rapp, an environmental medicine and allergy specialist, was interviewed and explained that some people have these types of reactions to food and/or things in the environment.  The opening segment shows a boy with Tourette's who becomes violent upon exposure to tomatoes.

If I could speak to Laurie, here's what I would recommend to her:

(1)  Find a DAN! (Defeat Autism Now) Doctor, holistic M.D., or alternative care provider.  Although Zach may not meet the diagnosis for autism, problems like mood swings, tics, Tourette's, OCD, Asperger's, and ADHD can be helped through a similar protocol that examines food sensitivities, vitamin and mineral difficiencies, gastrointestinal imbalances (yeast and bacteria overgrowth, insufficient enzyme or acid production, etc.), adrenal and thyroid problems, and heavy metals and environmental allergy testing.

(2)  Take advantage of the following books:
(3)  Zach's red ears may be a sign he is not able to process the phenols in his food.  This could also be affecting his behavior.  For more information about phenols and how to avoid them, visit the Feingold Association or Talk About Curing Autism.

Thai Green Curry with Vegetables and Chicken
Thai Chicken and Vegetable Curry

Back to my friend, Nancy.  One of her passions is helping people with food sensitivities.  She generously shared a recipe with me from her recent cooking class, "A World of Gluten Free Grains."  I served it up with brown basmati rice.  Whole grain millet or quinoa would also be delicious.


1 can coconut milk (full fat: 14 fl oz)
1-2 tbsp green curry paste (Thai Kitchen is GF)
1-2 tbsp fish sauce (1 tbsp seemed plenty to me)
2  skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 cup chopped cabbage
1/2 cup frozen peas (I used fresh snow peas)
2 to 4 tbsp fresh basil, chopped


Combine coconut milk, curry paste and fish sauce in a saucepan over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add chicken and chicken broth to the sauce.  Simmer for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add cabbage, mushrooms, pepper and peas.  Simmer 2 minutes or until heated through.  Garnish with fresh basil and serve.  Serves 2 to 3.  Source:

GF Cooking Class in Salem, Oregon

Nancy is teaching more cooking classes at Vida Family Medicine in Salem, Oregon:

  • February 24:  Creating Gluten Free Casein Free (GFCF) Soups and Sauces:  Create variations on a basic white sauce without dairy or gluten.
  • March 31:  Embracing Greens:  Explore common and novel uses for nutritious greens.
  • April 28:   Un-cheese and egg-less:  Explore common egg replacers and nutritious approaches to cheese sauce and soup.
Each class costs $20.  To register, call 503-588-1400.

This post is linked to Hearth and Soul Hop, Tasty Tuesday, Slightly Indulgent TuesdayReal Food Wednesday, Pennywise Platter Thursday, Real Food Weekly.


  1. Great post, Meg! Thank you for continuing to bring awareness to the public about the connection to food and mental health.

  2. Your chicken and veg curry sounds so delicious, such an informative post, thank you for sharing it w/ us at the hearth and soul hop this week =)

  3. Thank you! It's kind of sad that when people have mental health issues, they only look at medications and maybe some psychology related solutions. We are affected so much by the food that we eat and if we don't give our bodies what they need, how can they function properly? I really hope that someone is able to pass on the information you provided to that family!

  4. this is great information. I know my emotional issues cleared up when I removed my food sensitivities from my diet. I've read some information on links between celiac disease and schizophrenia. Your curry dish sounds delicious!

  5. Thank you for pointing out the connection between food allergies/sensitivities and "mental" illness, and at the same time, supplying such wonderful recipe ideas!

    There are so many families Oprah could interview instead in which the child's "mental" illness was obviously neither their fault nor the fault of parenting, but simply a matter of the child being SICK. Strange how inflammation anywhere but the brain is understood as physical, but not when the inflammation affects that other vital organ. Last time I checked, it was still a part of the BODY.

  6. I am a 57 year old woman who has been struggling with continous, subjective vertigo for 9 1/2 months now. Having read that vertigo could be related to a gluten intolerance, I have been gluten free for 4 weeks and, although slightly eased, the veritgo is not gone. I am also diabetic and reconciling the two diets is NOT easy.
    I am the cook for a household of 3 adults and cooking two separate meals - with the necessary care to do one gluten free - is wearing very thin. I am ready to abandon the gluten free diet because I am not seeing the results I had hoped for.
    I am also experiencing mild depression because of the numerous health issues that have "attacked" me over the last year and a half. What I have mentioned is only part of the story.
    Should I be looking at this situation from another point of view? I don't mean to whine but I guess I am.

  7. Mizzfreckle, I'm sorry to hear you've had a rough year. I highly recommend finding a medical professional you trust to help you figure out the root of your problems. Eliminating gluten did not solve all of my problems either - I had to eliminate dairy, sugar and some other foods as well. Other issues, such as low thyroid and adrenal hormones, nutritional deficiencies and toxicity can also play a role. A good doctor, naturopath, or other alternative care provider can help you sort through these issues. Feel free to contact me on facebook or by e-mail if you need help finding someone, or check out the resources on the medical help page.

  8. Love Nancy Ludwig! I agree, she should have been on Oprah...

  9. Great recipe, I added some chili powder to make it more spicy. Thanks.


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