A healthy gut has a direct connection to our brain. What we eat does in fact, fuel our mood and state of mind.
More than ever, people are courageously coming forward to talk about their struggles with depression, anxiety, stress and mood thanks to stigmas being erased around mental health. However, many don’t realize mental health requires a whole body approach for prevention and treatment, and nutrition plays an important role.
Depression. Anxiety. Stress. Mood.
All of these can be linked to the health of your Enteric Nervous System – also known as your gut, your digestive system and your “second brain”.
You see, the human body is so amazing that we actually have two nervous systems.
The Central Nervous System
The Central Nervous System is the one we are most familiar with. It includes the brain and spine, and is responsible for the majority of your conscious thinking as well as the automated functions of your organs, reflexes, body metabolism and more.
The Enteric Nervous System
The Enteric Nervous System (ENS) is found in your gut. Here, over 100 million neurons live within your intestines. Not only do they control the digestion of fats, proteins and carbohydrates, they also produce hormones like serotonin (a precursor to happiness), cortisol (stress), grehlin and leptin (hunger), insulin (blood sugar balance) and more.
When the ENS is out of balance, we can experience imbalances elsewhere in the body – including the brain - because we are not breaking down and absorbing vitamins/minerals/proteins/fats we need to thrive. The body enters a state of fight and inflammation, which undermines our performance, our mood, our relationships and our ability to think clearly.
Symptoms of poor gut health
Symptoms of imbalances include:
A white coated tongue
Undigested food fragments in stool
Lack of energy
Pain and inflammation
Weight gain or loss
Food or chemical sensitivities
Indicators of good digestion? One to two well-formed, chestnut-brown bowel movements a day (that don’t smell) and NO undigested particles.
Top food to improve mood
The path and protocol to improving and supporting mental health is not straightforward – it differs from person to person, depending on your overall health history.
Nutrition alone is not a substitute for professional counselling. Sometimes medication or natural supplements are absolutely necessary to keep us on track. However, good nutrition should be a no brainer for those looking to fuel their emotional well being.
Have a daily dose of dark chocolate. You heard me. It's rich in polyphenols and antioxidants and that's good for the brain. Be careful of milk - there is often added sugars, which will cause the opposite effect.
Omega 3s (healthy fats) feed the brain and nervous systems, skin health, energy, heart and more. Good quality sources include cold water fish, flax oil, nuts/seeds, chia, hemp hearts, avocado, olive oil and leafy greens.
Lean, quality protein provides the building blocks to essential amino acids - precursors to mood regulating hormones. Turkey, chicken, cold-water fish, Greek yogurt, beef, lamb, lentils, beans, etc. are all good choices.
A diet high in vegetables, fruit and fibre keeps the “pipes clean” and avoids the build up of bacteria and toxins that can hijack health and mood.
Probiotics and probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut and kimchi help keep the enteric system populated with good bacteria to ensure optimum health.
Choose tea over coffee. Recent studies show the natural combination of l-theanine and caffeine naturally found in tea improves mood and productivity. L-theanine has a calming effect while the caffeine provides a natural perk. Tea also reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s by up to 86% for those with genetic preconditions (National University of Singapore).
Avoid processed foods and food marketed as “diet”. They can contain excitotoxins used as flavour enhancers, like MSG, hydrolyzed proteins, aspartame, cysteine, aspartic acid, and up to 65 other known substances. They basically “excite” neurons in our brains to death. Yes, neurons die all because we want the ultimate taste experience from mass marketed food, leaving the rest of our brain to pick up the pieces.
Sugar is a mood-snatcher in disguise. It can trick you into feeling better and then it pulls the rug out from under your feet. Read more about the sugar-hormone connection. This blog is more fat-loss related, but it discusses how sugar impacts insulin, which impacts adrenals, which impacts our "feel good" hormones over the long term.
Be mindful of HOW you eat. Digestion begins in the mouth, so slow down and CHEW your food to the consistency of peanut butter. If you swallow pieces whole, you are not setting yourself up for success – only digestive distress.