You Are What You Eat! How To Increase Mental Health By Eating Well

The human gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, collectively known as the gut microbiome, which plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health. It is no secret that the food we eat has a significant impact on our gut health and, consequently, our mental health. In recent years, the relationship between food, gut health, and mental health has become a topic of intense research. In this article, we will explore the connection between food, gut health, and the best food to increase gut health and mental health.

The Gut-Brain Connection

The gut and brain are intimately connected through the gut-brain axis, a complex network of communication between the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system of the gut. The enteric nervous system is sometimes referred to as the “second brain” as it contains over 100 million neurons, more than the spinal cord, and uses many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain. The gut microbiome plays a vital role in this communication by producing neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, which affect mood, behavior, and cognitive function.

The gut microbiome also influences the immune system, which has been linked to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Chronic inflammation, which is associated with poor gut health, can cause damage to brain cells and increase the risk of developing mental health disorders.

The Best Foods for Gut Health

Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome requires a diverse range of foods that provide essential nutrients and prebiotics (fiber) that nourish the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Here are some of the best foods to include in your diet to promote gut health:

  1. Fermented Foods: Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, and yogurt contain beneficial bacteria that help to balance the gut microbiome.
  2. Prebiotic Foods: Prebiotic foods like garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, and bananas contain fiber that nourishes the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
  3. Fruits and Vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that have anti-inflammatory properties and can help to reduce gut inflammation.
  4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, have anti-inflammatory properties and can help to reduce gut inflammation.
  5. Whole Grains: Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and oats are a good source of fiber and can help to promote gut health.

The Best Foods for Mental Health

In addition to promoting gut health, a healthy diet can also benefit mental health. Here are some of the best foods to include in your diet to promote mental health:

  1. Leafy Greens: Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens are rich in folate, a B-vitamin that has been linked to a lower risk of depression.
  2. Berries: Berries like blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries are rich in antioxidants and have been linked to improved cognitive function.
  3. Nuts and Seeds
  4. Avoid Ultra Processed foods like frozen foods or food that contain ingredients most cooks would not use in the kitchen

References: The Link Between Highly Processed Foods and Brain Health, NY TIMES, May 4 2023.

Carabotti M, Scirocco A, Maselli MA, Severi C. The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Ann Gastroenterol. 2015 Apr-Jun;28(2):203-209. PMID: 25830558; PMCID: PMC4367209.

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