With the gut playing such an important role in our mental health, diet is integral to maintaining balance and looking after our emotional wellbeing.
While certain foods give us energy, alter blood-sugar levels or impact hormone production – all of which can affect the way we feel on a day-to-day basis – some types of food are specifically beneficial to the microbiota of the gut and the gut-brain axis. These include:
Omega-3 fatty acids – Aside from having anti-inflammatory properties and aiding digestion, omega-3s can help promote the diversity and health of the gut’s good bacteria. They can also prevent or slow cognitive decline, so they’re essential to any diet.
Omega-3s can be found in oily fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel, as well as flaxseeds, walnuts and soy.
Fermented foods – Preserved in a way that boosts both the nutritional value and the shelf-life of certain produce, fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut and kefir contain healthy bacteria These are live healthy microbes that can be highly beneficial to healthy digestion.
Foods that are high in fibre – Fibre is vital to aiding digestion and maintaining a healthy gut. And prebiotic fibres are good for gut bacteria and stress reduction. These prebiotics can be found in nuts, seeds, whole grains (oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice), as well as fruits and vegetables.
Polyphenols – Polyphenols are a group of compounds or chemicals found in plants. They boost digestion and promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria. They’re found in all kinds of plant-based food and drink, including cocoa, green tea, berries, olive oil and coffee.
Amino acids – There are around 20 amino acids that the body needs to function. Some of these must be obtained via food as the body can’t produce them on its own. These include tryptophan, which helps make serotonin, and histidine, which helps create a neurotransmitter called histamine, which is important for digestion, immune function and sleep.
Foods that are high in these amino acids include lean meats, soy, fish, eggs and cheese.
We’ve examined more examples of the foods and eating habits that can affect our mood in our article, Food to fuel your feelgood.
And, while diet is key, it’s not the only thing we need to think about when managing out gut health. Sleep, exercise, lifestyle choices, habits and stress all play an important role. Our article, The truth about gut health takes a wider look at how we can maintain gut health, while debunking some common myths.
- The Brain-Gut Connection - Hopkins Medicine
- Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut-brain communication - NIH
- The Gut-Brain Axis - NIH
- The Microbiota–Gut–Brain Axis in Depression - NIH
- Omega-3 fatty acid report - Nature Science Journal