What we consume on a daily basis has a profound impact on how we feel, more so than many people realise. Food can help us to not only function better physically, but also mentally too.
What we eat can influence your mood, your energy levels and how clearly you think. This is down to what is referred to as the Gut-Brain Connection.
Gut health and the microbiome
The gut is often called the second brain and for good reason. There are more active neurons in your gut than your spinal cord, and we all know how important that is for human functioning.
Microbiome refers to the microorganisms living in our intestines. Dom Haigh, nutritionist at hero explains, “A person has around 300-500 million different species of bacteria in their digestive tract and it’s important that we keep our gut healthy so that we digest and absorb all the nutrients from the food we consume.
“Consistently consuming highly processed nutrient sparse foods will ultimately lead to poor gut health. As the gut is known as the second brain, this then impacts how we feel day to day mentally and physically. We create most of our serotonin in our gut which has a direct impact on how we feel day to day. Furthermore brain proteins called neuropeptides are also housed there and they play a big role in the communication along the gut brain axis.”
What foods should I eat?
In order to cultivate a healthy gut, it is important we focus on consuming plenty of wholesome and nutrient dense food. Ideally aim for 30-40g of daily fibre and stay hydrated. Plant based foods are beneficial, which can be consumed in conjunction with animal based products. Certain foods provide us with natural sources of pro and pre biotics.
Here are some foods to boost your mood:
full of Omega-3s play a key role in brain development
rich in compounds that may increase feel-good chemicals in your brain
which include kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut help to create probiotics in the gut
high in vitamin B6, which helps synthesize feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin
slow your digestion of carbs, allowing for a gradual release of sugar into the bloodstream to keep your energy levels stable
pack a wide range of antioxidants and phenolic compounds, which play a key role in combating oxidative stress
provides numerous compounds, including caffeine and chlorogenic acid, that may boost your mood. Research suggests that decaf coffee may even have an effect
Beans & Lentils
excellent source of B vitamins, which help improve mood
- Nuts & Seeds
- provide tryptophan, an amino acid responsible for producing mood-boosting serotonin
Should I avoid some foods to help my mood?
Foods high in sugar, fat, starch and salt release a chemical called dopamine. Temporary highs from eating junk foods ultimately lead to either eating more to recreate that feeling, or feelings of guilt having just consumed it. Dom says, “When it comes to eating food try to ensure that you are not stressed when doing so, moving from the sympathetic (fight or flight) to parasympathetic (rest and digest) state.
“The aim is to prepare the body to digest and absorb. Chewing food slowly aids the secretion of digestive enzymes. Better digestion of food leads to greater absorption of nutrients which in turn leads to improved mood and cognition.”
Dom advises, “Dopamine release makes us feel good, which is why many find it hard to resist snacking on such food. There’s nothing wrong with junk food in moderation, however at times when activity levels are lowered and stress/anxiety levels are raised, we need to ensure we are fuelling our body and mind with more wholesome and nutrient dense foods.”
Try switching your junk food snacks to fresh fruit or vegetables, to ensure your body can get the nutrients it needs.
The bottom line
You don’t necessarily have to completely avoid sugary drinks, refined carbs and highly processed foods. But be aware your diet definitely has a big impact on your brain health.
One of the best things you can do for your brain is to follow a diet rich in healthy, fresh whole foods.
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