Does eating more fruit make life more fun? Does munching on more lettuce lead to more laughs? More and more, the answer is “yes.”
Our brains work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and need a constant supply of “fuel” from the foods we eat. The brain and body function better on a diet of nutritious foods. This includes vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, nuts, fish, seafood and lean meats. Research has shown that people who follow this Mediterranean-style diet can have a lower rate of heart disease. More recently, we are learning how these same foods can work to boost mental health.
Mind your gut
Studies from the National Institutes of Health have found links between dietary patterns, gut health and chronic disease. Nutritional psychiatry is a relatively new field. It works to improve mental health through the foods we eat.
When the gut works correctly, diverse and healthy bacteria help the body. The bacteria processes food, creates energy, clears toxins and fights against disease. The types of bacteria in the gut have also been linked to boosting mental well-being. Researchers studying the “brain-gut connection” focus on how the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. They study how it is like a second brain that communicates with the brain in our heads. The GI tract includes the microbiome, made up of trillions of tiny organisms called microbes. Each of us has a unique microbiome based on our DNA and shaped by what we eat.
The microbes help digest the food we eat. They also create chemicals that work as messengers in our bodies. Two of those chemicals produced in the gut are dopamine and serotonin. They help regulate mood and emotion. Serotonin is a mood-boosting hormone. It helps to regulate sleep, memory, stress, appetite and mood and inhibit pain. About 95 percent of serotonin is produced in the GI tract.
So, it makes sense that what we put in our stomachs would affect how the microbiome works. In turn, this could affect how the rest of the body functions and feels. This brain-gut connection is also a two-way street. For example, stress can also cause changes in the microbiome.
Good mood foods
Eating a balanced diet that supports the body and mind takes a little education with planning and some preparation. But the results are well worth it. Be sure to talk with your doctor about what foods are best for you.
The Academy of Culinary Nutrition suggests adding these additional mood-boosting foods into meal planning:
- Almonds, walnuts
- Bell peppers
- Chia, pumpkin and sunflower seeds
- Dark leafy greens: spinach, kale, collards, Swiss hard, mustard greens
- Fermented foods: sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, dairy-free yogurt
- Ghee (clarified butter)
- Strawberries, oranges, mangoes
- Sunflower seeds
- Sweet potatoes
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