“Gut and Mental Health Connection| The Gut Guru Guide” by Strong Nutrition
Statistics by the Canadian Mental Health Association show that 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. This number is staggering and we as a community need to come together and chat about the Gut and Mental Health Connection.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week in Canada and it is time to #getloud about what we can do to help. I know as a Nutritionist, that there is not a day in my clinic that a client does not share that they are stressed, on overload and/or taking medications to help them cope.
So how exactly is it that what we eat or don’t eat directly affects mental health?
Like your brain, the gut has its own nervous system, which sends information to the brain via nerves. This helps explain why you might feel queasy when you’re nervous or stressed. Just as the brain impacts the gut, what we put in our gut can impact the functioning of the brain. A few simple changes to our diet may reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.
5 Foods to Improve Your Gut and Mental Health Connection:
Since our brains are made up largely of fat and our bodies cannot manufacture essential fatty acids, we have to rely on a diet rich in omega-3s to meet our daily needs or with supplementation.
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild cold water fish (e.g. salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel), seaweed, chicken (flax seed fed) and walnuts are great choices. Omega-3s can have an effect on the production of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals responsible for our moods) including serotonin. Add these foods at least 2-3x week to your diet and talk to us about supplementation that is best for you to improve your mood.
2. Whole Grains and Complex Carbohydrates
Our brain receives its main source of energy from glucose, which comes from carbohydrates. When we consume simple carbohydrates that create spikes in blood sugar they can add to a low mood. In my clinic, I discuss with my clients the effects of these simple sugars. The roller coaster of emotions and cravings caused by these spikes in blood sugar lead to poor choices and emotional overload. By contrast, complex carbs release glucose slowly, helping us feel full longer and providing a steady source of fuel for the brain and body. Healthy sources of complex carbohydrates include quinoa, brown rice, bulgur, oats, wild rice, barley and beans.
3. Lean and Clean Protein
Next to carbohydrates, protein is the most abundant substance in the body. The amino acid tryptophan, a building block of protein, influences mood by producing the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Serotonin is associated with depression. Lean protein sources, including fish, turkey, chicken and eggs help keep serotonin levels balanced. Along with complex carbohydrates, which actually facilitate the entry of tryptophan into the brain, lean and clean protein sources can help reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. The addition of lean protein will also help manage and stabilize your blood level spikes making you feel more in control and reduce cravings.
4. More Greens
Your mom was right. Eat your leafy greens such as spinach, romaine, turnip and mustard greens, and broccoli. They are high in folic acid and B vitamins. The research is out there and deficiencies in folate as well as other B vitamins have been linked with higher rates of depression and fatigue.
Eat your greens!
5. Fermented Foods
Fermented foods, such as plain yogurt with active cultures, kefir, kimchi, tempeh and certain pickled vegetables, contain probiotics (healthy bacteria) which have been shown in studies to reduce anxiety and stress hormones. I also see many clients eating too many processed foods. This may compromise the delicate balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria in the gut. Stick to these fermented foods to increase the health of your gut and ultimately your mental health.
Looking for tasty gut promoting recipes? Check out my recipe book for Stress and Anxiety: Little Book of Big Flavours.
Understanding the gut and mental health connection and why this makes sense is super important to us at Strong Nutrition. Give me a shout and #getloud about mental health. You deserve this!
In best health,
For questions, feel free to contact us here!
Photo courtesy of: Benjamin Combs