Did you know, more messages are sent from the gut to the brain than the other way around? Yep, the number of nerves in the gut far outnumber the number of nerves in the spinal cord.
So, if there are more messages transmitted from the gut, it’s important to optimise our diet and our gut health to ensure those messages are as positive as possible, right?
Unfortunately, during times of stress and anxiety it can be common to reach for comfort foods or eat mindlessly. For some, stress and anxiety can cause a loss of appetite and the loss of key nutrients in the diet. Often, these two habits aren’t beneficial for long-term mental health and overall health compared to eating healthy foods.
While there is no one superfood to cure mental illness, stress or anxiety, there are particular nutrients to be aware of that are beneficial for mental health. Try to include these regularly in your diet to reap the benefits.
Foods to choose
Diet patterns high in high fibre foods such as vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, nuts and seeds have been shown to support immune function and gut health through feeding of the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut, and through producing short chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) that support immune function. We know that this communication between the gut and the brain, and the immune cells and the brain could be important in mental health. Additionally, wholegrains foods contain the amino acid tryptophan which the body requires to produce serotonin, a chemical that contributes to mood. Tryptophan also has an important role when it comes to getting to sleep.
2. Colour (vegetables and fruit)
Have you ever heard the saying “eat the rainbow”? The reason for this saying is that different coloured fruit and vegetables provide different micronutrients (vitamins and antioxidants), so eating a variety of colours provides a range of nutrients needed in the body for optimal health. In particular, antioxidants help to reduce oxidative stress in the body which has been linked with mental health outcomes.
3. Healthy fats
The Mediterranean Diet is abundant with healthy fats and has been consistently linked with better health outcomes, including brain health and mental health. Omega-3 fatty acids in particular have anti-inflammatory characteristics and help the body to circulate serotonin and dopamine, chemicals that can help to boost mood and reduce anxiety.
4. Fermented foods
Fermented foods are thought to have an influence on mood and emotions due to their probiotic properties, improved bioavailability of nutrients and potential anti-inflammatory properties.
Foods to limit
On the other hand, there are particular nutrients that can have a negative impact on our mood and mental wellbeing. Eating foods high in added sugars and saturated fats can have a pro-inflammatory effect in the body, especially when consumed regularly in large amounts this can lead to weight gain, which is a risk factor for mental illness. Excess caffeine and alcohol can heighten feelings of stress and anxiety and may impact sleep, negatively impacting mental wellbeing.