Over the years of research, the chemistry of food has shown to directly impact mental health. Amongst other lifestyle factors, diet is now recognised as a “non-negotiable” factor in the prevention and treatment of mental illness (Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ clinical practice guidelines).
Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates said “All disease begins in the Gut”. Today nearly 2500 years later, the gut and its resident microbiota is shown to be critical for cognitive function and mental health.
So what defines a healthy gut bacterium and what dietary manipulation feeds your microbiota to positively influence your mood? Read below to find the answers.
Think about your gut as a rainforest, where various different species of “good” and “bad” bacteria, fungi and viruses thrive. This is known as our gut microbiota. Many factors including our environment and genetics shape the composition of your gut microbiota. These factors are difficult to manage and can’t be changed. However, the food you consume has a direct association between the existence and variety of your gut microbiota and most importantly it can be changed.
How to feed your microbiota
Where do we get fibre from? Plant foods such as vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
How much do we need? The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends to consume between 25 to 30 grams of fibre per day.
What are the benefits? When fibre rich foods are consumed, the gut microbiota produces short-chain-fatty-acids (SCFAs). These provides you with extra energy that you need to get on with the day as well as regulating your immune system, reducing inflammation, assisting with cognitive outcomes and help strengthening the blood brain barrier.
Practical Tips? Swap your morning bread to a wholegrain variety and add 2 colours from either fruit or vegetables to every meal.
Where do we get probiotics from? Fermented foods such as yoghurt (with live active cultures), kefir, miso, kombucha and sauerkraut.
How much do we need? There is no defined quantity of probiotics that is recommended to be consumed. Greater than 1 billion CFU (colony forming units) / day has been noted in studies.
What are the benefits? Probiotic foods are designed to help add “good” bacteria into the gut which enables a larger amount and variety of bacteria producing beneficial compounds for the body’s functions. Multi-strain probiotic formulas have been shown to have a greater effect on mood rather than only lactobacillus.
Practical Tips? Add kefir into your morning cereal or drink Kombucha as an alternative to other beverages that serve no benefit in the body
Where do we get polyphenols from? Spices, dark chocolate, tea, berries, vegetables and red wine are some of the best-known sources
How much do we need? Due to the lack of research in humans a recommended amount per day can’t be provided. However, it is important to know that only 5-10% is absorbed in our small intestine with the remaining polyphenols making its way to our large intestine where it is fermented.
What are the benefits? Polyphenols if absorbed into the gut has been shown to improve beneficial gut bacteria. A greater intake has been linked to decreasing depression and increasing mood.
Practical Tips? Spice up your meals with turmeric, load up your plate with veggies and eat modest amounts of chocolate.
There are many more foods that can positively impact your mood however focusing your attention to improving your gut microbiota will ensure you feel happier and healthier 🙂