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Nutrition

Nutrition

 

Supporting your mental health with good gut health

Recent research suggests that there’s a significant link between a healthy gut, and positive mental health. Essentially, our food contributes to not only physical health and appearance, but has a huge influence on brain functionality, brain health, mental health and wellbeing.

You may have heard the phrase ‘your gut instinct’ before, and there is more truth to this saying than previously thought. Your gut plays a huge part in your mood, reactions and of course, how you feel physically. This is down to the good gut bacteria, your gut flora, or gut microbiota.

As Nutritional Therapist and Holistic Practitioner, Jane Snooks, explains, having an unhealthy gut could leave you susceptible to low mood.

“Research is increasingly suggesting links between an unhealthy gut and our mental health. Low levels of serotonin are linked to mental health ailments such as depression and anxiety. As humans, we produce up to 90% of our serotonin in our digestive systems. When our guts are in distress through poor dietary choices, serotonin production can be altered as a result.”

 

Ideally, we want to be eating foods that contain a high level of tryptophan, an essential amino acid which contributes to the production of serotonin. Serotonin, often referred to as the ‘happy hormone’ helps to regulate mood and is essential for transmitting positive signals throughout the nervous system. Serotonin doesn’t naturally occur in food, but tryptophan does.

Probiotics and prebiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria that live in the gut, rebalancing the good gut bacteria count. This bacteria can be upset by medication, particularly antibiotics, increased stress and sleep deprivation. Aside from food intolerances and allergies, often the levels of good bacteria in our gut can be managed by diet.

 

Prebiotics, the non-digestible foods that act as food for your probiotics, play a vital role in keeping your gut healthy. They aid good digestion, help to grow populations of healthy bacteria and enable the production of vital vitamins.

 

So in order for the gut to flourish and keep your emotional well-being supported, you need a variety of diverse bacteria, gained from eating a well-balanced diet.
Jane says,

“Making healthy dietary choices by decreasing inflammatory foods such as sugar, caffeine, alcohol and heavily processed ingredients, whilst adding in foods rich in omega 3, B vitamins and a diversity of fruit and vegetables can help. Tryptophan can be found in foods such as salmon, chicken, turkey, eggs, spinach, seeds and nuts.”

 

Five foods to put you in a good mood

 

Fish: salmon and tuna

Cold-water fish including tuna, herring, mackerel and salmon are high in B-vitamins which have been linked to the production of serotonin. Helping balance cholesterol and lower blood pressure, eating just one portion of salmon a week will fulfil your body’s need for omega-3. As our brains are made up of 60% dry weight (fat) and half of this is omega-3 (related to keeping brain cells flexible so the neurotransmitters can transfer messages effectively) our omega-3 intake is essential for ensuring adequate serotonin is delivered throughout the body.

Meat substitutes: organic, non-GMO soy products

Soy products are good meat and lactose substitutes for vegetarians and vegans, a source of healthy protein and contain the amino acid tryptophan. Soy products are rich in insoluble fibre, which helps promote healthy, regular bowel movements and keeps you feeling fuller for longer. Popular soy products include tofu, tempeh and miso.

Tempeh, made from fermented soy, is an excellent source of probiotic. As far as healthy gut foods go, fermented foods are the least expensive and best performers, containing millions of good bacteria.

Veggies: leafy greens, cauliflower and cucumber

It’s hard to go wrong with fresh veggies, as they not only provide a balanced diet, they are loaded with a wealth of vitamin and nutrient intake. They can even protect against certain types of cancer.

Cucumbers, in particular, contain a high count of magnesium which helps to regulate the nervous system to transmit messages, and works to convert food to energy; both essential when you are struggling with your mental health. Magnesium has also been linked to improving cases of depression and reducing feelings of anxiety thanks to its ability to relax muscles.

Fruits: bananas and pineapple 

Aside from a naturally high count of potassium that aids muscle activity, particularly the heart and circulatory system, bananas are a great source of tryptophan.

Pineapples are another fruit that contains surplus health benefits. Eaten in moderation, pineapples, naturally high in water and fibre, are effective in preventing constipation and ensuring a regular, healthy digestive tract. Unlike other popular fruits, pineapples are high in the anti-inflammatory bromelain, a naturally occurring enzyme that’s been linked to the prevention of cancer.

Seeds and nuts: cashews, pistachios and almonds

All nuts and seeds are naturally high in tryptophan and help to keep your blood sugar level stable. Chia seeds are particularly helpful as they contain omega-3. Butternut squash seeds are an excellent source of tryptophan and were even used in a recent study of those suffering with social phobia, in which a significant reduction in anxiety levels was recorded. To boost your tryptophan intake, simply a handful a day with a variety of nuts and seeds would be sufficient.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, these are some simple adjustments that could help you with low mood. It is always important to speak with your doctor if you decide to make significant diet changes.

Know that support is available and you don’t have to suffer in silence. You can contact Mind’s Crisis Support team 24/7 or speak to a professional counsellor via Counselling Directory.

Written by Katie from Nutritionist Resource, an online nutritional support resource connecting individuals to nutritional therapists and expert advice.

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North Kent Mind's fee-paying counselling services can also be found on The Counselling Directory

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