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. That’s why 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 managing mental health long-term.
Foods to include to optimise mental health
Diet patterns high in fibre-rich foods, such as vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, have been shown to support immune function and gut health through feeding the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut, and through producing short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that support immune function. We know that this communication between the gut, the brain, and the immune cells could be important to mental health. Additionally, wholegrain foods contain the amino acid tryptophan which the body requires to produce serotonin, a chemical that contributes to mood. Tryptophan also plays an important role when it comes to sleep, as it is a precursor for melatonin.
FRUIT & VEGETABLES
Have you ever heard the saying “eat the rainbow”? The reason is that different coloured fruit and vegetables provide different nutrients (vitamins, minerals 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 better mental health outcomes.
The Mediterranean diet is abundant with healthy fats and has been consistently linked with better health outcomes, including brain and mental health. Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, have anti-inflammatory characteristics that help the body to circulate serotonin and dopamine, chemicals that can help to boost mood and reduce anxiety. So ensure you’re including plenty of oily fish, nuts, seeds, and extra virgin olive oil this festive season.
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. Fermented foods include tempeh, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, yoghurt and kombucha.
Foods to limit for improved mental health
On the other hand, there are particular foods that can have a negative impact on our mood and managing mental health. Eating excessive amounts of foods high in added sugars and saturated fats can have a pro-inflammatory effect in the body. Excess caffeine can heighten feelings of stress and anxiety and may impact sleep and negatively impact mental wellbeing in response. Too much alcohol can also negatively impact mental health due to being pro-inflammatory and a depressant.
Our founder, Chloe McLeod, has recently posted about this relationship between what we eat and our mental health. If you’re struggling and are open to a holistic-health treatment plan, consider booking an appointment with one of our Accredited Practising Dietitians.