5 Ways to Improve Your Mood – With Food!
Eating well. It’s something I encourage all my patients to do every day. Doing so not only improves gut function but also confers extraordinarily positive effects on your brain as well – you’re literally ‘feeding your head.” Turns out the wonderful, hard-working “microbiota,” the bacteria that live in the gut, impact not only digestion, weight, cellular function and energy, but also mood. Just as the wrong foods can make you feel listless and cranky, nutrient-dense foods can help lift your spirits and keep them on an even keel. Here’s some food for thought on the mind, mood and food connection – and why we all need to nourish our bodies and minds:
· Studies have established a link between digestive problems and depression in women. UCLA researcher Kristin Tillisch recently discovered that eating yogurt with live bacterial cultures in it changed the way women’s brain lit up on a functional MRI study.
· Gut bacteria can influence the production, overseen by the brain, of hormones that regulate hunger. A whole new line of research has opened up, suggesting that bacteria may be able to manipulate human cravings. “Friendly” bacteria may steer us toward the healthy foods that it (and we) thrive on, “unfriendly” bacteria toward the junk food aisles in the supermarket. As a recent research paper out of the University of California San Francisco puts it, gut bacteria have the “means, motive and opportunity” to influence how we eat!
· Excess stress and an overproduction of stress hormones can change the environment inside the gut, causing unfriendly bacteria to flourish at the expense of the friendly. One likely result: poor food choices, followed by weight-gain and digestive upset.
· Gluten sensitivity, brought on at least in part by a microbiota lacking in numbers and diversity of species, can create a systemic inflammation that is felt in the brain. Common symptoms include fatigue, “brain fog,” depression and anxiety. For many people, reducing exposure to gluten or eliminating it altogether can clear up cognitive issues relatively quickly, safely and without prescription drugs.
· One thing that sugar and caffeine have in common is their ability to undermine your mental and physical well-being. Sure, both sugar and caffeine give you a quick lift, but it’s then followed by a crash, and cravings for more of both to prop you back up again. The result? An exhausting, all-day mental and physical roller-coaster ride that’s also hard on your gut.
In my “Mind, Mood and Food” classes, students are often surprised by how direct the correlation between gut health and brain health can be. And once they recognize the connection, it becomes a lot harder to mindlessly eat foods that are going to undermine your mood – and that’s a good thing! So what are the foods that help keep your gut happy and spirits high? Here are a few of my favorites:
· Fermented foods – which have been shown to enhance the power of the nutrients as well as introducing friendly bacteria into the gut
· Herbs and spices – with healing, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-microbial and/or anti-fungal properties, such asginger, peppermint, turmeric (curcumin) and black pepper
· Oily fish – once or twice a week to help regulate mood and keep inflammation at bay
· Nuts – just a small daily handful (about 10 nuts) to promote blood flow to the brain
· Legumes – tasty, filling and rich in B vitamins, which can help boost mood
· Crucifers & Dark greens – like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale to support healthy detoxification and ultimately, brain function
For more tips on boosting mood with food, check out my post on 8 Tips for Brain Health.