More and more people these days are struggling with anxiety or depression, whether this is due to stress from work or a relationship, caused by a chemical imbalance or a hereditary factor, it can be very debilitating.
If you are feeling depressed, anxious or angry the first solution that comes to mind is unlikely to be “I need some yogurt and sauerkraut to help with this.”
However this route may have more benefits in the long term than antidepressants. This is a recent area of research and yet again highlights the amazing and complex relationship your body has with food. This new area of science is often referred to as ‘the microbiome and mental health’ and looks at the intimate relationship between healthy gut bacteria and mood.
Research has shown that fermented foods and foods high in flavonoids (a type of phytochemical) make a huge contribution to gut health which in turn affects your mental outlook.
A branch of this research is known as ‘nutritional psychiatry’ and a number of studies have shown a direct link between diet and the risk of anxiety and depression.
Mainstream science has shown that signals from the gut reach different parts of the brain, the insula, the limbic system, the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, the hippocampus and the anterior cingulate cortex.
These areas of the brain can be roughly defined as being responsible for: self-awareness, emotion, morality, fear, memory, and motivation.
When your gut is ‘irritated’ its connection to your brain can lead to unpleasant ‘feelings’. People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have been shown to have increased activity in the emotional area of the brain associated with these unpleasant feelings.
If your gut health is closely related to your mental health and the best way to improve gut health is to eat food that promotes the good bacteria in your gut, you need to introduce new ‘eating habits’.
As with all eating habits they are, well ‘habits’ and it takes a little time and dedication to add new foods into your diet that may help with your mood and proneness to anxiety or depression. It is however quite easy to inject new food into your diet by having it ‘available’ and ‘accessible’.
I ferment my own sauerkraut (shown to be a very powerful source of good gut bacteria) which I put off doing for a while as I thought it would be difficult, as I had never done it before.
In all honesty it takes about 15 minutes to make 2 kilos of sauerkraut and then 2 weeks of leaving it alone to ferment at room temperature, refrigerating it and having a couple of tablespoons a day.
If you really don’t have the time then there are lots of shop bought alternatives available.
I have now bought some Kefir grains*, you add them to whole organic milk, leave overnight, strain them off (to use again) and you have a pint of kefir, a natural probiotic drink.
Refrigerate this and take a couple of swigs a day to get over 30 strains of good bacteria! You can also do this with coconut water.
* Kefir grains are little balls of yeast/bacteria that start fermentation.
It’s also available to buy at health food stores and on online.
Yogurt is probably one of the best known and most easily available probiotics and although it is not as powerful as sauerkraut or kefir, it is still a good start to improving your gut health.
Go for an organic natural yogurt and not a flavoured one with added sugar. You can always add your own fruit to boost it. See the best ones for flavonoids below.
There are also fermented milk drinks available on most supermarket isles.
Recent research has shown a link between flavonoids and your gut health with flavonoids having a role in regulating your gut microbes.
Now, you’ve probably heard that dark chocolate is good for you and it’s because it's full of flavonoids. I go for cacao bean nibs (what chocolate is made from) as you only need a tiny amount to get your RDA (recommended daily amount) and red wine. You can also eat plums, apples, strawberries, cinnamon, parsley and tea to get a full range of the various flavonoids.
Every move I make to take control of my health and well being starts with looking at what I am eating and seeing if I am getting all my vitamins, minerals and omegas.
This is now closely followed by making sure I get a few mouthfuls of good bacteria each day as I want my digestion to be at its best. Your gut health is incredibly important for your body to absorb as many nutrients as possible and if a good mood results that for me is double bubble!
How do you know if you are getting enough?
The easiest way to keep a check on what you are eating and making sure that you get all of the nutrients you need is to keep a food diary.
Filling in a food diary not only tells you what you’re doing great on and what you’re missing out on, but more importantly it makes you think about what you are putting in your body on a daily basis. It helps you to remember to eat those important new foods you are adding to your diet for their probiotic qualities.
Remember if you look after your gut it will look after you!
How do you keep a food diary?
Simple sign up for a free trial here and start keeping a food diary today to reap the rewards.
Director - Nutrient expert, researcher & data miner
I am responsible for the scientific research and data oversight at the CheckYourFood Group. A great journey of discovery for me as I uncover the myriad of goodness that natural food contains and facilitate others to promote health and wellbeing.