We’ve all heard the phrase “you are what you eat,” and recent studies have proven this to be truer than ever. Studies have shown that the gut actually acts as a sort of “second brain” by producing around 95 percent of the total serotonin (the “happiness” neurotransmitter) that our bodies use each day. This is why diet can actually have a huge effect on mental health. The food that we eat each day has a direct effect on the way we feel. Whether it’s a sugar rush or an energy crash, everything we eat is digested and affects our body and brain along the way.
This is why it is so important to feed our bodies natural, nutrient-rich food. This type of diet can actually improve the way our brains deal with stressors. It works by eliminating damaging free radicals that impede the brain’s ability to adapt to stressful situations. The nutrients found in certain whole foods can decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression by keeping our brains fully-functioning.
How Does Stress Affect Us?
Stress can manifest as a variety of symptoms, including stiffness, headaches, lack of motivation, soreness, and lack of sleep. It can look different in each person, but it usually affects mental, emotional, and physical health all at once. With nearly 18% of Americans affected by anxiety every day, this is clearly a serious issue that is impacting our day-to-day lives.
Our digestive tract, in particular, is sensitive to stress and anxiety. The Institute of Stress even reported that 34 percent of people who experience daily stress say it has caused negative effects on their stomachs. When the body perceives stress or danger, it releases a craving for fatty and sugary foods. These foods can be quickly digested for an energy boost.
However, consuming large quantities of these unhealthy foods actually ends up damaging the gut’s lining and increasing stress on the brain. Since eliminating all daily stressors is a near-impossible task, eating healthy is one of the things we can do to prevent gut damage and improve mental health.
The Gut + Brain Connection
As everything we eat eventually makes its way to the brain, a diet heavy in fats and sugars will not only inflame the gut but will inflame the brain as well. Inflammation in the brain can cause mood swings, anger, and irritability. These symptoms are made even worse when combined with digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
Exercising regularly, removing stressors, and eating healthy are the best ways to improve the gut microbiome, and therefore our mental health as well. A diet rich in micronutrients can help the body function better and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. While it’s always important to discuss with your doctor regarding your personal health history, a whole foods-based diet is an excellent way to start on your own.
Foods for Anxiety
From the nutrition experts at Snap Kitchen, below are 13 mood-boosting foods and when to eat them for the best results: