Based on current, numerous research, it’s safe to say that to reach and nurture physical and mental health, we must make it our job to ensure the trillions of microbes residing in our gut are healthy, happy and very well fed, with their favourite little foods!
But, how is it that these tiny microbes play such a vital role in our overall health? It can be difficult to understand the magnitude of something we never see. Imagine if we were to walk around completely see-through, seeing right into the makeup of the human body, you would quickly come to the conclusion that cell for cell, we are all mostly just bacteria.
There is a two way street of communication between the brain and gut, which is known as the gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis is at the development of human health and cutting edge research.
There is a two way street of communication between the brain and gut, which is known as the gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis is at the development of human health and cutting edge research. With continuous emerging insight, researchers now understand the difference between a wrong mix of bacteria in the gut and a healthy one – as well as the specific factors that shape these differences! A simple way to understand it; think of gut community in healthy people as a rainforest – brimming with many different lively flourishing species. The forest in ‘unhealthy’ individuals has far less diversity and growth, linking to neuropsychological, metabolic, and gastrointestinal disorders. Depression, autism, obesity, inflammation, increased insulin resistance and irritable bowel syndrome are just some examples of what an unhealthy bacteria environment may lead to.
Therefore, your gut and your emotions are also a two-way street. They both have the potential to negatively affect one another, so addressing the state of your mental health — not just the food you eat — is incredibly important. The brain can exert profound influences on the gut — with feedback effects on behaviour. Our micbrome health can lead to a range of complex behaviours; mood & emotion, appetite and satiety, learning and memory and our individual response to stress. Numerous studies have shown that psychological stress suppresses beneficial bacteria. Additionally, the hormones secreted during a stress response contribute to the overgrowth of bad bacteria.
Heartfelt’s Key to Physical & Mental Health Through Gut-Brain Axis:
You’ve heard it many times by now, “the gut is our second brain”. 90% of neurotransmitters (aka chemical messengers in the body) are responsible for mood being produced in the gut. With this information, it is clear that any type of stress has a powerful impact on our gut health. If our microbes are out of balance, you may be able to connect that your mind and mood are as well, contributing to anxiety, depression, fatigue or brain fog. Practice being mindful. Slow down, eat mindfully and be practice being present.
Nourish the good bacteria in you have in your gut to flourish your gut garden! You do this through consuming probiotic foods to contribute to the health and balance of the intestinal tract and healthy bacteria. Experiment and get creative by trying a new probiotic food to add into your daily diet!
Probiotic sources include:
- Live – cultured yogurt: Try making homemade!
- Miso soup: Made from fermented rye, beans, rice or barley, adding in a tablespoon of miso to some hot water makes an excellent, quick probiotic-rich soup.
- Sauerkraut: Made from fermented cabbage and rich in live healthy cultures.
- Kefir: Fermented dairy product, a combination of goat’s milk and fermented kefir grains. It is also rich in antioxidants.
- Kombucha: A form of fermented tea that contains a high amount of healthy gut bacteria. This drink has been used for centuries and is thought to increase energy, enhance wellbeing and help balance weight.
- Pickles: The less commercialized the better!
- Tempeh: I normally wouldn’t call soy a health food any longer as it’s mostly GMO, however, tempeh can be a great substitute for meat or tofu. It is a great fermented, probiotic-rich gain made from soy beans. A source of vitamin B12, this vegetarian food can be sautéed, baked, or eaten crumbled on a salad.
Now that you’re a pro with probiotics, what about prebiotics? Prebiotics may be just as essential to maintaining a healthy microbiome. Prebiotics are non-digestible compounds that help probiotics grow and thrive. For maximizing a healthy gut, it is important to eat prebiotic-rich foods. Here are some favourites to start incorporating in your diet:
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Dandelion greens (made up of 25% prebiotic fiber)
- Allium vegetables – garlic, onion, leeks, chives
- Whole-grain and sprouted-grain breads / Potato skins / Wheat germ (all a resistance starch, which promotes the production of butyrate – the preferred fuel source for gut repair, improving metabolism, reducing inflammation and nourishing gut lining)
- Apple cider vinegar (organic)
Back away from the sugar..
Simply put, consuming refined, processed sugar wreaks havoc on your gut and creates unhealthy microbiome. Refined sugar feeds the bad bacteria and prevents growth of good bacteria, along with robbing the body of any nutrients. Now hold up! Before you jump over to artificial sweeteners being the answer, research shows these fake sugars negatively change the microbiome too. Most artificial sweeteners are derived from synthetic chemicals leading to inflammation, blood sugar dysregulation, poor metabolism, obesity and even cancer. In many cases, these common artificial sweeteners that many people switch to, to avoid the calories and sugar effects, may actually end up being worse than sugar itself.
Stick to wholesome, real foods. Maintain health for your gut and brain by enjoying sweetness from natural sources such as:
- organic raw honey
- maple syrup
- unrefined stevia
And don’t forget about a few pieces of dark chocolate too… ! Because what’s life without a box of chocolates every now and then.
Jacqueline Jones, founder of Heartfelt, is a passionate, relatable, high-spirited and altruistic Holistic Nutritionist and Counsellor. She is boldly forging the way our society approaches food, body image and the way we influence ourselves and each other. She is an accomplished writer, speaker, expert, teacher and counsellor.