The gut doesn’t just play a role in keeping usphysically healthy— it also has an impact on our mental health.
In an interview with CBS News, Dr. Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist and author of “This is Your Brain on Food,” explained the gut-brain connection and how you can support it with your diet.
“The gut and brain (connection) is really new burgeoning scientific work that’s come out over the last couple of decades — although Hippocrates eons ago spoke about it,” she says. “But what we understand is that the gut and brain arise from the exact same cells in the human embryo, so they are connected even from our early development. Then they are connected by the vagus nerve throughout our lives.”
The vagus nerve is our 10th cranial nerve, which she describes as a “text messaging system between the brain and the gut, sending messages all the time — communicating chemical messages.”
One of the things that affects these chemical messages? The food we eat.
“On days that we’re eating those healthier foods, they are nurturing and taking care of the good microbes in the gut,” Naidoo says, whereas when we eat processed and fast foods, the “bad microbes are taken care of,” upsetting the balance in the gut.
How to support the gut-brain connection through food
One of the best things you can do support your “food-mood” connection is to clean up your diet, Naidoo says, starting off with fiber.
Naidoo explains fiber is “extremely important for the gut microbes, because that’s what helps them thrive.”
She suggests getting fiber from elements of the Mediterranean diet or a plant-rich diet with vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes and healthy whole grains.
“You can’t actually get fiber from animal sources of protein, so lean into those veggies,” she says, pointing to clean proteins as a good option and healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids.
If you’re plant-based, you can get a short chain omega-3s from chia seeds and flax seeds.
The bottom line: Lean into healthy, whole foods.
“Think about eating the whole orange — skip the store-bought orange juice, which has a ton of added sugars,” she says, adding that the “standard American diet” is shortened to “SAD” for a reason.