Food for Thought (Literally…)

 

Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach? Or made a decision based on your ‘gut feeling’?

These signals are indicators of a strong brain-gut connection. The GI tract, which extends from your esophagus to your rectum, is lined with nerve cells that make up the enteric nervous system (ENS). ENS, also called the second brain, is responsible for the sensations and ‘feeling’ in your stomach.

What does this mean?

In simple terms, our brain and gut are linked by the vagus nerve through which they talk to each other - 

The brain influences the kind of bacteria present in your stomach.
The gut health affects emotional behaviour in the brain.
Why does this matter to you?
When not given the care and importance it deserves, it can result in a downward spiralling vicious cycle - Bad gut health can lead to a negative impact on your emotions, which then aid mood swings, and other mental health problems. That in turn, leads your brain to alter the kind of bacteria in your stomach, creating a snowball effect. 
BUT, on the other hand, you can use this awareness to reap the compounding benefits. 
Here are 5 foods to put the compound effect of good gut health in motion, resulting in a happier and less stressed you:

1. Fatty Acids

Fatty acids are found in fatty fish, flaxseed, canola and soybean oil, nuts (especially walnuts) and leafy vegetables. These are a great source of Omega 3, which help, among other things, in better behavioural function. Deficiency of the same is linked with mood swings, depression and fatigue. 

2. Antioxidants

Antioxidants help in repairing cells and also help lessen the destructive effects of free radicals in your body, especially the brain. By reducing the negative impact of free radicals, antioxidants have been found to assist in improving symptoms of anxiety. Foods rich in antioxidants are blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, apricots, walnuts and kale. These are easy to add to your everyday diets in the forms of shakes, oats, snacks and many other creative ways that are a few clicks away. 

3. Probiotics

A popular source of probiotics that we regularly consume for the benefit of a smoothly running digestive system is yogurt. Adding to this benefit, recent studies have shown that probiotics aid in lowering stress levels, anxiety and depression.

4. More Leafy Greens

“Eat your greens” - we have all heard that innumerable number of times and we might even catch ourselves saying that. Green vegetables have many physical health benefits that we have all heard of, but it doesn’t just stop there, it crosses over to mental health as well. Vegetables like kale, spinach and collard greens are key sources to not only improve and build the cognitive ability of your brain but also to protect and nourish it. 

5. Less Artificial/Processed Sugar

Sugar is widely known to provide short lived satisfaction and happiness because of a sugar high but is also known to come with a crash. Too much sugar intake not only causes an imbalance in your emotions but too is also found to decrease a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), this decrease is involved in the development of depression and anxiety. Common knowledge backed by recent scientific discovery urges you to lower your sugar intake to attain better physical and mental health.

These 5 food groups can create a huge impact on living a more full and holistic life. Recognise your unhealthy eating habits and substitute it with healthy options. There are millions of easy and free recipes available online. 

Anika Knüppel, researcher and PhD student at University College London, puts it the best - “Diet is a great way of active self-care and self-love — a key in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is often used to treat anxiety and depression. I believe seeing oneself as worthy of self-care and therefore worthy of being fed with nutritious food is a great step.”
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