Our digestive tract is filled with bacteria and a whole bunch of nerves. The gut has a “brain” called the enteric nervous system, where it hosts an estimated 500 million neurons. The brain and gut neurons are directly connected (via the vagus nerve) which is why we can feel “butterflies in our stomach” when we are faced with a stressful situation.
The gut bacteria also plays a major role in our gray matter function (the part of our brain responsible for muscle control, perception, speech and emotion). Research has shown that the microbiome influences our brain, affecting the way we think and feel. Certain strains of beneficial bacteria can even produce many mood-boosting chemicals used in brain signalling, including dopamine, serotonin and GABA.
Needless to say, when our bodies aren’t feeling great, our state of mind can also take a hit. However, there are three things we can do to keep our body strong, healthy and in turn, nourish the mind.
Support the good bacteria
Refined foods can impair the growth of beneficial bacteria by feeding the ones that the body doesn’t want. To promote the production of beneficial bacteria strains, try to eat more natural probiotics. As well as being great for the gut, it can help support increased secretion of positive, mood-boosting brain chemicals.
Foods to include: Yoghurt and fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and miso, as well as prebiotics, including onions, garlic, leeks and chicory.
Don’t skip out on fats and protein
Turkey, chicken, eggs, avocado, brazil nuts and oily fish all have a powerful impact on our mental state. Other foods include bananas, dark leafy greens and beetroot. These are sources of precursor amino acids and vitamins and minerals, which convert into mood-boosting chemicals.
Put your phone down!
Chewing slowly and thoroughly allows the digestive enzymes in our saliva to break down food and allow the body to fully absorb all the nutrients. This also introduces us to mindful eating, which can have a soothing effect on the nervous system.
Instead of taking a phone call, watching television or scrolling through Facebook when eating, chew your food slowly, appreciate the taste and fully focus on the meal. By practicing mindful eating, you can bring the body into a more “rest and digest” state.