In our bodies, the Vagus nerve is one of the longest nerves on the left and right side, originating from the bottom of the brain stem and extends down to the chest and abdomen. This nerve links the gut to the brain, and this anatomical connection may help us understand the effect that diet has on the brain and mental wellbeing.
The gut, or the gastrointestinal tract, is a carefully balanced and unique microbiome of beneficial bacteria that helps us digest and process the foods we eat. More than 500 million neurons have been found in the gut, so when some tells you to go with your gut instinct, it literally means trust the thoughts that come from your gut, they are real!
If we disrupt delicate balance of microbiome in the gut with processed high-fat high-sugar foods that are prevalent in fast foods and canned items, it follows that this could potentially have a detrimental effect on one’s mental wellbeing, as the gut becomes muddled starts sending the wrong messages to the brain. Therefore, it is incredibly important to put the right fuel in your tank, not only to promote a healthy body but also to promote a healthy mind.
What the research says
Nutritional psychiatry is an emerging field in health science that studies how the food we eat impacts our mental wellbeing. Research into this Gut-Brain connection such as the SMILES trial (Support the Modification of lifestyle in Lowered Emotional States) show that better food choices in adults can lead to an increase in positive emotions.
One of the more important chemicals that promotes wellbeing and happiness is serotonin, which plays a role in a person’s appetite, emotions, and brain function. Interestingly, 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut, which goes to show how important the gut is in moderating one’s mental state.
Modern research into the effect of processed foods have shown that the additives that are increasingly being added to products to boost their shelf-lives and other manufacturer-friendly qualities have negative impact on the health of the gut. The full effect of these additives on the gut microbiome have not yet been extensively researched, but some additives have been proven to cause gut inflammation and severe discomfort.
How to take care of your microbiome to promote mental wellbeing
Choosing to eat healthy foods everyday can significantly alter your brain chemistry and boost happiness. To feed your unique microbiome the good stuff, consider incorporating some of these tips into your food decisions:
- Incorporate whole grains and legumes into your diet at least 5 meals per week
- Choose to eat fresh fruits instead of drinking fruit juices to avoid extra additives
- Increase your fiber intake to promote good bacteria growth
- Include a daily dose of probiotics such as fermented foods like kombucha or Greek yoghurt
- Nibble on unsalted nuts or dried fruits instead of chips and lollies
- Cook with healthy fats such as coconut oil or avocado oil.
Promoting the mind-body connection through healthy eating can complement your meditation practices and help to increase mindfulness in everyday life. Choosing to fuel your body with healthy unprocessed foods can boost your general wellbeing and will allow you to start each day in the best frame of mind possible.