The link between foods in our diet and our mental health actually begins in our digestive tract. Our digestive tract is also known as the “second brain” due its rich network of nerves and variety of neurochemicals produced by our gut bacteria. These neurochemicals made in our gut are used by our brains to regulate both physiological and mental processes — including our mood.
Did you know? Our gut bacteria are responsible for producing about 95% of our serotonin.
The types of bacteria found in our digestive tract influence what types and how much neurochemcials are produced. Put in other words, the type of bacteria found in our digestive tract can have an influence on our mental health.
You can learn more about the types of bacteria in our gut from the Australian Academy of Science.
Food for Our Gut Bacteria & Mental Health
But what does our nutrition have to do with neurochemicals from bacteria? Our diet influences what types of bacteria grow in our gut. Our gut bacteria are loosely classified as “good” and “bad”with the “good” bacteria being more beneficial for our health than “bad” bacteria.
Some types of diets and foods are associated with growth of less beneficial bacteria, while other diets are encourage the growth of more beneficial bacteria. Changes in our nutrition and diet can influence what type of bacteria are dominant in our gut, and as a result the types of neurochemicals produced.
Types of Diets for Mental Health
Diets that support our mental health are typically diets that support the growth of healthy gut bacteria. There have been many studies comparing the typical Western diet seen in North America with other diets such as the Mediterranean and Japanese Diets. Studies have noted a significantly decreased risk of depression in people that ate Mediterranean or Japanese diets.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is well known for its reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, but can also have positive benefits for our mental health. The Mediterranean diet is a plant-based diet that includes the flavours and recipes of the region. This diet is rich in whole grains, legumes, fruits, nuts and olive oil.
The Japanese Diet
Similar to the Mediterranean diet, the Japanese diet is rich is many nutrients. It is also associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and stroke. The Japanese diet is rich in rice, pickled fruits and vegetables, seaweed, tofu, fish and meat. One of the key elements of the Japanese diet is its low amounts of added salts and fats, which can have an impact on our gut microbiota.
Tops Foods For Our Mental Health
Now you don’t need to give our diet a complete overhaul to support our mental health. Small changes in your diet can have a positive impact on our mental health too. Some of the top foods we can include in our diet to help support our mental health are,
- Whole grains
- Olive oil
- Dark chocolates
The tiny bacteria living in our gut can influence our mental health. Foods in our diet contain nutrients which promote the growth of health gut bacteria, and consequently support our mental health.
Although our diet can have a big impact on our mental health by influencing the bacteria in our gut, we can’t control or cure our mental health using our diet and we should not disregard medications and other therapies.