You’ve heard the phrase, “you are what you eat.” And as cliché as it might sound, there’s a lot of truth to it.
This is because the foods you eat directly impact your gut, and the state of your gut impacts your mind. Your mind, of course, affects how you feel and behave.
How does this gut-brain connection work? Well, the fancy term is “gut-brain axis,” but simply put, it’s the phenomenon of your gut staying in constant communication with your mind through the vagus nerve and biological chemicals traveling through your bloodstream.
The communication between your gut and your brain is even responsible for producing more than 90% of the happiness hormone, serotonin, in your body.
If that’s not amazing enough, all that serotonin then signals your brain to release another calming neurotransmitter called GABA. GABA helps you regulate stress.
With all this action going on between your gut and your brain, it’s safe to say that when your gut microbiome is off, you begin to lack some of the crucial hormones responsible for regulating emotional shifts. This may leave you feeling nervous, stressed, and uneasy.
How To Keep The Gut-Brain Connection Going Strong
Certain foods and drinks can actually trigger feelings of internal unrest, and, unfortunately, they’re ones that many people turn to when they feel stressed. Do your best to stay away from these for gut and mood support.
- Sugar — Sugar feeds the bad bacteria in your gut, helping them to multiply and disrupt your gut’s delicate ecosystem. Plus, sugar increases your heart rate and can make you feel more jittery.
- Caffeine — Caffeine can increase feelings of stress, and can contribute to fear, nausea, palpitations, restlessness, and nervousness.
- Alcohol — While alcohol can reduce social discomfort in the moment, it can worsen those feelings in the long run. Alcohol also affects your sleep quality, making you even more irritable.
- Refined Carbs — Just like sugar, refined carbs allow bad bacteria to thrive. However, this food group also puts you in a never-ending cycle that never turns out well. Here’s what happens:
When you get stressed, you probably eat carbs. (Hello, chips, cakes, and breads.) Carbs (and, thus, your favorite carb-laden foods) release feel-good hormones, making you feel happier and more satisfied in the moment.
But… these same carbs also increase body-wide discomfort, which, in turn, makes you stressed (whether you realize it or not). So you eat more carbs to feel better… and the cycle continues.
- Unhealthy Fats — Unhealthy fats have been linked to increased mental stress. Like carbs, they also cause physical discomfort that has a domino effect on your mood.
You might already stay away from these foods because of the way they completely tank your energy and weigh down your gut.
However, if you still need a little nudge to cut them out of your diet, just think of the difference it will make for your nervous system.
Not only will you feel calmer, but you may even feel happier!
Plus, each of those foods have some pretty tasty and nutritious swaps:
- Replace sugar with real, whole fruit or natural sweeteners, like stevia (NOT artificial sugar substitutes).
- Instead of coffee, reach for a cup of black tea.
- Drink kombucha rather than beer and wine. It has added probiotic benefits that encourage a healthy gut environment.
- Switch out refined carbs with complex carbs, like sweet potatoes, quinoa, etc.
- Add more healthy fats to your diet, such as salmon, olive oil, and avocado.
Many of these alternatives are rich in fiber, probiotics, and omega-3s that have actually been found to support your overall mental wellness.
Sounds like a pretty good trade-off, wouldn’t you agree?
Please know that there are times you may need additional assistance with mental wellness, and there are resources out there for you. (Here’s where to find some.) But watching your diet and nourishing that very important gut-brain axis can help usher in (and hold onto) calmer thoughts and feelings of well-being. These tweaks are definitely worth implementing in your lifestyle right away. Your body and mind will thank you.
To your health and happiness…
Your NatureM.D. Wellness Team