Food and mental health

You may have noticed the better your diet, the better you feel? This is more than just anecdotal- there is some science to this!

While there is still a lot to learn when it comes to nutrition, scientists have discovered links between what you eat and your mental health. In particular, there appears to be a strong gut-brain connection. That is the health of our gut is linked to the health of our mind.

One particular, large-scale study, ‘The American Gut Project’, found that those who ate 30 or more different plant foods each week had more diverse gut microbiomes than those who ate less than 10.

But what is the gut microbiome?

The gut microbiome refers to the bacteria that exists in your gastrointestinal tract. A more diverse gut microbiome has been linked to lower rates of depression and anxiety. The make up of bacteria may also effect your immune system, heart health and even your weight. 

Why are plant foods important?

One reason plant foods are so beneficial for your gut health is that they are great sources of fibre. Fibre promotes the growth of some types of healthy bacteria. In particular, these foods are rich in one type of fibre called prebiotics which helps feed the good gut bacteria. Plant based foods often also contain other healthy compounds such as polyphenols which aid the growth of good bacteria too.

While we have known for a long time that eating 5 serves of vegetables and 2 serves of fruit is a good idea, this study was one of the first to highlight the importance of VARIETY! So, consider how you can increase the diversity of the fruits and vegetables you eat. 

Some easy ways to increase the variety of plants in your diet:

  • Use spinach in your salad instead of lettuce
  • Add ground nuts or seeds to your porridge or smoothie
  • Add grated carrot and zucchini to mince meat dishes
  • Aim for as many different colors in your stir fries as possible
  • Add spinach to your fruit smoothie
  • Try a handful of raw mixed nuts as a snack

References:
https://www.mymicrobiome.info/news-reading/the-american-gut-project.html
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-microbiome-and-health

About the author

Cheyenne Holman

Cheyenne Holman

Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD)
Accredited Sports Dietitian
Certified Personal Trainer
Yoga Alliance Certified Yoga Teacher