Do you ever have a bad “gut feeling”—the unease that comes along with depression and anxiety? There’s a reason the gut and brain are connected through language; the link between gut health and mental health is a real and important one, as functional medicine doctor Dr. Mary Pardee explains. What we consume—and don’t consume—can directly affect mental well-being.
Here, Dr. Pardee offers three tips on what to do for your diet to maximize the benefits of gut health for your brain.
Increase your intake of fermented foods.
Dr. Pardee mentions a Stanford study published in 2021 that looked at the links between fermented food intake and people's long-term health and microbial diversity.
“What they saw is that after 10 weeks of consuming a diet high in fermentable foods—things like kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut—there was a greater increase in microbial diversity,” she says. “So that is one of the biggest recommendations I have. … In that study, what they found is that [a diet high in fermented foods] increases microbial diversity, which is a cornerstone for gut health.”
When people ate more fermented foods in their diet, the result was a reduction in 19 peptides that were inflammatory, one of which has been implicated in diseases such as type two diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
“If we can lower inflammation, we're likely going to improve our mental health, too, because we know that a lot of mental health conditions can also be attributed to inflammation, either neuroinflammation or systemic inflammation in the whole body,” says Dr. Pardee.
Eat more fiber.
“Fiber is really, really important for the gut microbiome,” Dr. Pardee says. “Fiber feeds our gut microbes. The thing that our little bacteria consume is fiber itself, from fruits and vegetables.”
Eating more fiber is among the best ways to support gut health, and yet the average American consumes only about 15 grams of fiber per day, says Dr. Pardee.
“Our ancestors, hunter gatherer tribes, may have consumed as much as 100 grams of fiber per day,” says Dr. Pardee. She recommends consuming about 6 to 9 cups of high-fiber vegetables per day.
Diversify your diet.
“The diversity of our gut microbiome is one of the biggest drivers for our gut health,” Dr. Pardee says. “That means we want a bunch of different species of bacteria in our intestines.”
The way to achieve that is through diversity in your diet.
“Next time you go to the farmers market, choose something new,” she says, such as some fruits and vegetables you haven’t tried before.
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