Have you been feeling more anxious than normal? The reason may not be in your head, but in your gut.
During the pandemic, medical professionals have reported higher than normal incidences of patients feeling anxious and less mentally focused than before the pandemic. While feeling stress during this time is understandable, it turns out that the foods we eat can also impact our mental wellbeing.
Most of us known the importance of gut health, i.e. a healthy gut equals a healthy body. This is what the University of California at Davis Health says about gut health, “All food is ultimately broken down in the gut to a simple form that can enter the bloodstream and be delivered as nutrients throughout our bodies. This is only possible with a healthy digestive system. A healthy gut contains healthy bacteria and immune cells that ward off infectious agents like bacteria, viruses and fungi. A healthy gut also communicates with the brain through nerves and hormones, which helps maintain general health and well-being.”
The Brain-Gut Connection
The fact that there is a brain-gut connection is something many folks don’t know or understand. At the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology, research is showing that the gut plays an even greater role in our overall mood that we ever suspected. The enteric nervous system (ENS), comprised of two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining the gastrointestinal tract from esophagus to rectum, has the main role of is controlling digestion, from swallowing to the release of enzymes that break down food to the control of blood flow that helps with nutrient absorption to elimination. It turns out that the ENS may trigger big emotional shifts experienced by people coping with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional bowel problems such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, pain and stomach upset. Science originally thought that anxiety and depression contributed to these problems, but research now appears to show it is the other way around. This new research is leading scientists to consider that the gut also plays a larger role in our cognition (thinking skills and memory) too.
What Can You Do To Improve Your Gut Health
Probiotics: Foods high in probiotics promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut. This helps good break down completely, allowing better absorption of nutrients into the body. Food high in probiotics include yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, and fresh sauerkraut. NOTE: Yogurts and kefir tend to be high in sugars because that makes the taste more palatable, thus they may not work in many diets. Kombucha carries a trace amount of alcohol. For most people, the alcohol is minimal and not a concern, but it could be a concern for those taking certain prescription drugs. When buying kimchi and sauerkraut, you need to buy these fresh and with active enzymes. Canned products have been pasteurized and thus the healthful bacteria is dead. Look for fresh products in a cold produce section of your local grocer store.
Fiber: Lots of Fruits and Vegetables each day. Think leafy greens and legumes like beans and lentils. Fiber is a bulking agent that moves food down the line like a train. This movement is important because while the body is absorbing nutrients, it is also attempting to eliminate what it doesn’t need in waste. Think of waste as poison, and you don’t want to be holding poison in your gut. A large salad contains several portions of the fiber your body wants.
Water: Water combined with fiber is like the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of good gut health. Working together, they keep everything moving. Note that the best way to determine how much water you need each day is determined by your weight. The rule of thumb is 1oz of water for every two pounds of body weight. If you weight 100lbs., you should drink 50oz of water. If you weight 200lbs, then 100oz of water. If you regularly drink from a popular branded 30oz tumbler, count the number of times you fill the tumbler with water during the day, and you’ll get an idea how much water you drink in a day. Remember, caffeine and alcohol dehydrate you, so don’t add coffee, tea, carbonated beverage, or alcoholic beverages to your count.
Exercise: Exercise assists in the movement within your gut.
Sleep: Folks who sleep irregularly also experience nausea, bloating, and constipation. Get your sleep!
Stay away from processed foods and refined grains: Processed food, i.e. food that has been made to fit in a bag and is then shelf stable for an extended period, typically has little to no fiber nor nutritional value. Eating food like this causes harm to your gut.
Limit your consumption of fried foods: The fats used to fry food can lead to constipation because your body has a difficult time processing the fat. Besides constipation, the bad fat stays in the body, leading to bloating. To the point made earlier, you want to move the poison out of your body.
We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and let us know if you’ve made changes to your diet and how you are feeling.
Gut Health, Health, Food, Brain-Gut Connection, mental health, anxiety, mental wellbeing