Your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million neurons – the same stuff that’s in your brain! This means your digestive system doesn’t just help you to process food, it also helps monitor your emotions. The function of those nerve cells and the natural production of serotonin are influenced by the billions of bacteria lining your intestinal tract. According to the Harvard Medical School, these bacteria are important to your health because they:
- Protect the lining of intestines and ensure a barrier against toxins and harmful bacteria
- Limit inflammation
- Improve how well nutrients are absorbed from food
- Activate neural pathways that travel directly between the gut and brain
One way to add these “good” bacteria to your diet is to eat high-quality dairy, such as unsweetened yogurt, or to take a probiotic supplement. Many unprocessed foods are fermented and act as natural probiotics. Fermented foods (such as kimchi) can affect the degree of inflammation in your body and even improve your mood and energy levels. Studies have shown that people who regularly eat or supplement with probiotics can improve their mental outlook, perception of stress and anxiety levels.
Ways to Support Brain Health Through Nutrition
- Follow a healthy and balanced diet, such as the Mediterranean diet.
- Reduce intake of added sugar and processed foods.
- Adequately hydrate with water.
- Reduce intake of caffeine, and alcohol and use of tobacco products.
- Eat food rich in folate, such as spinach, lentils and chickpeas.
- Eat complete proteins, such as eggs, peanuts, quinoa, chia seeds and tofu.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin D, such as mushrooms, tuna, salmon and milk.
- Eat foods rich in zinc, such as whole grains, oysters, kale, broccoli, legumes and nuts.
- Eat foods rich in magnesium, such as fish, avocado and dark leafy greens.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin B, such as asparagus, leafy greens, meat and avocado.
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild-caught salmon and walnuts.
- Eat probiotic-rich foods, such as kefir, yogurt and other fermented foods.
“Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food,” Eva Selhub, MD, Harvard Health Publishing, Nov. 16, 2015.