Recent studies support that diet is as important to mental health and wellbeing as it is to the heart, digestive system and hormone health.

Did you know that 95 percent of serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract?

Serotonin acts as a neurotransmitter manufactured in the brain; it helps to relay messages from one part of the brain to another. Serotonin also affects the functioning of the cardiovascular system, muscles and multiple parts of the endocrine system. There is a huge link between your gut and your brain! So read on to see what you can eat to give your brain health a boost.

Your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million neurons, which means your digestive system doesn’t just help you to process food, it also helps you 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 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 a person absorbs nutrients from their 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 organic yogurt, or to take a probiotic supplement. Many unprocessed foods are fermented, which act as natural probiotics. Fermented foods can affect the degree of inflammation in your body and even improve mood and energy levels.

Examples of fermented foods are:

  • Yogurt and kefir
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Tempeh
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kombucha (tea)
  • Pickled garlic, pickled cucumbers, pickled beets, pickled radish or pickled corn relish
  • Miso or soy sauce
  • Korean kimchi

Studies have shown that people who regularly eat or supplement with probiotics improve their:

  • Mental outlook
  • Perception of stress
  • Anxiety levels

Here are a few nutrients to add to your diet that support brain health:

  • Folate (spinach, lentils, chickpeas)
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, walnuts)
  • Complete proteins (eggs, peanuts, peanut butter, quinoa, chia seeds)
  • Vitamin D (mushrooms, tuna, salmon, milk)

“Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain On Food,” Eva Selhub, MD, Harvard Health Publishing, accessed Feb. 1, 2018.