Mental Health and Nutrition: The Brain-Gut Connection

During the holiday season we celebrate with friends and family with so many food choices that it is often difficult to decide what to eat. The foods that we choose will have an impact on our emotions, our behavior, and our thinking. The opposite is also true as our feelings and thoughts can have a strong effect on our gut (digestive system).

On a gut level (no pun intended) we all know this by the following:

* Feeling “sick to your stomach” after seeing something horrible.
* Feeling so nervous that you have “butterflies” in your stomach.
* Feeling better after eating your favorite “comfort foods.”
* Feeling more focused and energized after a cup of coffee and a snack.

Our food supplies us with the nutrients that we need to make neurotransmitters (chemicals that carry information from one cell to another). The most important ones for mental health are:
* Serotonin – makes us feel calm and happy
* Norepinephrine and Dopamine- make us feel energized, focused, and motivated
Serotonin is made in special cells which line the inside of the gut, and 90% of it is stored and activated there.

To improve and maintain your mental health:

1. Don’t skip meals to maintain your energy and think clearly
2. Have protein (lean meat, poultry, lentils, fish, soy) at every meal to get the building blocks (amino acids) for your neurotransmitters.
3. Have healthy carbohydrates (fruit, vegetables, and whole grains) to get the vitamins and minerals needed to help with production and absorption of serotonin.
4. Have healthy fats including fish oil (wild salmon, herring, and sardines), coconut oil, olive oil, and avocados.
5. Eliminate sugar and use limited amounts of honey, maple syrup.
6. Maintain healthy vitamin D levels. Vitamin D has a natural antidepressant effect, and it is deficient in most populations of the world. Since it is difficult to get adequate vitamin D from foods and sunlight, ask your doctor to check your blood level and then start on a supplement.
7. Spice it up with ginger, turmeric, curry powder, and garlic. Turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and protects the brain and organs from chronic illnesses.

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