Are you thinking that you just need to change what's going on in your brain in order to be happier? What if the foods you eat and the health of your gut are just as important as exercise, social connections and positive thoughts?
Mounting evidence is telling us that the health of your gut and the foods you eat everyday play an important role in behaviour and emotional states. In my clinic I have noticed that people with low mood or anxiety often have digestive problems too and may have been diagnosed in the past with irritable bowel syndrome or another digestive condition.
Ingredients for mental wellbeing and happiness
All the nutrients that we need for healthy neurotransmitters and feel good hormones are found in food. A balanced diet containing fresh fruits and vegetable, proteins and healthy fats will contain all the nutrients we require for mental wellbeing. I always encourage people to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, aiming for as many as 40 different vegetables per week!
Processed foods and foods containing refined sugar and artificial colours and preservatives have the opposite effect and can upset the balance in your body in many ways.
Fad diets which recommend limiting the range of foods you eat, can be detrimental to your happiness over the long term by creating nutrient deficiencies.
Even people following healthy diets such as vegetarian or vegan should obtain nutritional advice to make sure they are consuming all the nutrients they need for good mental health.
I often see parents who are struggling to cater for their vegetarian teenagers! While vegetarian diets are great for your health and positive for the environment, a poorly executed vegetarian diet can be lacking in essential vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. This lack of nutrients unfortunately can affect the health of the whole family in different ways.
The role of gut bacteria
Healthy gut bacteria are the new and amazing players in gut health and happiness science. New research is showing us that our gut bacteria are responsible for a staggering number of functions in our body. Some experts now suggest that healthy gut bacteria are just as important as having a healthy liver, kidney and other organs.
The link between healthy gut bacteria and mental health has now been demonstrated and we understand that it's more important than ever to keep these bacteria healthy to keep our brains and minds healthy.
The things that upset the balance of bacteria include antibiotics, some medications, herbicides and pesticides on our food and very importantly: what we eat! Foods high in refined sugar and processing create an environment in which bad bacteria can thrive.
Every meal you eat is a chance to improve the health of the bacteria in your gut, so once again, increase the fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, prebiotic and probiotic foods. Remember that healthy food increases the number of heathy bacteria in your gut. Include foods such as bananas, asparagus, garlic, onion, leeks, apples, flaxseed and fermented foods for healthy bacteria.
Digestive problems and happiness
I mentioned before that some people with digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome or other functional digestive problems can be more likely to experience low mood. Food sensitivities are also becoming increasingly common, with many experiencing symptoms from gluten, dairy or a range of other foods.
Digestive problems can cause further illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, even if the person is trying to follow a healthy diet because the body may be unable to properly digest and absorb the essential nutrients.
If you suffer from bloating, flatulence or pain after eating, it is important to get help for your symptoms to make sure that you are getting the best from your food. Working with a naturopath to improve your overall gut health can change the way you feel everyday for the better!
I am a registered naturopath, based in Sydney with a special interest in advocating the health benefits of eating whole foods. I work with a wide range of health conditions. Contact me for an appointment.