Mood is a huge part of mental health, which according to a recent MyFitnessPal consumer survey is the #1 health concern among women today. But did you know that the key to improving mental health with your diet is through your gut?
Many mood disorders, like depression, have been linked to gut health problems. In fact, healthy gut flora (aka the good bacteria in your gut) produce compounds that help your body maintain an optimal hormone balance. These easy tips were designed to support a healthy, balanced gut—and help boost your mood.
HOW TO EAT TO BOOST YOUR MOOD
1. BOOST GOOD GUT BACTERIA WITH PROBIOTICS
A healthy gut that supports mood is one that has a variety of healthy bacteria. It’s called “microbial diversity” and it’s super easy to achieve simply by adding a range of probiotic food sources to your diet, including yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, tempeh, miso, and sauerkraut. Check the labels on your probiotic food sources and aim to consume different strains of bacteria. Bonus tip: A diet low in processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and red meat can also help with microbial diversity.
2. ADD MORE FIBER TO YOUR DIET
Your gut bacteria needs to eat in order to support your mood—and one of their favorite foods is fiber. When gut bacteria eat fiber for energy, they produce compounds that support mood-boosting hormones and neurotransmitters. So add more fiber to your diet, like those found in apples, asparagus, berries, beans, whole grains, and green vegetables. They’re not only delicious, but also beneficial to your mental health!
3. STABILIZE YOUR BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS
In Eating for Energy, we talked about how blood sugar crashes can affect how you feel. That’s partly because these crashes (and spikes!) in blood sugar can stimulate epinephrine and cortisol, two hormones that play a role in mood. Epinephrine, also called adrenaline, is your fear and anger hormone. Cortisol is your stress hormone. Too much or too little of either can cause your mood to fluctuate. For a more steady feel-good vibe, keep your blood sugar in check by snacking on nuts, seeds, and nut butters.
4. GET YOUR DOSE OF OMEGA-3S
Deficiencies in Omega-3s have been associated with depression. While studies have yet to show exactly what role Omega-3s play in improving mental health, some medical experts believe it has to do with how these fatty acids interact with molecules inside the brain. They also believe Omega-3s anti-inflammatory benefits may help relieve depression. If you’re looking to boost your own Omega-3 intake, try fatty fish like salmon and albacore tuna, as well as walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds.
5. TRY MORE TRYPTOPHAN
Tryptophan is an amino acid that aids in the production of serotonin in the body. Serotonin helps to regulate mood, appetite, pain, and sleep. Get your daily dose of tryptophan by adding leafy greens, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, and nuts to your diet. These foods come with a range of health benefits, including helping to lift your mood.
6. SHIFT YOUR MEAL MINDSET
Many women experience stress around food and its effects on their body. But we’re here with a friendly reminder to love your body—and frame your food choices as an effort to take care of the body you love. Sometimes that means choosing foods that make you feel good, regardless of the health benefits they provide, and that’s ok. A mindset shift like this can improve your approach to food, your feelings about your body, and your overall mood.
IF NEEDED, ASK FOR HELP
It’s totally normal to feel emotional, stressed, or sad, especially these days. However, if you’re constantly feeling like you’re carrying extra emotional weight around, and it’s interfering in your everyday life, please seek professional help. There might be more in play than gut health, or not getting the right nutrients, that require a doctor or therapist’s guidance.
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