The amount of research that unfolds daily about the types of foods we should or shouldn’t eat can be overwhelming. Just when you hear the exciting news that coffee is good for your heart health, a new study is published suggesting coffee could cause cancer. It can be frustrating to keep up with all the research, let alone feel confident in any of your dietary + lifestyle choices.
But one piece of research that remains consistent is that gut health appears to play a vital role in our mental health. Specifically, there is a strong link between poor gut health + depression. As more research is being completed on the gut microbiome (our unique + diverse mix of microorganisms living in our gut) the gut-brain interaction is becoming more evident. To (try) and put it simply:
If there is an imbalance in the microbiome, there will be an imbalance in the types of chemicals being produced. This can alter the body’s neurotransmitters that regulate mood (think serotonin, dopamine, and GABA) which can ultimately alter brain development + function. While we don’t have much control over the genes that are handed down to us, there ARE things we can do to balance our microbiome + compensate for our human genome.
Depression sufferers often believe they are the victim of their circumstance + have to be medicated in order to experience any sort of mood stability. While medication is the answer for some, it’s encouraging to know that a few dietary + lifestyle changes to improve gut health may help to regulate chemical imbalances + decrease/eliminate symptoms of depression. The ultimate goal: to create a diverse + heathy gut flora to help regulate our mood + brain functionality.
Here are 6 Ways to Cultivate Gut Health + Reduce Depression
1. Eat Fermented Foods
Fermentation is a process that involves the breakdown of sugars through bacteria + yeast. Fermented foods may promote the growth of beneficial bacteria and benefit the gut flora. Yogurt is a good example of a fermented food. The best kind to consume is a plain, natural yogurt (Be on the lookout for high sugar content.) Some research suggests that dairy could be harmful to our gut health, so opt for a non-dairy yogurt option if you can. Other examples of fermented foods include: Sauerkraut, Kefir, Kombucha and Tempeh.
2. Avoid Antibiotics
Antibiotics disrupt the good bacteria in your gut which can last for up to up to six months after your last dose. I know that antibiotics are unavoidable in some cases, but do talk to your doctor + try other options when you can. If you have to take a dose of antibiotics, be sure to supplement your diet with a probiotic to help balance out the good + bad bacteria.
3. Eat More Vegetables, Fruits, Legumes + Beans
These are the best sources of nutrients for a healthy gut microbiota. They are high in fiber, which can be digested by certain bacteria in your gut, reduce inflammation and reduce gut health. Try to incorporate the following into your diet: Broccoli, Chickpeas, Raspberries, Lentils, Apples + Blueberries,
4. Reduce Sugar Consumption
Diets high in sugar can encourage potentially harmful bacteria to overgrow, which can result in an imbalance of good + bad bacteria in the gut. This goes for artificial sweeteners as well! Try to cut back on processed foods, soda, candies + sauces/condiments.
5. Take A Probiotic
Probiotics are the live bacteria + yeasts that live in your body and keep your gut healthy. While taking a probiotic is a good idea, it is not enough to rely on this alone to improve your gut health so be sure you’re incorporating other healthy lifestyle choices. Not sure which probiotic is right for you? Check out this article.
6. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep deprivation has been linked to a decrease in the amount of beneficial bacteria in our gut. Research suggests that as little as 2 nights with less than 4 hours of sleep can reduce good bacteria in the gut by 50%. Be sure to practice good sleep hygiene and try to get at least 8 hours per night.
This post only scratches the surface on gut health + its role in our overall wellbeing. I highly encourage all of you to incorporate these lifestyle habits into your daily routine and notice the difference in your overall health + mood… let me know how it goes!