Some foods offer particular benefits both for psychological well-being and gut health.
1. Complex carbohydrates: One of my concerns with paleo and keto diets is that people have taken too many carbs out of their diet. Fruit, many vegetables, starchy foods, legumes, and grains are stripped out of the fiber in favor of too much animal fat. Your body needs complex carbohydrates for emotional and gut health. When people skimp on dietary carbs, they become grumpy and have a higher incidence of mood disorders. Keep in mind that I’m talking about healthy carbs. The truth is that arbs like candy, ice cream, high-fructose corn syrup, and sugar can actually increase obesity and ramp up depression. It’s foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, starchy and green leafy vegetables, and many different fruits that contain healthy carbs, fibers, and resistant starches that will improve gut function and psychological well-being.
2. Brightly colored foods with high levels of antioxidants are also good for your brain and your gut. Antioxidants help manage the oxidative stress that occurs in the body. If you want good levels of dopamine and serotonin, antioxidants will help protect those neurotransmitters. There’s a lot to be said for including brightly colored foods in your diet such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, aubergines, tomatoes, bell peppers, and zucchinis.
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3. Omega-3 fatty acids are excellent for the brain and the GI tract. You can find Omega-3s in oily fish like salmon, walnuts, and chia seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids are a critical addition to our diet because your body can’t make them on its own. I’ve read many research papers that have demonstrated that Omega-3 fatty acids improve both mood and cognitive function.
4. B vitamins such as B6, B12, and folic acid are essential for your mental health. There’s a clear link between depression and low levels of B vitamins. B5 is a vitamin that is particularly important for keeping energy levels high.
5. Probiotics offer your brain and bowel ample benefits. You can take supplements, but other sources of probiotics include fermented and cultured foods. It’s helpful to have sufficient prebiotics in your diet to make the most of the probiotics. For example, vegetables from the brassica family, such as broccoli and cauliflower, are a great source of prebiotics. So are plants from the allium family such as onions and chives.
6. Trace elements such as iodine, molybdenum, manganese, zinc, and copper are all critical for proper brain and digestive function. Look for foods that are organic and locally grown as these tend to contain higher levels of minerals. Good sources of minerals include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, and sardines.
If you ensure your diet includes these six categories of food, your mind and body will thank you!