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The link between gut issues and low mood – and why food matters

Our gut and our brain are connected via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

What does this mean?

Our gut is made of billions of bacteria but it also houses over 100 millions neurons. The nerves within our gastrointestinal tract (the enteric nervous system) connect the gut to the brain: this allows the brain to influence our gut functions and, in turn, our gut influences our mood, cognition, and mental health. Our gut and brain use the same neurotransmitters and thus affect each other in a bi-directional way.

So, does this mean that we should take care of our gut to improve our mood? The answer is: YES!

So what we eat does impact our mood!

Foods for mood:

Boost serotonin & dopamine levels by increasing magnesium levels, tryptophan (precursor to serotonin) & B-vitamins

  • Leafy greens such as spinach, swiss chard…high in magnesium to calm the nervous system
  • Other magnesium-rich foods: rye, wild rice, green leafy vegetables (spinach, lettuce, chard, kale and spring greens), nuts and seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, pistachio, cashew, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, pecans, coconut), pulses and beans (lentils, lima beans, kidney beans, soya beans), bananas, avocados, garlic, prunes, dates, buckwheat and halibut
  • Tryptophan-rich foods: turkey, chicken, fish, eggs, cottage cheese, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, tahini, brazil nuts, bananas, avocado
  • B-vitamins-rich foods (for neurotransmitters’ production): avocado, beans, lentils, eggs, nuts and nut butters, seeds and seed butter, wholegrains (oats, rye, barley, millet, quinoa, brown rice, amaranth)

Boost levels of antioxidants that protect the brain from free radicals damage with antioxidant-rich foods

  • Sweet potato, avocado, dark green leafy vegetables, yellow/red peppers, pumpkin, butternut squash, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, watercress, celery, radish, parsley, lettuce, apples, pears, berries, pineapple, mango, papaya, apricots, bananas, kiwi fruit, pomegranate
  • Essential fatty acids (EFAs aka Omega-3needed for the structure and optimal functioning of our brain and nervous system): nuts and nut butters, seeds and seed butters, cold-pressed hempseed oil, cold-pressed flaxseed oil, oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, sardine, anchovies, herring
  • Anti-inflammatory foods such as ginger, turmeric, garlic, rosemary…
  • Fibre-rich foods: fruits & vegetables, legumes, complex grains, nuts & seeds…

Boost motivation and alertness with tyrosine that helps to make neurotransmitters

  • Tyrosine-rich foods: tuna, chicken, prawns, salmon, herring, eggs, oats, beef, almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds

Increase intake of phospholipids to protect nerves’ coverings & ensure smooth functioning of nerve signals

  • Phospholipids-rich foods: organic eggs, sardines, cauliflower, lettuce, wholegrains (oats, rye, barley, millet, quinoa, brown rice, amaranth), organic liver, fermented soya products e.g. tamari sauce, tempeh, miso…

Increase intake of zinc to reduce feelings of anger and depression

  • Zinc-rich foods: seafood and fish, lean red meat (esp. lamb), nuts (esp. pecans, brazils, almonds, peanuts), peas, turnips, egg yolk, whole wheat, rye, oats, pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed butter, rice, lentils, molasses, ginger