We’ve talked about how important it is to maintain good digestive health before, but you’d be surprised just how essential that really is. Making sure your digestive system is in good health goes beyond just how food moves through your body. Let’s talk about the surprising way that your diet and stomach may be affecting your brain!
The Gut Microbiome
The gut, also known as the gastrointestinal or GI tract, is where digestion and absorption of most nutrients take place. The stomach and intestines work hard to keep everything running smoothly, but they don’t work alone. The GI tract is filled with beneficial bacteria, which all come together to form a community called a microbiome. This group of good bacteria participate in all of the digestive processes in the gut. But beyond digestion, the gut microbiome is largely responsible for the overall health of our bodies and minds.
The Second Brain
The GI microbiome is so influential in fact that some people have started to call the gut the second brain. This is because the gastrointestinal tract and the brain have been found to send signals to each other. This means that the gut and brain can play a role in each other’s functions. For example, have you ever felt “butterflies in your stomach” when you were nervous about something? This is an example of how your brain may affect your gut. Just like emotions such as anger, anxiety, and sadness may trigger symptoms in your gut, research has found evidence that irritation in your gut may send signals to your brain which can affect your mood and cause other psychological changes.
As your gut bacteria participate in digestion, they produce hundreds of chemicals that your brain uses to regulate basic bodily functions. These include mental processes such as learning, memory, and mood. In fact, your gut bacteria are responsible for producing about 95% of your body’s serotonin, the hormone largely responsible for stabilizing our mood and happiness. By learning how to improve your gut microbiome, you can help improve how it affects your brain and mood.
Nutrition for a Healthy Gut
So how can you help keep your gut microbiome happy (and by extension keep you happy)?
A good place to start is to know about pro-, pre-, and postbiotics. Probiotics are live organisms, or bacteria, that offer health benefits to the host. Probiotic supplements have become a popular trend recently, but there are a wide variety of foods that naturally contain probiotics! Fermented foods such as kimchi or kombucha are great choices. The probiotic bacteria in these foods travel through your digestive tract and then join and complement your already existing microbiome.
Prebiotics are non-digestible foods that serve as fuel for your gut bacteria. Healthy, high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are typically high in prebiotics. This is what the gut microbiome needs to produce all of those influential chemicals and hormones.
Finally are postbiotics, which is the name for the beneficial compounds your gut bacteria produce once they’ve consumed prebiotics.
The more of a variety of probiotics and prebiotics that you eat, the more diverse the bacteria in your gut will be. More diversity within your gut microbiome means more production of post-biotics which means you get more of the benefits! For a more detailed look at the “3 Ps” of gut health, check out our article about them here.
It's not just about “3 Ps” however. There are many other steps you can take with your diet to help your gut microbiome thrive. Overly-processed foods high in certain fats and sugars may harm your good bacteria, leading to inflammation within the gut and the growth of undesired bacteria. Since we know how linked the gut and the brain are, a disruption of your microbiome is something we want to avoid. Prioritize more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains (which have prebiotic fiber), and plant-based and lean animal proteins to help your microbiome thrive!
Gut Health and N4L
At Nutrition for Longevity, our meal plans follow The Longevity Diet, which is based on the dietary patterns of people around the world who live the longest. It just so happens that these dietary habits help support the gut microbiome as well! Our selections of meal plans provide at least 25g of fiber and 6 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Depending on your plan, you can be entirely plant based, pescatarian, or flexitarian so you can pick the protein sources that work best for you. So no matter how you’re enjoying N4L meals, you can be sure that you’re supporting you gut-health!
Research on the gut-brain axis is relatively new and constantly evolving, but the current findings should stress just how important it is to care for your GI tract. A gut-friendly diet will help keep digestive processes regular and also help improve your mood and mental health!