Want More Joy? Focus on Gut Health for Mental Health

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Here's some food for thought: imagine that all the positive qualities people crave, such as confidence,
serenity, and self-esteem, were like nourishment. You could make them part of your personality by doing nothing more than eating. Sound crazy? It's not. It's science. Your dietary choices can either help you feel better or drive you into the doldrums. Here's why:

  • Your brain uses a chemical called serotonin
    to regulate your mood. Too little serotonin can make you anxious, depressed, or even suicidal.
  • Antidepressant medicines can help your body to use serotonin more effectively, but they can't teach your body to make more of this vital brain chemical.
  • Your intestinal tract, not your brain, makes most of your serotonin. But, for it to do so, your gut
    needs the help of healthy foods, especially those that encourage the growth of beneficial organisms in your digestive system. Nutritionists and researchers refer to these foods as probiotics.

That's the science in a nutshell. Now let's look at what kinds of food can give your brain a happiness


You've probably heard that yogurt has probiotic benefits. That's true, but only for yogurt that has live
or active cultures. You'll find this important information on the container label. Many nutritionists consider Greek yogurt the best choice because of its high protein levels.


Is it possible that fermented cabbage can make you a more outgoing person? Yes, according to research conducted at the College of William & Mary. The study showed a strong correlation between people who ate foods like sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi and higher confidence levels in social situations. These findings reinforce similar results obtained at other leading universities.


This aromatic side dish is a favorite food in Korean society. It's rich with the kind of lactic acid
bacteria (LAB) that scientists believe is responsible for most probiotic benefits. You can
prepare it yourself using ingredients found in most supermarkets.

Certain Types of Cheese

Cheeses that contain live cultures can have a positive probiotic effect. Researchers consider Gouda the best choice in this regard, but cheddar, Gruyere and feta all offer benefits.

While probiotic foods can help you to feel happier, by themselves they're just one part of an effective
eating plan. Here are some other smart choices:
  • Chicken, fish, and lean cuts of beef. These are healthy sources of protein.
  • Fresh vegetables. Especially important are non-starchy varieties like broccoli, spinach,
    cucumbers, and sweet potatoes. Eat them raw or with only minimal cooking.
  • Fresh fruit. These foods are loaded with vitamins and minerals. But consume them in moderation, as they can make your blood sugar levels spike. This is a big
    concern for diabetics and people trying to lose weight.
  • Nuts, seeds, and legumes. They're packed with fiber, protein, and other nutrients.
  • Salmon, flaxseed, and grass-fed beef. These are rich with healthful omega-3 fatty acids.

What to Avoid

Some foods are best avoided in even moderate amounts. You should only consume them as occasional treats, if at all. These include:

  • Processed snacks containing trans fats.
  • Foods high in saturated fat, like certain cuts of beef and pork.
  • Organ meats like liver. 
  • Breads (unless made with whole grain flour). Some researchers believe that eliminating bread
  • altogether is a good option for many Americans.
  • Pastries, ice cream, and, in general, anything high in sugar.

Diet and Lifestyle

We all know that diet and lifestyle are crucial components to healthy living, but it’s not always easy to incorporate change. If you’re looking to make changes to your diet, rather than an “all or nothing” approach, start out slow and gradually introduce foods. If you’re anxious about where to start, consider talking with a nutritionist. A trained professional can set you up with an eating plan that matches your health goals and needs. Be sure to check your insurance first to see if it’s covered. For seniors, you may be eligible for nutrition assessment and therapy through your Medicare plan.

If you’ve been looking to give your mental and physical health a boost, it’s time to turn your focus to your gut health. By applying the tips in this article, you can enjoy vibrant mental and physical health. Use them with that purpose in mind, and best of luck with your lifestyle goals.

Sheila Olson has been a personal trainer for five years. She believes the best way to achieve physical fitness and good health is to set and tackle small goals. She encourages her clients to stay positive and incorporates mindfulness and practices for reducing negative talk into her sessions. She created FitSheila.com to spread the word about her fitness philosophy.


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