We’re all familiar with the term gut feeling. Emerging evidence is now showing just how important this term is to our overall health and wellbeing.

Before you mindlessly scoff your next meal or snack, pause to think about how it might affect your mood?

The life inside our gut

The human gut harbours a complex ecosystem composed of trillions of microbes. These bacteria are thought to play a key role in metabolism, food cravings, sleep and regulating the immune system and, in recent years, have also been found to be associated with a range of conditions that affect our mental state, including depression and anxiety. So, while certain gut bacteria might leave you feeling down, the right ones can also boost your mood and ward off negative emotions.

The gut-brain connection

Often referred to as the “second brain” the gut is the only organ to house its own nervous system. This communication system operates independently from the central nervous system sending two-way signals from the gut to the brain via certain neurotransmitters.

Focus on fibre

According to Australian researcher Associate Professor Felice Jacka, who heads up the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University shows that certain foods could actually be dragging us down.

Her recent study examined data from MRI scans of approximately 250 older Australians, then studied their diets to see if the quality of their diets was linked to the size of their hippocampus – a region of the brain thought to be central to learning, memory and mood.

The results showed that people consuming food and drinks high in added sugar and sodium are more likely to develop mental health conditions such as depression. In comparison, participants who had higher intakes of fibre from fruit, vegetables, and whole grains had larger hippocampi compared to people eating more highly refined and ultra-processed foods. High-fibre dietary patterns were also linked to the participants’ risk of depression over time.

So, there is emerging evidence that the amount of fibre in your diet might impact your mood, via your gut health.

Simple ways to get more fibre in your diet?

Up your grain game
Where possible, house whole grains over refined grains. wholegrain varieties retain many essential nutrients and bioactive substances, such as healthy fats and fibre. Starting your day with a nutritious breakfast, including wholegrain oats will help to actively nourish your gut bugs.

Eat plenty of prebiotic-rich foods
Not all fibre is created equal so it’s important to eat a diverse range of fibres. You can easily achieve this by eating a range of plant-based foods. What is unique about the prebiotic fibre type is that it serves as fuel source for the gut bugs.

Feed the gut bacteria enough prebiotic fibre and they’ll not only thrive on the nourishment; they’ll ferment some of those fibres into short-chain fatty acids — a type of neuroactive chemical which can affect brain function in a number of ways. Prebiotic-rich foods include onion, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, and whole grains.

Balance the PREbiotics with the PRObiotics
While prebiotics act as a sort of fertiliser for bacteria, probiotics are the living bacteria itself. Eating foods rich in gut-friendly bacteria will top up your digestive tract with the ‘good’ bugs and help your gut flora flourish. Live probiotics are commonly found in a range of dairy products, including yoghurt, kefir, and cottage cheese, as well as fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha or miso, and some sourdough breads.

The full article can be found in a recent article published in The Latch

Exercise Physiologist, Nutritionist, Speaker & Author – Kathleen Alleaume is an internationally-acclaimed specialist in nutrition and fitness. She holds a degree in Exercise Science and a masters in nutrition.