This tool can add to the risk of metabolic and cardiovascular disease, or it can provide your body with the strength you need to prevent illness and feel better. How you use this tool is incredibly important.
This tool is nutrition — which consists of your overall diet and each daily food choice you make for yourself. Every meal and snack represents a chance to make your diet work for you.
Now that you're thinking of food as a tool for health, consider how you can most effectively use it. Even a few simple changes to your diet and lifestyle can make a remarkable difference in improving your mental and physical health. For example, it may surprise you to learn that your stomach and digestive tract work closely with your brain and nervous system. This vital connection directly affects your physical and mental health.
Your digestive tract affects brain chemistry due to the millions of neurons, hormones, and chemicals that travel back and forth between your brain and gut.
Did you know that...
- up to 90% of serotonin is made in your gut? Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects your mood.
- about 70% of the immune system is housed in the gut? Your digestive system provides you with resistance against disease.
- gastrointestinal irritation can send signals to the central nervous system, spurring anxiety or depression? It can also work in reverse. Ever had a feeling of nervousness in your stomach? Or maybe you've relied on ‘gut instinct' at times.
Your Gut and Your Brain
Researchers think of our digestive system as a kind of ‘second brain,' and it makes up what is known as the enteric nervous system. Your central nervous system and enteric nervous system work in partnership, and it's an important reason to pay attention to what you eat. Improving your diet can lead to improving your physical and mental health.
How to Balance Your Digestive System
You're probably already aware that including plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains in your diet is important for maintaining health and preventing disease. Within these groups are certain foods that also help keep your digestive system balanced, and properly supplied with what it needs to create the hormones and signals that travel between your digestive system and your brain.
There are approximately 100 trillion microorganisms in the human gut.
A good example of balanced interaction within the gut can be found in prebiotics and probiotics:
- Prebiotics are a type of fiber, containing carbohydrates that act as food to stimulate healthy and helpful bacteria in the gut.
- Probiotics are live, specific strains of helpful bacteria. They play a role in our health in countless ways. They're vital to digestion and nutrient absorption, and for strengthening our immune system.
Here are some sources of prebiotic and probiotic foods that are easy to add to your diet.
- Vegetables: onions, garlic, artichokes, cabbage, asparagus, green peas, snow peas, sweet corn.
- Legumes: chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, soybeans.
- Fruits: apples, bananas, dried fruit, nectarines, white peaches, watermelon.
- Grains and Other Sources: oats, rye bread, pasta, wheat bran, wheat bread, cashews, pistachio nuts, honey, and fiber powders to mix with liquids.
- Dairy: yogurt, cottage cheese, aged cheeses, buttermilk, kefir.
- Fermented Foods: sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles and other pickled vegetables, tempeh, miso, kombucha, apple cider vinegar, brine-cured olives, kvass.
The Effects of Gut Health on Your Body
Research shows that a healthy gut supports production of chemicals that affect your mood, and act as a buffer against your body's stress response. There is additional evidence that the chemicals produced in the gut influence sleep, appetite, and nutrient absorption.
Nutrition plays an important role in preventing metabolic and cardiovascular disease, so it's an added bonus that it contributes to improved mental health as well. Your diet fuels and strengthens the very starting point for the body's entire network of health — your gut.