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Mind, Body And Gut ‒ 5 Must-Know Dietary Strategies To Optimize Your Mental Health

Written by: Soni Dani-Cox, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Nutritional psychiatry looks at the connection between diet, nutrition and mental health. Your food and supplements affect brain functioning. Changes in brain chemistry create changes in your gut. Eating the right foods can decrease and even end depression and anxiety.

Let’s talk about the gut-brain connection. Microbes matter in psychiatry. According to research, changes in gut bacteria might be the root cause of mental illness. Our gut contains trillions of microbes that have co-evolved with us since ancient man. Modern society has reduced the quality and diversity of microbes in the human gut. Modern hygiene, antibiotics, urbanization and pesticides have contributed to this outcome.

The gut microbiome produces key hormones in the body. It plays an important role in reducing inflammation by engaging in immunoregulation. Immunoregulation stimulates or suppresses the immune response in the body at appropriate times. So, the gut-brain-microbiome axis affects the immune system. It also affects the endocrine system and the central nervous system. Certain species of bacteria may influence depression and quality of life.

Diets containing processed foods and sugar contribute to general inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation represents illness. High rate of inflammation correlates with mental health issues.

Where does this inflammation begin? It begins with your diet. Other factors include use of antibiotics and exposure to pesticides. People have food sensitivities (like gluten). Alcohol consumption, sugar consumption and chronic emotional stress also contribute to chronic inflammation.

How do you recognize signs of a gut problem? Any distress in the stomach like bloating, cramps, reflux. You can introduce these 5 dietary strategies to improve your mental health.

1. Macronutrients need to be in large quantities in your diet. Carbohydrates having a high glycemic index are essential. Some of these include brown rice, quinoa, steel cut oatmeal and chia seeds. Protein and amino acids are meat, fish, beans. Healthy fats and cholesterol are in olive oil, nuts, nut butters and avocados. Dietary fiber acts as a prebiotic which is essential for gut microbes to thrive. Include beans, oats, bananas, berries, garlic, onions, asparagus and leeks in your diet. Water intake is important to aid all systems in the body.

Our modern diet consists of too many carbs and too much processed foods. It is also high in refined sugar, too many unhealthy fats and inadequate quantity of vegetables. Gluten allergies and sensitivities abound.

2. Micronutrients need to be in small quantities in your diet. Water soluble vitamins (B, C) and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) are essential. Macrominerals (calcium, magnesium, sodium) assist in body functions. Trace minerals (iron, copper, zinc) are vital.

Micronutrient deficiencies affect brain functioning among other things and can lead to disease.

3. Probiotics are live bacteria essential for a healthy brain and body. Probiotics are available in supplements, but it's preferable to consume them through diet. One option is yogurt with active cultures. You can also eat tempeh, miso, natto, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha and buttermilk. Cheeses like mozzarella, cheddar and gouda are also good sources of probiotics.

4. Food rich in Omega-3 fatty acids are important for normal body metabolism. They are essential fats involved in making hormones that clot blood. They also aid in regulating the function of arteries. They protect neurons from excessive inflammation. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Other sources are walnuts and leafy greens.

5. Spices and herbs have antioxidant properties. They fight off harmful free radicals and prevent oxidative stress. Oxidative stress damages tissues in the body. Studies have shown that saffron increases levels of the feel-good neurotransmitters. Turmeric adjusts brain chemistry and protects brain cells against toxic damage. Oregano also protects the neurons and has anti-depressant effects. Lavender, passionflower and chamomile in teas are helpful in depression.

Generally, it takes 6-8 weeks to heal the gut. Consistent food intake and an adequate amount of water usually lead to a good outcome. Gut distress, autoimmune disorders, hormone dysfunction might warrant further diagnosis and testing. Restrictive diets like Keto and Paleo need monitoring by a qualified physician. There are risks associated with these diets.

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Soni Dani-Cox, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Soni Dani-Cox is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in integrative mental health care. She has been working in the conventional mental health field for the past 17 years and is passionate about incorporating the mind-body connection and delving into the root cause of mental health issues to resolve issues which keep individuals stuck and struggling. She educates her clients about the mind-body connection, physical health issues related to mental health including the gut-brain connection, functional nutrition and a comprehensive look at the different layers of trauma and life events that create illness.

Soni is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, emotion focused therapy and is grounded in neuroscience informed psychotherapy. Soni is currently enrolled in a fellowship in Integrative Psychiatry and has a solid foundation in research and practice of integrative care.



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