Have you ever gotten “butterflies in your stomach,” or felt the need to “go with your gut?”
Research is showing that these are more than just old sayings. Our gut is so much more than just a big long tube for digesting food and expelling waste, it’s also a complex system that absorbs nutrients, makes vitamins, houses important beneficial bacteria and makes neurotransmitters, the chemicals that relay messages from your nervous system and influence so many of your body’s daily functions. In fact, your gut uses over 30 types of neurotransmitters, just like your brain, and over 95% of your body’s serotonin and 50% of its dopamine (the mood-boosting neurotransmitters) are found in your gut. Home to over 100 million nerve cells, your gut makes up a secondary nervous system called the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system is in such close communication with your central nervous system that it’s even been nicknamed your “second brain!”
Because your gut is responsible for making most of your feel-good neurotransmitters, a healthy gut is essential for a joyous mood! But those neurotransmitters don’t just come out of thin air. Aside from all those nerve cells, your gut is also home to trillions of bacteria, but don’t worry, these are the good kind of bacteria. These microorganisms secrete neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and GABA, affect the way you metabolize these chemicals, and help regulate the levels of neurotransmitters circulating in your brain.
But these good bacteria are living organisms in themselves, so they need to be fed the right kind of food to flourish.
Unfortunately, the calorie-rich, nutrient-poor Standard American Diet (SAD) is sorely lacking in the vitamins and fibre needed to keep your gut microbiome healthy and happy. When your good bacteria are undernourished, bad bacteria can move in and overwhelm them. This leaves fewer good guys to make mood-boosting neurotransmitters. In short, SAD can make you sad.
So when it comes to gut health, you’ll definitely want to make sure you’re getting enough of those old standards fibre and water.
When it comes to the superfoods that will really get that good gut flora blossoming, I’ve got one word for you: fermented.
Fermented foods have been part of traditional diets around the world for centuries. They contain probiotics that help feed the good bacteria in your gut so that they can keep churning out those neurotransmitters at maximum efficiency. There are plenty of tasty options if you’re looking to incorporate more fermented foods into your diet.