Most of us have had the feeling of knowing something in our “gut” that we can’t logically explain. Or of feeling unbalanced or agitated for no apparent reason. Science is finding out a lot more about food, how it is digested, and the way it makes us feel and think. It turns out they are closely related! And, spoiler alert: it’s like your mom said. “eat your vegetables, get lots of fiber!”.
For example, this simple study conducted by the USDA, found that adults who ate more vegetables felt happier than those who did not. And in this video the unstoppable Dr. Greger explains how fruits and vegetables really can boost your mood. Even though we don’t yet know exactly how, as this article explains, we DO know it is true that what happens in our gut (AKA our intestines) affects our brain. In other words, the foods we eat influence how we think!
In his surprisingly facinating 1998 book The Second Brain, Michael Gershon, chairman of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at New York–Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, describes how, rather than the brain in our heads controlling our gut, sometimes it is the other way around! As this article explains, everyday emotions as well as conditions such as depression, autism and even osteroporosis can be related to what is happening in our gut.
Much of these effects seem to be related to the type of bacteria in our guts -which is influenced by diet. According to Harvard University, the bacteria in our guts produce chemicals that affect the rest of our bodies, including our thinking. Some bacteria can produce oxytocin which makes us feel sociable, while others make us depressed or anxious. Some substances produced by gut bacteria are related to brain diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Emeran Mayer, author of the Mind-Gut Connection and the Gut-Immune Connection, and Founding Director of the UCLA Brain Gut Microbiome Center, is at the forefront of much of this research. For the curious, he has produced a wealth of information on what he callls the “mind-body connection”. He advocates many changes in diet and habits to save us and our microbiome from the maladies of modern society.
So what to do? Take good care of your gut bacteria! Do you know their favorite food? Fiber! Fiber was once considered unneccesary because it is not digestible by the body. But now we know, it is vital for a healthy microbiome. Our gut bacteria also like polyphenols from plants. Guess that foods are high in fiber and polyphenols? BEANS! Remember, fiber ONLY comes from plants – so no wonder people who ate more vegetables are happier! One simple bowl of Yumbini a day, and you could be smiling ear to ear.