The most fascinating article I read last week was Dr Sarah Sarkis’ post on detrimental effect our gut flora has on our anxiety levels and mood in general. It pretty much forever changed the definition of “comfort food” for me.
Basically, the take-home message is that our stomach has a strong neural connection to our brain and whatever we feed the stomach will undoubtedly affect the way our brain works. This actually means that we can nourish our way through stress and sadness.
As Karen, from Hey, Sigmund, nicely puts it: our stomach is in charge of numerous aspects of our mental functioning, such as our memory, cognitive abilities and emotional states, and by feeding it properly we can vastly improve on these functions. “About 90% of the fibres in the vagus [the longest nerve exiting the brain], carry information from the internal organs in the chest (such as the heart) and the abdomen to the brain, not the other way around.”
Apart from this mighty neural link, another key contributor to our gut-brain relationship is our stomach bacteria. Experiments have shown that the type of our gut bacteria determines our temperament, behaviour and brain response to different stimuli.
Finally, the neurotransmitter in charge of our mood, serotonin, can mostly (95%) be found in our stomach, with only 5% stored in the brain.
So, since food can truly alter mood, what food is best to keep our spirits high?
Food for mood…and thought
The science is finally proving that you are indeed what you eat, therefore you need to choose your food mindfully and caringly.
We know that excess use of antibiotics and steroids can disturb our gut flora, as can infections and unaddressed stress issues.
But, while you cannot avoid occasional medication or psychological strain, you most certainly can change your diet to help your gut flora thrive, and it chiefly implies introducing more food which is high in fiber and low in sugar and reserving alcohol only for special occasions.
It also means increasing the amount of food high in Omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables, fermented and living foods (such as yogurt or kefir), drinking more water and maybe even taking extra probiotics, under your doctor’s supervision, of course.
But, while high sugar content can damage your gut flora (as well as your mood, memory or cognitive skills), honey can actually help heal the stomach. And, since the strawberries are now in season, here are three lovely recipes that can assist you in making that switch towards a psychologically healthier diet.
All you need is strawberries, honey, a blender and ice cream molds. Just blend the strawberries and honey to taste, pour them into molds and keep in the freezer for at least a few hours.
Be careful how you store them, though. I once made a mistake of putting the molds next to some left-over chicken patties mixture and they picked up a bit of that onion flavour, so you might want to avoid that.
Strawberry frozen yogurt
Add yogurt to the recipe above and maybe even a banana or two and ta-da!
Strawberry yogurt tart
You will need some nuts for this one. I chose walnuts, though they do have a hint of bitterness, but my kids don’t mind, so I was glad to feed them Omega-3 fatty acids in such a deliciously sweet treat.
The original recipe from Super Healthy Kids calls for cashews, but feel free to customize it to suit your taste and budget, as I did.
Blend the nuts and half of tea spoon of baking soda, spread it over a plate to make a filo and leave in the fridge to cool a bit.
Meanwhile blend the yogurt and honey and slice the strawberries. Layer the nut filo with yogurt first and decorate with strawberry slices. Serve right away or store in the fridge.