While the weather is colder, the days are short, and we are stuck inside more, it is not uncommon to be feeling a bit down. There are several effective ways to improve your mood, including taking a short hike outside during daylight hours, practicing meditation, or talking with others. Did you know that your diet can also help improve your mental health? Taking small steps and introducing different foods may improve how you are feeling. The gut-brain axis causes our nutrition to affect our brain – how cool is that!
Your gut is filled with millions of good and bad bacteria, and the body works to ensure there is more “good” bacteria than “bad”. Any disruption to this bacteria balance, or your microbiome, can lead to overreaction of the immune system, which affects both your body and brain. This can eventually disrupt the communication network with your brain, which could be contributing to mental health ailments.
What can you do?
To maintain or restore a healthy microbiome, try including foods with prebiotics or probiotics into your balanced diet. Probiotics are the live, “good” bacteria in your microbiome, and prebiotics promote the growth of probiotics.
Examples of probiotic foods:
- Cottage cheese
- Kombucha (available through Countryside Curbside Farmers’ Market at Old Trail School)
- Apple cider vinegar
Examples of prebiotic foods:
- Onions (available at Countryside Farmers’ Market at Howe Meadow)
- Garlic (available at Countryside Farmers’ Market at Howe Meadow)
- Cabbage (available through Countryside Curbside Farmers’ Market at Old Trail School)
- Asparagus (available at Countryside Farmers’ Market at Howe Meadow)
- Oats (available through Countryside Curbside Farmers’ Market at Old Trail School)
- Leeks (available through Countryside Curbside Farmers’ Market at Old Trail School)
Alternatively, probiotics are available in a commercial supplement form. If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, OCD, or another psychological condition, ask your health care provider about trying a probiotic supplement.
Omega 3 fatty acids have also been shown to improve depressive symptoms. These work by traveling the gut-brain axis, as well as reducing the body’s inflammation. The connection between omega 3 and mood was originally studied because countries that consume fish regularly show lower levels of depression. Omega 3 levels can be increased through the food you eat!
Examples of foods with omega 3 fatty acids:
- Fish, especially salmon, mackerel, and herring
- Walnuts (available through Countryside Curbside Farmers’ Market at Old Trail School)
- Ground Flaxseed
- Chia Seeds
Finally, hydration also plays a big role. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day has countless benefits, including maintaining healthy skin, aiding digestion, and increasing energy levels. If you are looking for ways to increase your water intake, try filling up your water bottle the night before, keeping a glass of water on your desk, or using a straw.
Even though spring is just around the corner, it is not too late to tackle those winter blues. We all have the power to make changes, and modifying what we eat is an easy place to start. The best part is that all of these changes mentioned above are great for your health no matter what time of year, and the whole family can make changes along with you.