Emerging science suggests that our dietary choices influence our health in multifaceted ways. The food we consume not only affects our gut health, but our gut health also plays a role in the functioning of our brain and other bodily systems.
In an interview, Dr. Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist and author of “This Is Your Brain on Food,” highlighted essential dietary components for enhancing both physical and mental health.
Topping the list? Fiber.
“Fiber is extremely important for your gut health and you can get it from vegetables, berries, fruit, colorful salad — but you can also get it from extra-dark natural chocolate, (which is) rich in things like serotonin. It’s also a fermented food,” she explained, noting that chocolate has also been studied for its impact on depression.
“A population-based study of more than 13,000 individuals showed an improvement of more than 70% in depression,” she mentioned. “So your gut health is also your mental health — it’s your physical health, but it improves things like your mental well-being as well.”
Naidoo cautioned against chocolate-based candy bars, which are typically laden with sugar, and instead suggested acquiring a taste for extra-dark natural chocolate. “A lot of people love it,” she added.
Alongside a plant-based diet, lean proteins and healthy fats are pivotal, Naidoo emphasized, pointing to the staples of the Mediterranean diet.
Drawing inspiration from the region’s traditional cuisines, this diet accentuates fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. It’s also linked to numerous health benefits, including fewer Alzheimer’s signs in the brain and a reduced heart disease risk.
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Naidoo mentioned that the diet’s components are beneficial for gut health. She also introduced the idea of incorporating more spices and flavors from diverse cultures into what she dubs a “Mediter-Asian” diet.
“It’s a way to still take those nutrients from the Mediterranean diet and tailor them to the foods you eat, making them more appealing so people genuinely want to consume them,” she elaborated, emphasizing that these gut-health-friendly foods can lead to a plethora of health advantages.
“The end goal here is both better physical and mental well-being (and) reduction in inflammation,” she concluded. “Inflammation underpins numerous diseases, both physical and now mental health issues like anxiety and mood disorders. Thus, mitigating that inflammation is paramount, and all the foods discussed here will assist in achieving that.”
With information from CBS News