Get Connected: Taking a Bite for Your (Second) Brain
The inner workings of the body are all connected. When one thing is broken, chances are it's because something else is broken too. There’s an intricate web of a universe working inside of you and you must nourish it accordingly.
When it comes to depression (and I'm not just talking clinical depression, but also that seasonal cold weather depression and general blues), the foods you do or don’t eat can have a significant affect on when those waves of sadness do or don’t come because again, everything is connected. Each bite of food you take impacts your cells, tissues, blood, proteins, digestion, regeneration, etc, which in turn also has an impact on your mental health as well.
Often referred to as the second brain, the gut is the only organ in your body to boast its own independent nervous system. It has an intricate network of over 100 million neurons embedded into it’s wall. There are also 100 trillion microbes living in your GI tract, acting as the pope, if you will, to your learning, memory, and mood. Your gut has a multifaceted ability to communicate with the brain, along with keeping your immunity high by warding off unwanted visitors (such as seasonal-flu bacteria). Gastroenterologist Emeran Mayer, MD, director of the Center for Neurobiology of Stress at UC LA tells us, “it’s almost unthinkable that the gut is not playing a critical role in mind states.” Indeed, there is some undeniable indication that your gut microbiome’s connection to the brain plays a crucial role in overall physical health.
This fall and coming winter, avoid the seasonal blues, and get bright. These are some of the top whole foods that help promote a healthy, happy, gut and a happy, healthy brain:
• Fats fats fats! Overt fats are not the enemy - they’re your best friends. A daily dose of these guys will keep the brain thriving with smooth signals between nerve cells, as the body refreshes these connections via supply of fatty acids. In fact, the brain is composed of 60% fat; fats like omega-3s, DHA, ALA + EPA that must be obtained from food. Things like walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, avocados, chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds… Get creative with your fats. That comforting feeling you get from biting into creamy avocado toast? Yeah, that’s because you’re brain is getting comfortable too.
• Antioxidants! Get your sweet berries and (almond) cream on! Flavonoids in berries act as a powerful brain tonic. Those sweet, colorful delicacies are packed to the skins with antioxidants to fight off free radicals, improve memory, and aid in a healthy blood flow to all the right places. Studies have shown that your brain on berries will absolutely aid in memory, learning and general cognitive functions such as reasoning skills, decision making, verbal comprehension and numerical ability. They also aid in prevention of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's, and the ever-dreaded aging process. Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, goji berries… take in a handful, and sprinkle on your meals daily to reap all their bright colored benefits.
• Fermentation! As I mentioned, your gut and you head have more in common than you think. What’s going on in your gut affects the chemistry of your brain, which is why stomach aches are often accompanied by head aches, and head aches accompanied by nausea. Eat your probiotics and fermented foods for a happy gut and a happy head. We all know that when our stomachs feel light and clear, so does our mentality. Sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha, fire cider. Even a little red wine can do the trick (antioxidants and fermentation… the ultimate brain food).
• Cacao! Cacao, aka our beloved chocolate, is a potent brain potion in it’s own right. Eating chocolate makes you happy, because once ingested, a chemical reaction occurs within you. Cacao increases serotonin and dopamine (the happy hormones) in the brain, promoting an overall sense of love and joy. Flavanols in cacao have also been shown to help lower blood pressure, thus improve blood flow to the brain and heart. Go ahead, indulge in that chocolate today. It’s doing your brain some good.
• Water! Drink up. Flush out. Drinking plenty of clean water (up to 2 liters per day) helps to rid all systems of the body of unwanted toxins, as well as hydrating cells at the deepest levels. Spring water is best, as it has a naturally balanced pH level and flows straight form Mother Earth’s core. Though, any purified water will do, and you can even optimize the alkalinity of it by adding a slice of citrus, mint, fennel and dill, or a sprinkling in a pinch of baking powder.
Now go change the world! One healthy brain at a time.