I have been coaching Canadians as a personal trainer for over 20 years, helping people get into better physical shape and giving them the tools to lead healthier, happier lives. I have found that much of this work is mental: you must maintain a positive outlook about yourself and your situation if either of these things is to change or improve. I see that finding this focus is getting harder and harder for people as they face the challenges of their everyday lives.
Today, we’re not just dealing with a lack of exercise and/or high caloric intake problem. Environmental toxins in both our food supply and the environment are real and they also affect our bodies AND our brains.
What are some of the connections between our food and our mood?
When it comes to understanding the gut and brain connection, consider this:
Have you ever experienced a gut feeling about something? Had “butterflies in your stomach” before doing something scary, or exciting? Been sick to your stomach after receiving bad news?
These are real sensations generated by the gut.
Each of these examples (and many more we can think of) are real-time interactions between the gut and the brain: thoughts and emotions turned into biological functions/sensations.
Negative emotions and stressful thinking can absolutely contribute to gut disruption. For example, high levels of stress hormones will put digestion on hold which can lead to improper bacteria development in the gut. This in turn leads to more stress and anxiety, provoking a vicious cycle of constantly feeling unwell.
Excessive sugars, refined carbohydrates, lack of exercise, lack of digestible nutrients, lack of sunlight, and over exposure to environmental toxins all contribute to poor emotional and physical health. Ironically, when we get over-stressed, we reach for “comfort foods” that are typically teaming with refined carbohydrates, sugars, and unhealthy fats. These foods may make you feel good for a few moments while eating them, but over the next few hours (and possibly days), such foods are notorious for making you feel uncomfortable.
But there is hope.
With a diet rich in whole foods (think outer aisle of your grocery store), we can make significant improvements in our overall state of health our bodies for optimal health.
Now, to be clear, there are also deep-rooted emotional, genetic and biochemical causes of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, but this is not what we are talking about in this article. In short, we are correlating emotional states to food and gut health.
It’s not possible to remove all environmental toxins from life, but you can start with what you can control. Begin with places you go to socialize as well as the foods and products you choose to consume. Check out the ingredients list and research the companies that make the food and products you purchase. By knowing (and avoiding) pesticides and additives in foods, soaps, chemicals, and body lotions, you can reduce your own personal toxic load considerably.
What we put into our body matters.
We now know that over 80% of our immune system function happens directly in the gut itself which makes sense, as it’s the first line of defence against the bad bacteria found on things we eat and drink.
The gut is a very long, living tube that is our only system to absorb, filter, and separate what goes in, and what comes out, of our body. And we are not exactly in control here. Our own gut bacteria and body’s auto-pneumonic systems run the entire show, including states of hunger, digestion, and excretion.
We have more bacteria cells that we do human cells, the majority of which live in our gut. Think of this bacteria population like workers in a factory: if you give them horrible conditions and treat them poorly, they will strike, perform poorly, trashing the place because they just don’t care. If you pay them well and keep your facility clean and running smoothly, they will work harmoniously and efficiently.
A population of bad gut bacteria can form due to excess stress, eating sugary/processed foods, consuming too much alcohol, lack of exercise, or excess of prescription medications which can affect our thoughts and behaviour in a negative way.
Here are some examples of foods and nutrients that help promote a healthy gut and, as a result, a better mood:
- Magnesium rich foods: bone broth and dark leafy greens
- Fermented foods: sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and apple cider vinegar
- Omega-3 rich foods: salmon, walnuts, and chia seeds
- Prebiotic fibre rich foods: chicory, garlic, onions, leeks, and asparagus
- Supplements: Magnesium, probiotics, L-theainine, ashwagandha, and CBD
Things to avoid:
- High sugar content foods: soda, juices, sweetened coffee drinks, candy
- Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white pasta, and pizza
- Excess dairy coming from factory farmed cows (grass fed is substantially better)
- Excess of omega 6 oils: canola, vegetable, peanut and soy oils.
- Lifestyle toxins such as smoking and consumption of alcohol, recreational drugs and smoke-filled (including second-hand smoke) environments.
Below are a few links to some comfort food recipes that have been recently renovated. They will make you feel satiated and satisfied without the excess calories, sugars, and stress to your gut biome.