Viewing entries tagged
gut health

Food for your mood

Food for your mood

Did you know that the foods you choose to eat (or not eat), have a powerful influence on your mood? 

It’s no secret that foods like chocolate and lollies offer a quick reward when we’re feeling tired or down. There’s a reason these foods are used as comfort foods for a lot of people. Unfortunately, these foods can result in feelings of irritation, tiredness and leave you feeling unmotivated with a gut ache to boot. 

We are - quite literally - what we eat. We eat to provide both energy in the form of calories, and micronutrients, in the forms of vitamins and minerals. Without an adequate supply of both energy and nutrients, our bodies cannot maintain homeostasis - the scientific term for a biological state of balance and well-being. 

You may have heard of our gut been referred to as our “second brain”. The bacteria found inside our guts is responsible for producing an amazing 95 percent of serotonin in our bodies. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps the body in regulating appetite, sleep patterns, and mood. The food we put in our bodies can influence the pathways by which it is produced. It cannot be stressed enough that this connection requires a nutrient dense nourishing diet for optimal mental health.

So, if you want to get the most out of your mood, what should you be eating?

1. Make sure you get enough B Vitamins (Particularly B12)

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is essential for proper neurological function, and so you need to make sure you get enough of it. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the low end of the ‘normal’ range is quite simply too low, and that many people will suffer symptoms of deficiency at these levels.

B12 is only present in its true form in animal foods, so if you do not eat these - or don’t eat many of them - be sure to get a good vitamin B12 supplement that is easily absorbed by the body.

Brightly coloured plant foods, and good quality animal foods, are a great source of all of the B vitamins which are so essential to your health. Always build your meals around large amounts of veggies, a good serving of protein, and you’ll be well on your way to building a better mood through food!

2. Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that serves as a precursor for serotonin when combined with the essentials, vitamin B9, B6 and zinc. To increase your intake of foods rich in tryptophan for a greater overall mindset try increasing your intake of salmon, chicken, nuts and seeds.

3. Selenium, magnesium and zinc

Selenium, magnesium and zinc are also easily depleted from the body when consuming a poor nutrient dense diet and when the body is under a great deal of stress. These minerals are often found deficient in people suffering from depression and anxiety. They are essential for a wide range of roles in the body including improving behavioural and emotional disorders. Just three Brazil nuts a day can give you your required amount of selenium. Dark leafy greens are a great dietary source to get your daily magnesium boost essential for a healthy nervous system. A diet rich in seafood, especially shellfish contains high levels of zinc to ensure a healthy production of neurotransmitters.

4. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is used to enhance the synthesis of norepinephrine from dopamine, a neurotransmitter, also known as the stress hormone It is also easily depleted from the body through stress, illness and low dietary intake. Vitamin C can be increased in the diet through foods such as berries, kiwifruit and citrus fruits.

5. Eat your protein

Neurotransmitters are built from amino acids - the same molecules that form proteins. Therefore it is essential to ensure that you are eating enough quality protein to meet your needs. 

The Ministry of Health recommends just 46 grams of protein per day for a female aged between 19 and 30. While this quantity may prevent out-right protein deficiency, it’s unlikely to be enough to support all of the critical biological functions that rely on amino acids - such as the production of neurotransmitters. Your body is clever - when it detects a shortage of something, it increases your desire for it (think of calories when you’re trying to eat a very low calorie diet). If it doesn’t get what it wants, it’ll reduce something else. Feeling happy isn’t critical compared to other biological functions!

Remember that not all protein is created equal. It is an ‘essential’ nutrient, meaning you have to get it through your diet. There are 20 amino acids, eight of which are essential (they can’t be created by the body from other amino acids). Foods that contain all eight essential amino acids are called complete proteins, and are more readily utilised by the human body as it doesn’t have to do extra work creating amino acids that weren’t found in the meal. Animal foods are a great source of complete proteins.

Plant foods do contain some protein, though in small amounts compared to animal foods. Soy and quinoa are the only two plants foods to contain all eight essential amino acids - but in small quantities. 

6. Avoid Processed Foods

Sure they may taste good - amazing even - but processed foods do your health no favours. 

Generally speaking, they’re loaded with refined flours and sugars which shoot your blood-sugar sky-high, leading to the inevitable crash. They contain highly processed vegetable oils, which are highly inflammatory (your brain is particularly sensitive to inflammation) and may even contain trans fats - a known carcinogen. They’re also likely to contain the perfect combination of fatty, salty, and sweet - a combination which doesn’t exist in nature. Food scientists have found the perfect combination of these three tastes, called the ‘bliss point.’ It’s no coincidence that foods like Pringles have the catch-phrase, “Once you pop you can’t stop!” They’re designed to be that way!

Not only are processed foods problematic because of the things they contain, they’re also troublesome because of what they don’t contain. Processed foods are generally calorically-dense without being nutrient-dense. This is not ideal! If we’re eating a large number of calories in one sitting, we want to make them count. We want them to provide our bodies with the nutrients they need to thrive. If we become deficient in any given nutrient, our appetite increases. We are driven to eat until we eat enough of that nutrient. If you’re always hungry, you may not be getting the nutrition you need.

7. Increase your Nutrient-Density

What does that even mean?! Choose foods as close to how they’re found in nature as possible. Bright colours are a sign of antioxidants and powerful phytonutrients. Frozen fruits and veggies are great too! Choose whole food sources of carbohydrates over refined ones, such as kumara, potato, and pumpkin, over bread, pasta, and rice. 

Try to eat fish and seafood at least a couple of times a week. The omega-3 fats found in fish and shellfish is anti-inflammatory, and is known to have a positive effect on the brain. Choose sustainable fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and kippers. Mackerel, sardines, and kippers are very cheap, too! Mussels are also a fantastic source of omega-3, are cheap, and are New Zealand’s single most sustainable seafood. You’ll also get a large portion of your RDI of iron and zinc.

Our advice to you.

Minimise energy bandaids as much as possible. Try not to rely on sugar, alcohol, and caffeine to get you through the day. Your energy and mood should be such that most days are great without them! You don’t NEED these substances to keep your head up, or to de-stress at the end of it.
Take a moment each day to breath and avoid the stress that can come from our chaotic lifestyles. Notice how different foods make you feel. Choose nutrient dense foods that are nourishing, vitalizing, and energising for a healthier happier you. 

Thanks for reading! From the Feel Fresh Nutrition Team

Images: @Tranmautritam, @caseylee, @adriensala, @badyqb, @yorikoo, @leoniewise, @brookelark

What your Poo says about you!

What your Poo says about you!

Did we really just say that?

Yes, we did! And here’s why. The gut microbiome – the delicate balance of billions of microorganisms living inside of our gastrointestinal tract – is really having its time in the lime-light in terms of its role in our overall health and well-being, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing. It seems like new journal articles are being published almost daily about how these critters can influence everything from the obvious (like our digestive health) to the less obvious, like our mental health. Our bodies are 10 to 1 bacteria; you have more bacterial cells residing in and on you than you have human DNA. Think about that for a moment… most of the DNA in your body isn’t human!

Why should you care about the health of your gut, and how can you tell whether or not yours is in tip top condition?

Our guts are our ‘second brain,’ with the bacteria that reside there producing a whopping 95 percent of the serotonin in our bodies. (1). This serotonin is responsible for regulating both mood and gastrointestinal activity. Ever wonder why you get butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous? That’s the gut-brain axis at work.

The balance of bacteria in the gut can also be a powerful player in terms of how well you do or do not digest your food. They help regulate everything from transit time, to nutrient absorption, and gas, bloating, and stool consistency.

Your gut is also your best defence against attacks from the outside world – bacterial infections, viruses, and foodborne illness. It is responsible for an enormous amount of your immunity – whether or not you get sick. Frequent illness could be a sign of a compromised gut! Even mild stress can be enough to tip the balance between health promoting bacteria, and disease causing bacteria.

So, with the health of the bacteria that reside in our guts being so crucial to our health, how can we tell if our guts are healthy or not?

1. Transit time

This one is fairly straight forward and involves eating something that passes through the digestive tract relatively unchanged. This is a measure of how long food takes to pass through your digestive tract. A transit time that is too slow could indicate constipation, and an overly rapid transit time could indicate poor nutrient absorption. Some options include:

  • Sesame Seeds: Mix a tablespoon of sesame seeds into a glass of water and swallow them whole. They should reappear in your stool mostly intact.

  • Beetroot: In addition to being an awesome source of many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, beetroot also turns things purple – your poo included! You need to eat about a cup either cooked or raw, and on its own. Watch for the change in colour in your stool.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a study conducted in the 1980s showed significant differences between men and women in terms of transit time, with men having a much faster rate (33 hours compared to 47 hours for women). A normal transit time is anywhere between 12 to 48 hours, with anything more than 72 hours likely indicating constipation. (2).

2. The Bristol Stool Form Scale

Developed by a team of researchers at the University of Bristol, the Bristol Stool Form Scale classes bowel movements by form and shape. There are seven ‘types,’ all indicating different degrees of bowel health.

The longer faeces stays inside our bodies, the more dried out and hard it becomes. The Bristol Stool Chart is essentially another way of measuring transit time.

  • Type 1: Indicates constipation. The stool is hard and scratchy, and painful to pass. There will be little gas, as there is inadequate fibre to ferment.

  • Type 2: Also indicates constipation, but is more severe than Type 1 owing to the size. Considerable straining required to eliminate. Common in sufferers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Stool in this form has been in the colon for several weeks.

  • Type 3: Has all of the same characteristics of Type 2, but transit time through the colon is faster. Also common in sufferers of IBS.

  • Type 4: Normal! Common in people who have a bowel movement daily.

  • Type 5: Also considered normal, but not if there is incompletely digested food visible (this could indicate a transit time that is too fast).

  • Type 6: Abnormally fast transit time, but comfortable to pass. Can be caused by excessive stress, laxative use, or gut disorders.

  • Type 7: Classic diarrhoea. Transit time is far too rapid to allow for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. (3).

So, Types 1, 2, 6, or 7 could indicate gut issues that require further investigation.

3. Just looking!

Does your poop float, sink, or contain undigested food particles? All of this tells you something about your digestion, and the overall health of your gut.

  • Floating stools can indicate flatulence and gas in the stool, and is not caused by too much fat in the diet (as is commonly believed). However, an increased fat content of stool can indicate a pancreatic disorder, as the pancreas is responsible for emulsifying dietary fats. (4).

  • Undigested food in your poo can be harmless, or a sign that something is wrong. For example, not chewing thoroughly, swallowing a lot of air, or eating hard to digest foods can all cause food to be incompletely digested, but are harmless. However, it can also be a sign of inadequate hydrochloric acid production, intestinal inflammation, or malabsorption. If this happens to you frequently, see your doctor.

4. Frequency

Although everyone is different and there is no set ‘ideal’ bowel movement frequency, it can tell us a lot about our gut health. As stated above, there is considerable variability between individuals influenced by factors such as fluid intake and diet. There is also much variability between men and women, with men passing stool more frequently. (5).

It is generally accepted that having a bowel movement every day to every three days is considered normal. Any less frequently than this could indicate serious constipation. Frequent loose or watery stools can also indicate malabsorption, or digestive disorders such as IBS.

5. Listen to your gut

Symptoms such as pain, gas, and bloating can all indicate abnormal digestive health – especially if experienced frequently. However, there are many lesser-known symptoms of poor digestive health as well. If you experience any of the following symptoms frequently, it could warrant further investigation:

  • Indigestion and/or heartburn

  • Bad breath

  • Food sensitivities and intolerances

  • Mucus in the stool

If you experience any of these symptoms, there are a number of things you can try at home to help health your gut and restore digestive health, such as:

  • Increase your fibre intake – especially from fresh fruits and vegetables

  • Increase the amount of fermented foods you eat, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha

  • If you suspect you may have food intolerances, try an elimination diet to single out the food or foods

  • Increase your fluid intake

  • Get a good probiotic supplement

  • Get enough sleep, and reduce stress as much as possible

If you suspect you may have a more serious condition such as Celiac Disease, Crohn’s Disease, Colitis, or a bacterial (such as SIBO) or fungal overgrowth (such as Candida), it is essential that you see your doctor for testing.

Healing the gut and optimizing gut health can be a complicated process with many moving parts, but it’s well worth the investment of time and effort for the sake of your physical, mental, and emotional health. We’re still learning just how important our gut health is in achieving optimal well-being.


Thanks, from Team Feel Fresh Nutrition.

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