The importance of gut health has gained significant attention in the last few years - and for good reason! In addition to supporting healthy digestion and nutrient absorption, studies show a thriving gut may actually help regulate mood. Research has revealed an extensive communication network between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system, referred to as the “gut–brain axis.”
That means that helping foster a health gut microbiome can help support immunity, energy levels, healthy skin conditions, and maybe even brighten your mood! Fortunately, it’s becoming easier and tastier to add these good mood foods into your diet with simple, everyday life hacks.
We talked to renowned Registered Dietician and best selling author Frances Largeman-Roth to provide you with the tricks and recipes you need to up your gut-health game. Frances served as the Food and Nutrition Director at Health magazine for nearly eight years and has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Dr. Oz Show and more! Below, Frances shares her recommendations for parents, vegans, and on-the-go professionals.
Your Gut May Need TLC When…
- Your skin isn’t as clear as you’d like: acne, eczema, psoriasis, etc.
- You consistently feel like a zombie, despite getting solid rest
- You have frequent yeast infections
- Your gut is sassy and gassy: constipation, irregularity, bloating, acid reflux, diarrhea
Good Mood Food
Neurogastroenterology research has identified and conducted extensive research on the gut-brain axis. This is the biochemical link between your central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Essentially, there’s two-way communication between your GI tract and your brain in the form of neurotransmitters like adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), adrenaline, and noradrenaline.
Improving the GI microbiome may help modulate mood and prevent against low mood, the primary symptom of depression. According to a study published in Annals of General Psychiatry, probiotics do this by increasing the “growth factor crucial for brain plasticity, memory, and neuronal health that is abnormally reduced in patients suffering from depression." Further, probiotics increase the levels of tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin.
Prebiotics: The Underrated Sidekick!
Consuming probiotic-rich foods without having the prebiotics to support efficient digestion is like enrolling in advanced calculus in college before taking pre-calc in high school.
Prebiotics feed probiotics. They are “natural, non-digestible food components that promote the growth of probiotics - good bacteria - in the gut." Frances recommends making this step easy on yourself: look for foods that are high in fiber. This can be as simple as eating fruits and vegetables with your probiotic-rich foods. Prebiotic fruits include bananas, wild blueberries, apples, and kiwis. Asparagus, artichokes, spinach, leeks, and onions are great go-to veggies. Other prebiotic foods include honey, pistachios, garlic, soybeans, chia seeds, flax seeds, kombucha, and whole wheat foods.
These prebiotic foods contain a natural prebiotic fiber called inulin. For those with an inulin sensitivity, Frances recommends resistant starch (RS) foods that serve as a healthy alternative. RS foods are carbohydrates that act like fiber, and serve as probiotic fuel as well. Under-ripe bananas, a variety of pulses (lentils, split peas, beans, chickpeas), oats, cooked and cooled potatoes, barley, brown rice, yams, millet, and polenta are all RS foods that can help those with inulin sensitivities feed their microbiome the fuel they need.
On-the-go gut health
Certain dairy products, like yogurt, or fermented foods like sauerkraut can be great for your intestines. However, when your day takes you from a commute, to a meeting, to a coffee shop, to your kid’s school, and to the gym, those snacks might not be the most convenient options.
Luckily there are a few great vegan, no-refrigeration-necessary options. Add pickled veggies to your sandwiches before you throw them in your bag for lunch. Check out Cookie + Kate’s vegan Green Goddess sandwich with quick-pickled red onions and carrots and tangy pickles. Another great option: Yumbutter Plant Protein + Probiotic Almond Butter, which contains Ganeden BC30 probiotics but doesn't need refrigeration.
Kids' Gut Health is Important, Too!
With a little creativity, it’s incredibly easy for kids to enjoy probiotic-rich foods. Rev up your blender! In Frances’ experience with her own kids and working with other parents, smoothies are a no-fail option.
Check out Frances’ recipe for her kid-friendly strawberry smoothie bowl. For an extra boost, top the smoothie bowl with Plant Protein + Probiotic Almond Butter and Purely Elizabeth’s Probiotic Granola. While you’re at it, sprinkle a pinch of unsweetened cocoa powder of the top. It’s not technically a prebiotic or probiotic food, but it does promote the growth of anti-inflammatory bacteria. Or add probiotics to kid classics like that everyday after school serving of apples and peanut butter. Frances likes to mix cottage cheese with nut butter. The smooth texture of the nut butter balances the lumpy texture of cottage cheese - and kids seem to appreciate that! For a dairy-free option, mix the nut butter with coconut yogurt.
Thanks for sharing all of your insights with us, Frances! For more great recipes and functional food tips, be sure to follow @franceslrothrd on Instagram, explore her website, or check out her book Eating in Color.