Without exaggeration, we really are what we eat, with each nutrient serving as a different type of building material for the body. We use protein to make muscle, fats to maintain the nervous system and a variety of plant fibers to feed the vital microbiomes in our guts. Without these and other necessary components, we can have gaps in our building materials, which puts us at risk for physical and emotional instabilities.
No one in their right might would consider building a house using cardboard and tape, right? Think of fast food and boxed or frozen meals as cardboard and tape. They’re materials—but flimsy ones at best. More importantly, they aren’t the right materials for the job. You need a variety of specific components to build a real house—wood, concrete, wiring, nails and pipes—or the place is quickly going to fall apart. You also need the right materials to build and sustain a healthy, happy body.
Too many of us have fallen into the 21st-century trap of convenience “foods,” with large portions of our diets coming prepackaged or from drive-through windows. Even worse, we’ve come to the misinformed idea that anything able to meet our caloric needs will do, when in reality, most of us are starving our guts and our minds with the deficit. The result is worsened mental and physical health issues.
Most people wo eat processed diets are unaware of how strongly the gut health impacts mental wellbeing, but the connection is a profound one. Up to 95% of the serotonin (a “feel-good” brain chemical believed to keep depression at bay) we produce comes from the microbes in our guts.
These bacteria, fungi and other microscopic organisms call our bodies home, and they’re as much a part of us as we are. Without them, we’d be unable to digest food, fight infections, regulate inflammation or even process our emotions. When we starve them by eating the wrong diets, we render them unable to produce the chemicals necessary to send out the right signals. As a result, our bodies become inflamed, and our minds fall into chaos.
Feeding the Gut
Improving the diet may not be a cure-all, but it is certain to make a difference for people who are suffering the mental and physical effects of their current eating patterns. Shifting to habits that increase nutrients vital to the health of beneficial gut bacteria could hold the key to newfound health for countless people.
Not sure where to get started? The Mediterranean diet is an excellent choice, but any anti-inflammatory diet will do. Include liberal amounts of olive oil, vegetables, fish, eggs, legumes, whole grain breads and cereals. Eat yogurt, cheese and all animal proteins (beyond fish) in strict moderation and keep added sugars (which feed inflammation-promoting gut bacteria) to a minimum.
Cut out the processed foods completely. Start slow, if necessary, but keep the goal in mind: Switching over to the right building blocks so your gut has what it needs to help your mind function at its very best. The benefits may take a month or so to notice—remember, some of these microbes have been barely hanging on, and they need time to recover—but for some people, the difference is life changing.
Initially, the unhealthy bacteria will send out signals insisting that you need more sugar and other processed foods. They’re lying. Stick with it. Speak with a nutritionist and consider taking cooking classes if meal planning is an issue. Change is hard, but this could be one of the most important issues you ever tackle. As the gut rebalances, the right bacteria will have the louder voice, and food cravings will shift to healthier options.
Most importantly, an even healthier, happier you may finally be possible.