Most disease originates in your digestive system. This includes both physical and mental disease.

Your gut serves as your second brain…

…and even produces more serotonin – known to have a beneficial influence on your mood – than your brain does. It’s quite possible that this might be one reason why antidepressants, which raise serotonin levels in your brain, are often ineffective in treating depression, whereas proper dietary changes often help.

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A big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the nerves in our gut.

Butterflies in the stomach is signaling in the gut as part of our physiological stress response, says Dr Gershon (chairman of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at New York – Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and author of the 1998 book “The Second Brain”).

Although gastrointestinal (GI) turmoil can sour one’s moods, everyday emotional well-being may rely on messages from the brain below to the brain above. Gut is also home to countless bacteria, both good and bad.

These bacteria outnumber the cells in your body by at least 10 to one.

Maintaining the ideal balance of good and bad bacteria forms the foundation for good health – physical, mental and emotional.

More and more research supports the idea that the most powerful approach might be to better feed the good bacteria we already harbor [1]. Their meal of choice? Fiber.

Beneficial microbes feast on fermentable fibers – which can come from various vegetables, whole grains and other foods – that resist digestion by human-made enzymes as they travel down the digestive tract.

These fibers arrive in the large intestine relatively intact, ready to be devoured by our microbial multitudes. Microbes can extract the fiber’s extra energy, nutrients, vitamins and other compounds for us.

Women should get about 25 grams a day and men at least 35 to 40 grams a day of fiber. Eating fiber-rich whole foods – not foods that tout “added fiber” – is the best way to increase your fiber intake.

Fibrous foods to supercharge your gut and mood.

Inulin-rich foods.

     These foods have certain fibrous carbohydrates that nourish the good bacteria to help it to grow without us having to do anything else but eat them! Inulin, an insoluble fiber, travels through our bodies from the small to large intestine, our colon. Once this insoluble fiber finds its way to the colon, it ferments into healthy micro flora.

Asparagus. Eat it grilled, sautéed or raw.

Chicory root. The root of the chicory plant (Cichorium intybus) is one of the most famous sources of inulin. Many supplement manufacturers use chicory root as the main ingredient in their inulin supplements. Besides being used by these manufacturers, chicory root is used as a coffee substitute.

Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale). Like chicory root, it can be roasted, ground and used as a coffee substitute. Dandelion root contains less inulin than chicory root, but it is still a good source, compared to other sources of inulin in the modern diet.

Yacon. Also known as Peruvian ground apple. Today, it is also grown in home gardens in some parts of the United Kingdom, and you may find it at farmers’ markets, too. Raw yacon has a somewhat crunchy texture, and it is good simply peeled, diced and eaten as a snack. Peeled and sliced yacon can also be added to salads.

Onions. If raw onions give you indigestion, give yours a light sauté or boil before using, in order to break down some of the sugars.

Garlic. Rich source of inulin as well as great antibacterial agent. Try it in a veggie stir-fry, hummus/bean spread, or sauté into your next batch of rice or soup.

 – Jerusalem artichoke. Among the best food sources of inulin and excellent source of many other health promoting nutrients like vitamin B1, copper and vitamin C.

 – Green bananas. Cooked green bananas are not only good for its inulin, but also contain large amounts of pectin, which is important for gut motility and for ending constipation.

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2. Fermented vegetables – Fiber + Prebiotic foods.

Vegetables growing above the ground are great source of fiber and if you culture them, they are the best route to optimal digestive health, as long as you eat the traditionally made, unpasteurized versions.

Some of the beneficial bacteria found in fermented vegetables are also excellent chelators of heavy metals and pesticides, which will also have a beneficial health effect by reducing your toxic load.

Eat sauerkraut and kimchi at least 1/4 cup per day. They directly inoculate your gut with healthy live micro-organisms that will crowd out the unhealthy bacteria, improve the absorption of minerals and improve overall health.

3. Green leafy vegetables.

Collard greens and Swiss chard have 4 grams of fiber per cup, broccoli have 5.1 grams per cup, boiled. Spinach also packs a punch at 7 grams of fiber per half-cup. Artichokes are among the highest-fiber veggies, at 10 grams for a medium-sized one.

Studies show people who eat the most cruciferous vegetables reduce their risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. One more reason to load up on leafy greens!

4. Beans and Legumes.

Navy and white beans are the most fiber-rich, but all beans are fiber-packed.

Any of these is a good choice for your shopping cart: garbanzo, kidney, lima, or pinto beans. They make great soups and chilis, and are a flavorful addition to salads.

Soak your beans overnight and cook them extremely well (almost overdone if you need to), or add them slowly into your diet each day so your body can adapt. Calorie for calorie, beans offer the most nutrition bang for your buck. They are packed with fiber, protein, folate and B vitamins, which play a role in regulating a healthy gut and a healthy brain.

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5. Nuts and seeds.

A handful of chia (have a whopping 5.5 grams of fiber per tablespoon), flax or sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios or almonds give you at least 3 grams of fiber. They are also high in calories, though, so make a little go a long way.

6. Berries.

Especially raspberries (8 grams per cup, raw) and blackberries (7.6 grams per cup, raw) make a quick and healthy dessert or boost breakfast that pleases any palate.

7. Bran.

Whether it be oat, rice or another type of bran, pure bran is full of insoluble fiber that feeds good gut bacteria. Be sure to choose organic bran when possible to avoid genetically modified grains, or go with a company that’s certified non-GMO. Bran can be added to muffin recipes, porridge, or used in healthy cookie recipes for a creamy, nutty and fibrous texture.

Tips to Add More Fiber to Any Meal.

The blender or food processor are fiber’s best friend. Purée some cooked vegetables and add them to sauces and stews, or swap out rice for chopped-up cauliflower, top with some seeds and/or unsweetened coconut (3.4 gr of fiber /1Tbsp) and voila, you got a perfect meal. Use chia or ground flax seeds to thicken smoothies, make pudding or use as an egg substitution.

If you would like to learn how to count fiber in your food, you can refer to fiber chart.

Be careful of added fiber in processed food and advertised as healthy food!

The addition of insoluble and soluble fibers to processed foods may actually cause these foods to be even less nutritious than if they were not enriched with any fiber at all. Excess insoluble fiber can bind to minerals such as zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron, preventing the absorption of these vital nutrients.

Only naturally occurring soluble fibers are very important for feeding the friendly bacteria that live in our guts, by process of bacterial fermentation of undigested soluble fiber into short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate [2].

The more diversity you have in your gut bacteria, the better off you’ll fare in the long run.

Limiting sugar, eating traditionally fermented foods and taking a probiotic supplement are among the best ways to optimize your gut flora and subsequently support your brain health and normalize your mood.

Resources:

[1] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-guts-microbiome-changes-diet/

[2] http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/butyric-acid-ancient-controller-of.html

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