Why prebiotics are the most important nutrient to boost your mood and prevent anxiety and depression

Written by Kara Landau (Australian Registered Dietitian and Founder at Uplift Food)
The case for the importance of maintaining a healthy gut has continued to strengthen year in year out, and so too has the research findings showing a connection between our gut health, mental health, and the foods that we select to consume.
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Anxiety and depression are no longer seen as solely hormonal imbalances, but rather diseases resulting from internal inflammation.

There is a clear bi-directional relationship between stress and inflammation – with increased external stressors leading to heightened inflammation, whilst heightened inflammation can lead to enhanced feelings of depression and anxiety.

Factors that can negatively impact your gut health and act as “stressors” on the body include:

  • Your life events that lead to stress
  • Toxins in the skin care and cleaning products that make contact with your body
  • Medications you ingest, and
  • Foods you select to consume

We also know that around 95% of your mood calming serotonin is found within your gut – those gut feelings you have experienced..they just might be onto something!

What to Eat and What to Avoid to Boost Mood:

Your dietary choices play a huge part in promoting or preventing inflammation within your body;

And the science around the importance of consuming an anti-inflammatory diet to prevent inflammation and the resulting negative mood impacts continues to strengthen in case.

It has been shown in studies that diets rich in:

Fruits, vegetables, pulses and EVOO

As well as specific nutrients and non-nutrient benefits such as:

Have all been shown to play a beneficial role.

Negative nutrients on the other hand, such as

There is also growing evidence on potentially gut aggravating ingredients, that although are not yet confirmed to cause harm, may want to be avoided from a preventative and cautious perspective, such as many food additives and artificial ingredients including those such as carrageenan and some artificial sweeteners.

Prebiotics and Probiotics to Boost Mood:

Now that you know that poor gut health can lead to inflammatory pathways being set off, and you know that internal inflammation is associated with heightened negative moods, the goal to strengthen your gut and reduce inflammatory pathways through proper nutrition, is a clear place to take ownership of your wellbeing, and positively influence your body and mind.

We also know that prebiotics are fermented by the probiotics in your gut, and that the by-products of this fermentation (short chain fatty acids) are able to stimulate the release of serotonin from your brain – meaning a gut healthy diet can quite directly effect your mood.

Prebiotics, which can be found as prebiotic fibers, resistant starches, and more recently discovered as polyphenolic compounds and flavonoids, are the fuel for the probiotics found in your gut, and are able to help maintain the correct balance of good to bad bacteria which ensures inflammatory pathways are kept down.

Prebiotic fibers help you maintain the all important diversity of bacteria that are pre-existing in your body.

This is extremely valuable, as many of the probiotic foods (natural or enhanced) and supplements, rely on you to continually consume the products in order to potentially reap their benefits.

In addition, many of the products only offer a single strain, or a transient form of probiotic that is unable to latch on to your gut wall and flourish, or even worse, are unable to make their way alive to your gut where they are required to be able to impart their benefit on you.

There are of course some exceptions to this rule, such as encapsulated probiotics and spore formers.

For this reason, the consumption of prebiotics that are able to supply fuel to the the existing probiotics in your body, is the essential missing link to ensure both the probiotics that are consumed are truly able to grow and perform strongly, as well as ensure that the strains that are naturally still in your body (and that haven’t been harmed by any external stressors you have come into contact with to date) are able to survive and flourish.

Some of the richest prebiotic rich foods that you can consume, include:

  • Green banana flour
  • Chicory root fiber
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Dandelion greens
  • Acacia fiber
  • Cooked and then cooled potatoes
  • Legumes and lentils such as lupin beans
  • Uncooked oats
  • Raw onion and garlic
  • Asparagus
  • Konjac noodles
  • Tigernuts (a vegetable tuber)
  • And lesser so inside skin of some fruits such as pectin inside apple peels

Prebiotic activity is also starting to be discovered inside some fruits due to either the fibers and/or the flavonoids that are present, such as inside kiwifruits or citrus peel.

Be sure not assume that just because your low carbohydrate ice cream or protein bar promotes that it has prebiotics in it, that you are attaining the dose required to truly have a benefit.

As specified, diversity is key, and consuming products that only have one type of prebiotic such as only a soluble corn fiber, chicory root inulin or IMO will not on its own feed the variety of probiotics in your gut that ultimately need to be nourished to reap all the possible benefits.

Look for products that offer you a variety of prebiotic sources, and eat a variety of foods that are rich in prebiotics, and together you can feel confident that you are on the right track to nourishing your gut, and ultimately your mind.

Diet may not be the cure to mental health conditions at this stage, but it certainly plays a strong role in prevention and in supporting the body to look after itself from within.

Next time you are feeling a little flat, try grabbing the gut healthy option rather than the regular comfort food option,

You will be amazed at how your body and mind thank you!


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