Our bodies produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep, appetite, and mood. Ninety-five percent of serotonin is produced in our gastrointestinal tract, which is lined with millions of nerve cells. Our digestive systems don’t just help us digest food, but also guide our emotions! These nerve cells and the production of serotonin is highly influenced by the “good” bacteria in our intestines. These bacteria protect the lining of our intestines and provide a strong barrier against toxins and “bad” bacteria. They also limit inflammation, improve our absorption of nutrients, and activate neural pathways between our gut and brain.
Studies have compared diets like the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Japanese diet to a typical Western diet. The research shows that the risk of depression is 25-35% lower in those who eat a traditional Japanese or Mediterranean diet. Scientists account for this difference because these traditional diets tend to be high in fruits, vegetables, unprocessed grains, and fish. They only contain modest amounts of lean meats and dairy. The Mediterranean and Japanese diets are also free from processed foods and refined sugars, which are staples of Western dietary patterns. In addition, a lot of the unprocessed foods are fermented, acting as natural probiotics. Probiotics, which contain “good” bacteria, can actually lower your anxiety or stress level and improve your mental outlook. The good bacteria in fermented foods influence how you digest food and absorb nutrients. They can even lower the level of inflammation throughout our bodies; leading to improved mood and energy levels.