How Plant Foods Affect Both the Gut and Brain

January 2023 - Nutrition

Did you know that many brain issues stem from gut issues? Did you also know that people with poor gut health often suffer from poor brain health?

It’s not uncommon for people dealing with food intolerances, IBS, bloating or constipation to also experience brain fog, anxiety, memory issues or mental fatigue. But why is that?
It all starts by considering how closely connected the gut and brain are.

Yes, the gut-brain connection is real. Messages between them travel back and forth through the vagus nerve. But with more messages going from the gut to the brain, it’s crucial to understand that what we feed the gut will also significantly impact the brain.

A healthy, robust gut or digestive system will send the proper signals and neurotransmitters to the brain to promote proper brain health. That means optimal brain health may actually start in the gut.
So what should we do? How can we feed the gut and the brain so each of them is happy? It all starts with a diet rooted in plants!

There are certain compounds found only in plant foods that work to feed the gut properly. As an extension, they also feed the brain.

By starting with a “plant-base” to your diet, you will consume an abundance of foods that favour a healthy gut microbiome. When your gut microbes are happy, your brain will be positively affected.
Plant-based whole foods should therefore be the base of every diet. You can build upon them by adding the right healthy fats and quality meat sources if desired. Starting with a variety of fibrous fruits and vegetables, bitter foods, raw nuts and seeds, and well-prepared beans and lentils is a great way to improve the health of your gut microbiome. By doing so, you can also improve the health of your brain.
Let’s consider some of the best plant-based nutrients that foster a healthy gut microbiome.

Many people are familiar with probiotics—the beneficial bacteria in our gut. But what do you know about prebiotics?

Prebiotics are the nutrients your gut microbiome loves the most. The unique types of fibre found in prebiotic foods directly feed the microbes and bacteria in your gut. They support proper digestive health by encouraging the growth of beneficial gut bacteria to create a healthy and robust microbiome.
Where can you find these valuable prebiotics? They are abundantly available in various fruits, vegetables and certain grains. Some of the best include garlic, chicory root, bananas, oats, dandelion greens and well-cooked beans.

Bitter foods or herbs are often neglected from a well-rounded diet. Because they rarely get adequately fed, the bitter receptors that exist all over the body, including the digestive tract and brain, can’t live up to their potential.

Bitter foods have many positive functions. They help increase digestive function and stomach acid production, support fat digestion and improve the body’s ability to detoxify.

Where can you find bitters? In dark leafy greens such as dandelion greens, kale and arugula, as well as orange zest and chamomile tea. Be sure to rotate through these foods and herbs daily to gain maximum benefits.

Plant Diversity
Another important consideration is variety. A diversity of plant-based foods is vital to support a well-
balanced and diverse gut microflora. Different microbes prefer different polyphenols, the chemical compounds found in plants that give them their unique colour and taste.

Including various plant foods of every rainbow colour in your diet is ideal. Each colour has its own phytonutrient profile, and contains a unique blend of polyphenols and antioxidants.

Plant polyphenols are divided into a few general categories, each offering its own benefits. Some can help reduce inflammation, while others support hormone regulation, reduce cortisol levels or help lower disease risk. Plant polyphenols can also work to benefit neurological health through their defensive efforts. In some cases, they can even protect the brain from premature aging, boost focus or enhance memory.

These health-promoting compounds can be found in different vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes.
Antioxidants are also incredibly protective. They work to protect cells and DNA from the damaging effects of free radicals. Through their efforts, antioxidants can provide many benefits, including reducing disease risk, slowing cell aging and reducing memory loss.

So where can you find these amazing antioxidants? They come perfectly packed from nature in various brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. To gain even more protective and health-promoting benefits from antioxidants, be sure to include an abundance of these colourful foods in your diet daily.

Bottom Line
There is a direct link between the food we eat and the health of our microbiome. There is also a direct link between our gut health and brain function.

Including an abundance of various plant-based foods in your daily diet will provide multiple benefits. Your body will receive the vitamins, minerals and micronutrients it needs to establish a robust and versatile gut microflora. As a result, a healthy microbiome will support optimal digestion and, by extension, brain health, making a plant-based perspective the foundational layer to the gut-brain connection. 

Kelly Aiello, rhn is one of our nutritionists and her mission is simple: to help people live a happier, healthier life. As a registered holistic nutritionist (RHN) and Amen Clinics Certified Brain Health Coach, Kelly brings a wealth of expertise in holistic and alternative health.
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