Article written and designed by Cosimo Simeone, Msc, PgdDip, Bsc, Physiotherapist

Have you ever thought about how the food you eat can affect how you feel? Well, guess what? It’s not just about having a full tummy or enjoying tasty snacks. Your food can also change how your brain works and how you feel inside.

Imagine your gut, like a busy city, full of tiny workers called “microbes.” These little guys are like your gut’s best friends. They help with digesting food and keeping things in order. But here’s the exciting part – they also send messages to your brain!

Picture these messages as letters. When your gut is happy and healthy, it sends happy letters to your brain, making you feel great. But when your gut isn’t doing well, it sends not-so-happy letters, and that can make you feel sad or worried.

The signals we perceive as gut sensations activate certain parts of our brain, like the anterior insula (aINS) and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). These areas integrate gustatory, olfactory, and viscerosensory signals.

Gut and brain talk have a special phone line called the “gut-brain axis.” It’s like a super-fast texting system. When your gut and brain chat, they can change your mood and even how you think!

In this adventure, we’ll explore this incredible connection and learn how to keep our gut and brain talking happily, so you can feel your best every day. So, put on your learning hat and let’s dive into the world of the gut-brain connection!

The Microbiome: Your Body’s Second Brain

Think of your gut microbiome as a bustling community living in your belly, a bit like a tiny city filled with trillions of microscopic residents.

These residents aren’t people, but rather, they’re tiny, helpful bacteria that are too small to see without a microscope. Despite their size, they have incredibly important jobs, much like the workers in a busy city.

These bacteria act as your body’s mood managers, and they have an influence on how you feel every single day. Just as your brain controls your thoughts and emotions, your gut microbiome plays a significant role in how you feel, too.

When these tiny residents are content and working together harmoniously, you’re more likely to feel happy and healthy. However, if they’re not in good spirits, you might notice that your mood and well-being can take a bit of a hit.

One of the most vital tasks these helpful bacteria perform is aiding in the digestion of your food and extracting essential nutrients from it.

So, when you make healthy food choices, you’re essentially providing these little helpers with the tools they need to excel in their roles, which, in turn, helps keep your mind and body in peak condition.

As we delve deeper, you’ll discover how the food you eat plays a pivotal role in maintaining the happiness and effectiveness of your ‘second brain,’ ultimately contributing to your overall well-being.

Nutrition for Neurotransmitters: How Diet Affects Mood

Imagine your brain as a busy workshop where tiny messengers called neurotransmitters are always at work. These neurotransmitters are like the traffic cops of your brain; they tell your brain how to feel, whether it’s happy, sad, or even anxious.

Now, let’s focus on two specific neurotransmitters: serotonin and dopamine (1). Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that mediated satisfaction, happiness and optimism. Serotonin is like a warm, fuzzy blanket for your brain. It makes you feel calm and content. When you have enough serotonin, you’re less likely to feel down in the dumps. It’s like when you have a favorite snack or enjoy a sunny day.

Dopamine, on the other hand, is like a reward button. It gives you a feeling of pleasure and motivation. It’s what makes you feel super happy when you achieve something you’ve been working on. It’s like finishing a puzzle or scoring a goal in a game.

Serotonin-boosting foods include bananas, nuts, and dark chocolate, while dopamine-friendly options include lean proteins like chicken and turkey, as well as avocados.

Here’s where food comes into play: your brain needs these specific nutrients to make enough serotonin and dopamine. Think of these nutrients as the tools your brain uses to build these neurotransmitters. When you eat foods rich in these nutrients, your brain has the tools it needs to keep your mood in balance and reduce your depression or anxiety for example.

Probiotics and Prebiotics: Building a Healthy Gut Ecosystem

Probiotics and prebiotics are like superheroes for your tummy. They help keep your belly balanced and strong. Why these special helpers are essential for your gut? And how you can find them in your food and as supplements?

Let’s start with probiotics. These are the good bacteria that live in your belly. They act as tiny soldiers, defending your gut against harmful invaders.

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are like the food that feeds your good bacteria. They provide the energy your probiotics need to stay strong and healthy.

Maintaining a balanced gut microbiome is crucial for your overall health. It’s like having a perfectly tuned orchestra, with each instrument playing its part to create beautiful music. When your gut is in harmony, you feel better, have more energy, and your body can work at its best.

You can find probiotics in foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut. These foods are like a feast for your good bacteria. Prebiotics come from foods like bananas, onions, and whole grains. They’re like the fertile soil that helps your good bacteria thrive.

If you want to give your gut an extra boost, you can also take probiotic supplements. Just remember, a healthy diet with lots of probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods is the best way to keep your gut ecosystem in top shape.

In conclusion, probiotics and prebiotics are the dynamic duo that keeps your gut healthy and strong. They work together like a team of superheroes, protecting your belly and making sure everything runs smoothly. So, be sure to include them in your diet to keep your gut in tip-top shape and your body feeling its best.

Foods that can contribute to a healthier gut-brain axis:

The foods that can help promote a healthy gut-brain connection, provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support both your gut and brain. I have listed some of the types of food that can boost this connection:

  1. Leafy Greens: Spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are packed with nutrients like folate and vitamins that support brain health while providing fiber for your gut microbes.
  2. Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, which may protect your brain cells and promote a diverse gut microbiome.
  3. Turmeric: This spice contains curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties that can benefit both your gut and brain health.
  4. Oily Fish: Salmon, mackerel, and trout are abundant in omega-3 fatty acids, essential for brain function and known to reduce inflammation in the gut.
  5. Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are excellent sources of healthy fats and fiber that support gut and brain health.
  6. Protein-Rich Foods: Lean meats, poultry, and plant-based proteins like tofu and tempeh provide amino acids necessary for neurotransmitter production.
  7. Whole Grains: Foods like quinoa, brown rice, and oats are high in fiber, helping to maintain a healthy gut environment.
  8. Dark Chocolate: In moderation, dark chocolate (with a high cocoa content) contains flavonoids that can improve blood flow to the brain and support a balanced gut microbiome.
  9. Tea: Green and black teas contain compounds like catechins and theanine that may have a positive impact on cognitive function and gut health.

Incorporating a diverse range of these foods into your diet can create a well-rounded approach to improving the gut-brain axis. Remember to maintain a balanced diet, stay hydrated, and be mindful of portion sizes for overall health and wellness.


In conclusion, I would say that the diet is also very important to improve your mental health. By eating specific foods, you can ensure not only a balanced and healthy gut. But also that your brain receives helpful nutrients that can boost mood by increasing serotonin and dopamine levels.

In fact, the foods we’ve explored, such as leafy greens, berries, and oily fish, provide essential nutrients and compounds that support both our gut and brain health.

If you would like to receive some specific diet recommendations I advise you to book an appointment with one of our nutritionists. As Feuerbach (German philosopher) said we are what we eat, so eat healthy, find your balance and live happier.

Remember that it’s not just about what we eat but how we eat it, mindfully and with intention. So, as you embark on your journey to better mental health through diet, savor each bite, nourish your gut, and embrace the transformative power of the gut-brain connection for a brighter future.

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