Fresh avocados mark the arrival of spring with sweet tangelos later in the season, giving us a new opportunity to boost mental well-being and gut health.
Growing scientific evidence shows what you eat has a direct influence on the health of your gut microbiome – which in turn affects your mental state, emotional regulation and neuromuscular function.
“Sometimes the gut is referred to as your second brain,” explains Dr Carolyn Lister, 5+ A Day Trustee and Principal Scientist and Team Leader at Plant and Food Research. “Hidden in the walls of your digestive system, this ‘brain in your gut’ is helping scientists understand the links between digestion, mood, health and the way we think. Several mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression, have established links to disruption of gastrointestinal function,” she says.
B-group vitamins are particularly important for brain function and are found in many fruit and vegetables that are in-season this spring. New season potatoes are packed full of dietary fibre and B-group vitamins (niacin, thiamine, B6) and can be boiled, mashed, baked or roasted.
Asparagus is versatile and quick to prepare; simply blanche for side dishes, salads, snacks and pasta dishes. It’s full of prebiotic plant fibres which promote the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut.
“Polyphenols found in berries also increase your healthy gut bacteria,” Dr Lister says. “There is a new study on strawberries just released by San Diego State University which shows eating two servings of strawberries daily can improve cognitive function, lower blood pressure and increase your antioxidant capacity.”
Avocado and mushrooms are both good sources of B vitamins and are great for your digestive health and brain function. They’re plentiful at this time of year so look to incorporate them in your diet at any time of day – eggs with a side of avocado and mushrooms are an ideal breakfast that will help nourish your gut.
“A study with older adults who consumed avocados showed they had better cognitive function, while eating white button mushrooms can create subtle shifts in the microbial community in your gut,” Dr Lister says. “Research has also shown that mushroom polysaccharides stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.”
Meanwhile, tomatoes are also in-season and contain compounds like lycopene which helps promote the growth of beneficial gut microbes. “Cooking tomatoes increases the bioavailability of lycopene, allowing your body to absorb more,” Dr Lister advises.
The link between gut health and your physical and mental wellbeing is so strong that research has also shown a mother’s gut bacteria impacts brain development in the womb. Providing even more reason to eat at least five servings of colourful, fresh vegetables and two of fruit every day if you are expecting.
“Spring is one of the tastiest times of year with lots of new season produce available. So if you need to mentally shrug off those winter blues, focus on gut-friendly foods and your brain and mood will thank you for it.”