When it comes to dealing with stress, we often hear that the best things we can do are exercise, make time for our favorite activities, or try meditation. But the type of food we eat can also be an effective way to cope with stress, according to research published by researcher John Cryan and other members of APC Microbiome Ireland.
"Our latest study has shown that eating more fermented foods and fibre daily for just four weeks had a significant effect on lowering perceived stress levels." Cryan said. Several mental illnesses can be reduced by eating a healthy diet, writes The Conversation.
There is still much to learn about the mechanisms involved in the effects of diet on mental health. There is a possible explanation for this link through the interaction between our brain and our microbiome. The gut-brain axis maintains constant communication between the brain and gut, allowing basic bodily functions such as digestion and appetite to take place.
Our gut is also closely connected to our emotional and cognitive centers in the brain. Participants were divided into two groups and randomly assigned a diet to follow during the four weeks of the study. About half were assigned a diet designed by nutritionist Kirsten Berding that would increase the amount of prebiotic and fermented foods they ate.
This is known as the "psychobiotic" diet, as it included foods associated with better mental health. This group had individual education with a dietitian at the beginning and in the middle of the study. They were told they should aim to include between six and eight portions a day of fruit and vegetables high in prebiotic fibre, such as onions, leeks, cabbage, apples, bananas and oats, followed by five to eight portions of grains a day and three up to four servings of legumes per week.
They were also told to include two to three servings of fermented foods a day, such as sauerkraut and kefir. Participants in the control group received only general dietary advice, based on the healthy food pyramid.
In contrast to those in the control group, those who followed a psychobiotic diet felt less stressed.
Those who ate more psychobiotic foods over a four-week period reported the greatest reduction in perceived stress levels, as did those who strictly followed their diet. Both groups reported improved sleep quality, although those on the psychobiotic diet reported a greater improvement.
Sleep processes may also be influenced by gut microbes, as shown in other studies. Gut microbe composition and function were only slightly altered by the psychobiotic diet. However, the researcher noted that they observed significant changes in the levels of certain key chemicals produced by these gut microbes and added that some of these chemicals are linked to mental health, which could potentially explain why participants who had the particular diet reported that their stress level decreased.