The COVID-19 pandemic may have served to highlight a number of deficiencies in our public health system, but the link between what we eat and how we feel has long been an issue of concern. Just think about what people put into their bodies these days!
Many people have moved away from healthy, homemade meals in favor of processed foods that can be stored longer and are easier to consume. It’s no surprise, considering the busy, modern lifestyle, which allows little time for meal planning, shopping, food prep, and cooking.
How many people have the time and space to grow, harvest, and preserve their own fruits and vegetables, or keep livestock for meat and animal products?
Even whole foods are often tainted by pesticides, hormones, and other chemicals that bodies simply aren’t designed to digest. When you heap environmental pollutants, stress, chronic ailments, and diseases like COVID-19 on top of all that, it’s no wonder many people spend their days feeling tired, ill, stressed, and depressed.
The food you consume plays a role in how your body functions and how you feel. The question is: How can food and drink contribute to emotional wellbeing, in addition to good physical health and better immunity? It starts with the microbiome.
The Microbiome and the Gut-Brain Axis
Researchers have long known that both good and bad bacteria live in the gut (the gastrointestinal tract, comprised of the stomach, intestines, colon, and so on). Only recently have they started to more fully understand the importance of these communities of bacteria and how they impact overall health.
What Is the Microbiome?
The human microbiome is a system of over 100 trillion microbes, most of which reside in the gut. These communities of bacteria make up the microbiome and influence nutrition, metabolism, immunity, and even behavior and emotions.
This complex system is changeable and unique to each person. When balanced, the microbiome can keep you healthy and well. When imbalance occurs, it could open the door to attack by harmful pathogens or even trigger the onset of chronic diseases.
What Is the Gut-Brain Axis?
The gut-brain axis is sort of the embodiment of the adage “You are what you eat.” The central and enteric gastrointestinal) nervous systems share two-way communication, and the microbiome influences these interactions.
The foods and beverages you put into your body impact your microbiome. In other words, your diet and your microbiome can influence your emotions and cognitive function. No wonder people feel so run down after eating too much processed fast food!
Nutrition as a Means of Self-Care
Most people eat for two main reasons: survival and pleasure. However, with exciting new research uncovering the extent to which food can impact how you feel and the way you think and behave, it’s time to start considering how food can serve another purpose: self-care.
It’s fairly common knowledge that healthy living requires a combination of nutrition, sleep, and stress reduction, which together help to maintain strong immunity and contribute to overall health and wellness.
The food production and service communities may not have any special obligation to help consumers eat right, but you can bet that tasty, appetizing food that makes people healthy and happy is going to be popular.
Promoting a strong, healthy microbiome relies on avoiding toxins and creating a balanced diet high in whole foods. Gut-healing diets are gaining popularity as more people present with food intolerance and chronic diseases. In the process, mental and emotional health may improve, as well.
The way people approach food can be not just about survival or pleasure, but about creating a holistic lifestyle, and food manufacturers and restaurants can play a major role in promoting this agenda.
Finding Affordable Options
One of the biggest roadblocks to healthier eating is price, although availability can also be a difficulty. Luckily, the market for organic, whole, and fermented foods has expanded rapidly over the past several years as consumers clamor for gut-healthy options.
As a food producer or restaurateur, finding local sources for fresh, organic produce and toxin-free, humanely-raised meat and animal products is ideal. Not only can you support complementary businesses within the local community, but you may also cut costs associated with importing ingredients.
With an understanding of the ways that food can impact physical, mental, and emotional health, the food industry can start to move toward products that appeal to consumers in terms of flavor, nutrition, and better overall health and wellbeing.