Food is medicine when it comes to mental health thanks to the brain gut connection. Check out this anxiety, depression and eating disorder recovery meal plan to heal your brain and treat anxiety naturally.

More Americans than ever before are suffering from mental and emotional distress (Weissman et al, 2016).

One in 5 people suffers from a mental health disorder, including anxiety, depression, anorexia, bulimia, ADHD, and Autism.

Why?!

Current mental health diagnostic criteria and WebMD interpretation attribute these stats to: lack of psychological support and poor healthcare coverage, economic instability, genetics, and abnormal functioning of nerve cell circuits or pathways that connect particular brain regions. However, these explanations don’t fully address the root causes—how mental health impacts one person more than another.

For instance: Are you destined to have anxiety if your mom has anxiety? And, how do your nerve cell circuits get disconnected in the first place?

Answer: The brain gut connection (and your personal nutrition, or daily “meal plan”).

BRAIN GUT CONNECTION

Your brain health impacts your gut, and your gut health impacts your brain.

  • 95% of your serotonin (your feel-good brain chemicals) is produced in your gut
  • Your gut has 400-500 times more melatonin (relaxing chemical) in it than your brain
  • You have MORE brain neuron cells in your gut than ANY OTHER part of your peripheral nervous system
  • Your vagus nerve (the nerve responsible for coordinating how you think and feel) is connected directly from your frontal brain lobe to the top of your stomach.

In short: If your gut is inflamed or unhealthy, so is your brain.

Enter: An anti-inflammatory diet plus a gut friendly lifestyle—your #1 weapon for combatting a host of mental health disorders—like eating disorders, to anxiety, depression—and restoring the brain gut connection.

7 ESSENTIALS TO HEAL YOUR BRAIN GUT CONNECTION

  1. Protein
  2. Carbohydrates
  3. Fats
  4. Probiotic & Prebiotic Rich Foods
  5. Brain-Gut Connection Support
  6. Clean Filtered Water
  7. Sample Meal Plan 

If you’ve ever wondered why you “can’t beat” your mental health battles or how to heal from a mental health disorder naturally, look no further than optimal (anti-inflammatory) nutrition, plus lifestyle, to help you take back your (brain) health.

Here are 7 essentials for your brain-gut connection diet (fun fact: the word “diet” actually means “a way of life” in Latin), plus a sample 3-day meal plan to help cure anxiety, depression and eating disorders (naturally).

  1. Protein


Neurotransmitters (brain chemical messengers) are created from amino acids that are provided by protein in the diet. Too little protein can exacerbate mood disorders, especially if the diet does not contain all of the essential amino acids. The ideal intake is one-half to one gram per pound of body weight of a sustainable, grass-fed, organic source (as much as possible since conventional meat practices often include antibiotics and hormones, equally destructive to a healthy gut microbiota). Brain-boosting proteins include:

  • Wild Caught Fish
  • Pastured Chicken
  • Pastured Eggs
  • Grass-Fed Beef/Bison
  • Organic Organ Meats
  • Pastured Pork
  • Bone Broth
  • Wild Game
  • Organic Deli Meats, Bacon and Sausage

  1. Carbohydrates


Some healthcare providers, researchers and authors recommend very-low-carb or ketogenic diets for improving mental health, including cognitive function, peace of mind and balanced mood. However, these are generalized claims and your carbohydrate intake should be personalized to your personal health, physical activity, and individual response to higher and lower carbohydrate intakes. Certain populations may do better with low-carb approaches, including: older adults (seniors), those with sedentary lifestyles, insulin-resistance, hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, or people who already have pre-existing mental health or neurological issues like Alzheimer’s or dementia or epilepsy. On the flip side, low carb diets for others (especially longer term), can make mood and mental health issues flare more, and these folks do better with incorporating at least 2-3 servings of REAL FOOD carbohydrates (especially pre-biotic fibers) each day. Prebiotic fibers found in starchy tubers and root veggies help populate healthy gut bacteria (more on this below). Reach for green and fiber-rich veggies, with each meal along with 1-2 starchy prebiotic foods and 1-2 fruits if you prefer. Some real food carbohydrates include:

Fibrous Veggies & Fruits

  • Dark Leafy Greens
  • Mushrooms
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Zucchini/Yellow Squash
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Fresh Fruits

Prebiotic Starches (more below)

  • Sweet Potatoes/Potatoes (cooked and cooled)
  • Jasmine White Rice (cooked and cooled)
  • Winter Squash
  • Parsnips
  • Carrots
  • Green Tipped Banana & Plantains
  • Artichokes
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Turnips
  • Rutabaga

  1. Fats

    The human brain is made up of approximately 60 percent fat—mostly saturated fat and cholesterol. Inadequate intake of fat may affect brain health, and for that reason, a low-fat diet may not provide adequate fat for optimal brain function. Incorporate a mix of fats into your personal eating disorder recovery meal plan or daily brain-supportive nutrition, including 1-2 fats at each meal, such as:
  • Coconut Butter/Coconut Oil/Flakes
  • Grass-fed Butter/Ghee
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil/Olives
  • Avocado/Avocado Oil
  • Raw Nuts & Seeds (soaked)
  • Traditional Fats (lard, tallow, duck fat)
  • Pastured Egg Yolks
  • Organic Fatty Animal Meats

  1. Probiotic & Prebiotic Rich Foods

Good gut health is essential to good brain health. Probiotic and prebiotic rich foods are nature’s natural “gut health supplements.”  Probiotics (“pro” = for, “biotic” = life) are live microorganisms (bacteria) that are beneficial to humans, associated with a wide range of positive effects, including reduced inflammation and gut problems (diarrhea and constipation), improved immunity, reduced anxiety and enhanced cognitive function. Contrary to popular belief though, most probiotics do not significantly change the composition of the gut microbiome over time. That is the role of prebiotics— fibers that serve as a food source for beneficial bacteria and help increase their numbers significantly over time. Prebiotics are like the “glue” for probiotics that help them stick around in our gut. You need both probiotics and prebiotics, together, to benefit from the gut and brain supportive benefits these foods provide. Aim for 1-2 condiment-sized servings of probiotic foods, and at least 1 serving of prebiotic fiber each day.

Probiotic

  • Sauerkraut
  • Fermented Veggies, Salsas & Relishes
  • Dill Fermented Pickles & Cucumbers
  • Kimchi
  • Horseradish
  • Low Sugar Kombucha
  • Fermented Fish Sauce, Mustard & Ketchup
  • Fermented Fruits (peaches, lemons)
  • Kefir, Coconut Kefir, Water Kefir
  • Grassfed Full-Fat Plain Yogurt
  • Beet Kvass/Kvass

Supplements: Soil Based or Spore-Forming Organisms are best for their effectiveness and diversity of bacteria that provide your gut

Prebiotic

  • Green-tipped bananas and plantains
  • Cooked & cooled sweet potatoes and potatoes
  • Jicama
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Cooked & cooled white rice
  • Soluble Fibers (cooked carrots, beets, parsnips, winter squash)
  • Jerusalem Artichoke
  • Cooked & cooled legumes
  • Turnips
  • Rutabaga

Supplemental Starches

  1. Brain-Gut Connection Support

Speaking of loving and supporting the gut, in addition to probiotic and pre-biotic rich foods, “supporting gut health” with gut-friendly foods provides your gut and brain with an extra “umph” of anti-inflammatory power. Low stomach acid, as well as “leaky gut” or intestinal permeability are highly correlated with systemic inflammation, anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

If or when food is not fully digested in your gut, or if it leaks into your blood stream (outside of the intestinal wall), your body sends out an inflammatory response which, in turn, sends stress and inflammatory signals throughout the rest of your body (including your brain). Hence, if you eat foods that sooth your stomach and support healthy digestion, you keep inflammation more at bay.

Aside from fermented foods and prebiotics (above), some gut (and brain) boosting foods include:

  • Bone Broth
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Herbal Tea
  • Lemon
  • Pineapple
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric
  • Garlic
  • Fresh Herbs (cilantro, rosemary, cloves, oregano, basil, dandelion)
  • Dark Leafy Greens
  • MCT Oil, Coconut Oil & Coconut Butter
  • Wild Caught Fatty Fish (salmon, halibut, cod)
  • Grass-fed Ghee

Additionally, there are many helpful supplemental supports and herbs that can help support, reverse and heal chronic digestive dysfunction that you may have had for years (unbeknownst to you). Often times, gut issues (such as SIBO, to fungal overgrowth, bacterial and parasitic infection, IBS, leaky gut, unaddressed food intolerances) are the “silent” culprits behind brain imbalances. Working with a functional medicine practitioneror nutrition practitioner to assess and address any root-causes of your mental health imbalances is essential for full healing and health. “Protocols” for reversing disease often entail a 30-90 day supplemental regime and real-food nutrition aimed at re-setting your gut and brain balance.

  1. Clean Filtered Water

Last but not least: Water. And not just any water—but a clean, filtered source of water. (And plenty of it). Sixty-percent of our bodies is composed of water, including 85 percent of that amount in our brains! Water is like oil to a machine—essential (especially for clear thinking). Mild levels of dehydration can produce disruptions in mood and cognitive functioning (Popkin et al, 2010)

Unfortunately, it’s been estimated 3 in 4 people do NOT drink enough water, and suffer from dehydration [(UF, 2013; Survey of 3003 Americans, Nutrition Information Center, New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, 1998], associated with low energy, sluggishness, digestive dysfunction, slowed mental capacity, disrupted metabolism and inflammation (no wonder 80% of all Americans ALSO need—and drink—lots of caffeine and coffee ). Couple this with the fact that many Americans drink contaminated water IF they do drink it, and Houston, we’ve got a problem (more than 70% of Americans drink Chromium-6 alone —a cancer-causing chemical—in their tap water source daily). Aim for half your body weight in ounces of water each day from a clean, filtered source.

  1. Sample Meal Planmeal-plan

So what should you eat every day? Here’s a sample of three brain gut connection boosting meal ideas to support you on your healing journey.

Day 1

Pre-Breakfast

Breakfast

Apple Cider Vinegar (1 tbsp in 2-4 oz. water)

“Parfait”

  • Coconut Yogurt
  • Plantain Chips
  • Collagen Protein (stirred in)
  • Carob Powder

Lunch

Salmon Salad

  • Mixed Greens
  • Wild Caught Salmon
  • Roasted Rainbow Carrots
  • Kimchi or Sauerkraut
  • Asparagus
  • Apple Cider Vinegar & Olive Oil Dressing

Dinner

  • Apple Cider Vinegar (1 tbsp in 2-4 oz. water))
  • Grass-fed Steak
  • Cooked & Cooled Sweet Potato Slices
  • Rainbow Chard sautéed in Grass-fed Ghee

Post Dinner

Day 2

Pre-Breakfast

Breakfast

  • Apple Cider Vinegar (1 tbsp in 2-4 oz. water)
  • Pastured Egg Yolks (scrambled)
  • 2 Slices Organic Turkey Bacon
  • 1/3 Avocado
  • Handful Berries

Lunch

  • Chicken “Salad” with Avocado Mayo Atop Baby Spinach Salad Tossed with Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Parsnip “Fries”
  • Sauerkraut

Dinner

  • Apple Cider Vinegar (1 tbsp in 2-4 oz. water))
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Ground Bison or Turkey
  • Avocado Basil Pesto

Post Dinner

Day 3

Pre-Breakfast

Breakfast

Apple Cider Vinegar (1 tbsp in 2-4 oz. water)

  • Chicken Apple Sausage
  • Avocado
  • Sauteed Power Greens & Mushrooms in Coconut Oil

Lunch

Sushi Out

  • Sashimi of Choice
  • Tuna Nigiri on White Cooled Rice
  • Kimchi & Seaweed Strips

Dinner

  • Apple Cider Vinegar (1 tbsp in 2-4 oz. water))
  • Pastured Crispy Chicken Thighs with Dijon Mustard & Coconut Aminos
  • Roasted Zucchini & Yellow Squash
  • Side Salad with Greek Dressing, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Grass-fed Goat Cheese

Post Dinner