The Gut-Brain Connection: How To Feed Your Brain

If there was ever a call for digestive health, this is it! Yes, it's true. Your gut is considered your second brain. There is no denying it anymore.Wit h the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it's no wonder that what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.  

What exactly is the "gut-brain connection"?

  Well, it’s very complex, and we’re still learning lots about it. There seem to be multiple things working together.
  • The vagus nerve that links the stomach directly to the brain
  • The enteric nervous system (the second brain) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain
  • massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut
  • huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body
  • interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes
I’ll briefly touch on these areas, and end off with a delicious recipe.  

Vagus nerve

This nerve runs directly from the gut to the brain and 90% of the transmission is from your gut up to your brain.    

The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters

  Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord? That's why it's referred to as the second brain. If you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty "smartly"...don't you think? These nerves speak to each other, and to other cells by chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in our stomach:a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your stomach.  

The immune system of the gut

  Eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body. It makes sense that much of our defense system would be located there too. In fact, 75% of our immune system is in our stomachs. Did you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere? If they’re activated by something in the stomach, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body; including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.  

Gut microbesGut microbiome

  Your friendly neighborhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your belly and they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation. More and more evidence is showing that changes in your microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.  

How do these all work together for brain health?

  The honest answer to how these things all work together is that we really don't know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more. One thing is becoming clear, a healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain. So, how do you feed your brain? Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone. Two things that you many consider eating more of are fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed the beneficial microbes and omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.  

Recipe (Gut food fibre, Brain food omega-3): Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats

Overnight Oats

Serves 2
  • 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 cup oats (gluten-free)
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 2 tablespoons hemp seeds
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts
  1. Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.
  2. Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
  3. Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.
  Serve & enjoy! Tip: Your microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.  



Is My Poop Normal?

Yes, I'm serious! (And don't you sometimes wonder anyway?) You already know that your poop can reflect your physical, and sometimes even emotional, health. You may get constipation or have diarrhea when you eat something that "doesn't agree with you," or when you're super-nervous about something.

And what about fiber and water? If you’re not getting enough, it’ll probably show in your poop. What about the all-important gut microbes? If they're not happy, it'll probably show in your poop. Here’s a trivia question for you: Did you know there is an “official” standard for poop? I mean a university-created chart! One that is used to help diagnose conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?  

Meet the Bristol Stool Scale

The Bristol Stool Scale was created at the prestigious University of Bristol in the UK back in 1997: see the chart here. The scale breaks down type of poop into seven different categories ranging from type 1, which is very constipated, to type 7 which is diarrhea: poo-chart-2 1 - Separate hard lumps (very constipated). 2 - Lumpy and sausage-like (slightly constipated). 3 - Sausage shaped with cracks in the surface (normal) 4 - Smooth, soft sausage (normal). 5 - Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (lacking fiber). 6 - Mushy consistency with ragged edges (inflammation). 7 - Liquid consistency with no solid pieces (inflammation).  

Other “poop” factors to consider

You probably guessed that the shapes described in the Bristol Stool Scale are not the only thing to consider for poop health. Think about how often you go. At least once per day, up to 3 times per day is pretty good. Less than one or more than three can mean there is something going on. What about how hard you have to try to go? You want it to be as effortless as possible. And the color? It should be brown from the bile that you need to break down the fats you ingest. And if it’s green after a day of massive veggies, or red after that large glass of beet juice, you’re just fine. But if you see an abnormal color, like red or even black, that you can't explain based on what you ate or drank in the last day or two, you probably want to get that checked out.  

What do you do when you have "imperfect" poo?

Well, the first thing to consider is how imperfect it is, and how often it is like that? Once in a while, things aren't going to be perfect, and that's okay. If you know you need to get more fiber or water, then try increasing that or haven’t had enough probiotic foods then try getting more of them; if you’re super-stressed, then try deep breathing, meditating, or taking a warm bath. Oh, and don’t forget the two most basic pieces of nutrition advice:
  • First, eat a variety of nutrient-dense, minimally processed foods, including a lot of fruits & veggies (and their “fibrous” skins, wherever possible). The fiber in these is not only helpful for pushing food through your gut, but they also feed those millions of amazing helpful critters that live there, your friendly gut microbes.
  • The second piece of advice is to eat slowly, and mindfully, chewing thoroughly.
These are good habits for anyone and everyone, even when you have perfect poop! Of course, long-term issues might require a more thorough review with a qualified health care practitioner. Don't suffer from poop issues for too long before seeking help.   Recipe (dairy-free probiotic): Super-Simple Coconut Milk Yogurtcoconut-yogurt Serves 6
  • 2 cans full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 probiotic capsules,
  1. Open the probiotic capsules and empty contents into the blender. Blend with coconut milk.
  2. Transfer to a sanitized glass jar (make sure it’s not still hot - you don’t want those probiotics to die).
  3. Store it in a warm place for 24-48 hours. If it's not thick enough for you, you can let it ferment for another 24 hours.
  4. Add your favourite yogurt toppings, and store the rest for up to a week in the fridge.
Serve & enjoy! Tip: Fermenting food is not an exact science. If this doesn’t work out as you’d like it to, try different brands of coconut milk and/or probiotics. Also check out the Good Belly 12 Day Reboot Challenge