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  • Niki Randolph MS, CISSN

Improve Your Mood With Food

January, 2021

It may not seem obvious or intuitive, but our body is interconnected in many ways. For example, there is a complex, bidirectional communication network that exists between our gut, its microbes, and our brain, known as the brain-gut-microbiota axis.

A growing body of research investigating the brain-gut-microbiota axis shows an association between food, gut microbes, and our mood. Turns out that food has the ability to alter our intestinal microbiome, an ecosystem comprised of more than 10 trillion microorganisms including bacteria, viruses and fungi residing in our gut, in as little as 1 to 2 days! And it’s our intestinal microbiome that largely affects our overall health. It helps us make and assimilate nutrients like vitamin B and vitamin K. It also helps produce short-chain fatty acids and “biochemical messengers,” like serotonin, that interact with receptors in our central nervous system and influence our mental health and emotional well-being.

So, you might be thinking, what kind of food promotes a healthy intestinal microbial community? Well, a healthy gut microbiome is established by a number of factors including a habitual dietary pattern, not just a single food or a radical short-term dietary change. Although our intestinal microbiota can change in a short period of time, long-lasting residence or colonization of health-promoting gut bacteria relies on a long-term dietary pattern and repeated intake.


Here are 4 dietary habits that foster a healthy gut and the health-promoting microbes that reside there.


Fiber not only aids digestion and regularity, prebiotic fiber (non-digestible) is the food that feeds healthy bacteria in the gut. Green leafy vegetables (dandelion greens), Jerusalem artichokes, berries (raspberries), whole grains and sprouted grains are good sources of prebiotic fiber (fructans like inulin, galacto- and fructo-oligosaccharides) that help good bacteria grow and thrive. On average, Americans consume approximately 15 grams of fiber, the goal is at least 21-25 grams per day.

Coconut Oil/Flesh

Coconut oil/flesh is not only an excellent source of medium chain triglycerides that can be helpful in managing gastrointestinal disorders, it also has antimicrobial properties which can aid in gut dysbiosis, or an imbalance of pathogenic bacteria such as candida overgrowth. It doesn’t take a ton of coconut oil to do this, just a couple teaspoons at best, or a 1/4 cup of coconut flesh or milk.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Vitamin D

Salmon and other cold-water fatty fish like mackerel and herring are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D that exert anti-inflammatory affects and may promote an increase in healthy gut bacteria. Aim for 2-3 servings per week and follow the guidelines put out by

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, Kim chi, miso, and apple cider vinegar are good sources of live bacteria that can take residence in the gut and help support immune system function and nutrient absorption. Note that if you suffer from IBS, prebiotic and probiotic (fermented) foods can be challenging to your digestive system. Feel free to reach out to me or another nutritionist/dietitian to help you navigate the best approach to gut health for you.


Clearly, diet plays an important role in fostering a healthy gut microbiome that profoundly influences our physical and psychological well-being. But keep in mind that changes in microbial composition and diversity not only result from food. Repeated and chronic stress which has been shown to increase the production of inflammatory cytokines by pathogenic gut bacteria, contributes to low-grade, intestinal and whole-body (systemic) inflammation.

As a whole, good food, good sleep, stress management, and moving our bodies helps promote a healthy intestinal microbiome that positively influences our mood and our ability to bounce back from stress and adversity.


1. Leeming ER, Johnson AJ, Spector TD, Le Roy CI. Effect of diet on the gut microbiota: rethinking intervention duration. Nutrients. 2019;11(12):2862.

2. Huang TT, Lai JB, Du YL, et al. Current understanding of gut microbiota in mood disorders: An update of human studies. Front Genet. 2019;10:98.

3. Firth J, Gangwisch JE, Borisini A, Wootton RE, Mayer EA. Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing? BMJ. 2020;369:m2382.

4. Cryan JF, Dinan TG. Mind-altering microorganisms: The impact of the gut microbiota on brain and behaviour. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience. 2012;13(10):701-12.

5. Singh RK, Chang HW, Yan D, et al. Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health. J Transl Med. 2017;15(1):73.

6. Dinan TG, Cryan JF. The microbiome-gut-brain axis in health and disease. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2017;46(1):77-89.

7. Rial SA, Karelis AD, Bergeron KF, Mounier C. Gut microbiota and metabolic health: the potential beneficial effects of a medium chain triglyceride diet in obese individuals. Nutrients. 2016;8(5):281.

8. Shah ND, & Limketkai BN. The use of medium-chain triglycerides in gastrointestinal disorders. Pract Gastroenterol. 2017;XL1(2):20-28.

9. Del Chierico F, Vernocchi P, Dallapiccola B, Putignani L. Mediterranean diet and health: food effects on gut microbiota and disease control. Int J Mol Sci. 2014;15(7):11678-11699.

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