When it comes to feeling happy it’s a bit of a no brainer that chocolate hits the spot!

That wondrous sensation of sitting down and tucking into a delicious bar is one of life’s simplest pleasures. And there is a bonafide chemical reason why you feel so happy after eating it and this comes from substances such as theobromine, phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide that are both associated with feelings of love and joy.

But on a much deeper level you might be surprised to know that what happens in our digestive system can have much more of an effect on how we feel emotionally. This is largely due to the complex kingdom of microbes that reside in the gut specially the more friendly bacteria that can have a positive influence on digestion but also mood.

Typically we associate our mind set with the brain but considering that millions of neurons are produced in the gut you can understand why the gut is referred to as the “second brain” and how it plays such an important role in how we think. In fact it is thought that almost 95% of serotonin, one of our happy chemical messengers, is located in the gut so if we have an unhappy gut this can also translate to an overall feeling of low mood. Studies have even shown that using foods and supplements to enhance serotonin production not only improves the way we feel emotionally but can have a positive effect on gastrointestinal symptoms too.

Most recent and exceptionally compelling research has also discovered that certain beneficial gut microbes can themselves omit mood enhancing neurotransmitters such as serotonin, GABA and dopamine that can all result in a happier state of mind. This is why maintaining a balance in the gastrointestinal tract and providing the gut with beneficial bacteria can also help you feel much happier too.

Here’s how to nourish your gut to a blissful state of mind…

  • Avoid the white, fried and dyed foods.

    Processed and refined foods wreak havoc in the gut causing imbalances of microbes and inflammation more generally. This also means reducing sugar in all its guises and includes any kind of syrup or sweetener whether “healthy” or not. Its ok to have a treat once in a while but don’t think that a generous tablespoon of maple syrup over your porridge every morning is ok.

    Spiking of blood sugar levels is not brain friendly. Brains are fussy and tend to like the slow and steady release carbs such as vegetables & fruit in general, sweet potatoes could be an excellent choice for instance. Or consider opting for some of the protein dense grains such as quinoa and buckwheat in moderation.

    Eat real foods in their most natural state.

    If it doesn’t have a label or comes in a box or bag then you can be pretty sure it is going to be good for your gut.

  • Introduce mood supporting food

    Leafy greens (broccoli, kale, spinach), nuts & seeds, bananas, oily fish, eggs, chicken and cacao (yes chocolate!) as these work as important co factors in converting and enhancing feel good neurotransmitters as well as helping to support overall brain cell health.

    Eat probiotic foods daily

    These help to naturally nourish the bugs in the gut – this includes kefir, raw sauerkraut, miso, raw kimchi, raw pickles, cultured unpasteurised full fat yogurt (dairy or coconut) and cheese. Also products like Ohso that contain beneficial bacteria.

    Stay well hydrated

    This is crucial to support gastrointestinal functioning and positive mental focus so make your water more interesting by adding things like fresh mint, ginger or cucumber slices to a large jug and then you know you have a quota to finish.

    Practise mindful eating

    so that you are eating in a less stressed environment. Be present with your plate and chew food thoroughly. You will be amazed at how such a simple process can leave you feeling physically and emotionally much happier.