Having a healthy gut can help you battle stress-induced blues.

By Betty Gold
Updated April 24, 2020
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Between social distancing, trying to stay safe in isolation, managing money and familial issues, and trying to get dinner (and breakfast, and lunch) on the table while juggling a zillion other household tasks, I'm sure we can all agree that stress symptoms are soaring these days.

Anxiety can negatively affect your health, and learning how to deal with it is a highly important skill set. And according to Ian Smith, MD, a gut health expert and bestselling author, your gut health is closely linked to your body's ability to manage stress.

“The connection between anxiety and the gut runs deep,” he says. “Distress or anxiety can trigger the immune system to send out signals to break down the gut lining. An imbalanced or damaged gut can then drive a chronic stress response, which stimulates our body to end fight-or-flight mode.” The result? More gut damage.

Clearly, it’s a vicious cycle. The good news is that there are endless probiotic-rich ingredients that’ll help you eat your way to a happier, healthier gut—and hopefully lower your stress level in the process.

"Research has shown that all roads lead to the health of our gut microbiome—our well-being depends on it," adds Raphael Kellman, M.D., a physician of integrative and functional medicine in New York City. The microbes residing in our intestines are intimately connected to our mood, yes, but also our metabolism, immune function, digestion, hormones, inflammation, and even gene expression.

The most effective way to make over your intestinal bacteria is by changing what you feed them. "Diet is key. It should include lots of fresh prebiotic foods with plenty of probiotic foods as well," Dr. Kellman says. Here are the top foods the doctors recommends for gut health.

Lean Proteins Rich in Omega-3s

A prime example is salmon, which contains plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. These have been shown to improve mood. Other lean proteins like chicken are great, too: the amino acids they contain can help with mood, says Dr. Smith. Avoid meats with high amounts of saturated fat.

Fruits and Berries

Fiber, folks. According to Dr. Smith, fiber is a massive driver of good bacteria in the gut and most Americans get way too little of it. Some berries (like blueberries) have also been shown to reduce cortisol, a stress hormone that can negatively affect your mood.

Eggs, Nuts, and Turkey

All of these ingredients pack a tryptophan-heavy punch, which is essential to making serotonin: a key good-mood enabler.

Dark Chocolate

Chocolate contains polyphenols, which are great antioxidants that have been shown to improve brain function and mood. “But I really mean dark. Not milk!” the doctor emphasizes.

Plant-Based Foods

Gut health isn’t rocket science. Cut the sugar and fat and eat a variety of mostly plant-based foods and you’ll be in good shape. Vary the fruits and vegetables you’re eating, too, as each one will contain its own uniquely beneficial species of bacteria.