The Best Foods for Fighting Stress and Seasonal Affective Disorder, According to a Doctor

‘Tis the season for pumpkin spice lattes, holiday shopping and for some, stress and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). According to Ian Smith, MD, a gut health expert and bestselling author, your gut health is closely linked to these conditions.

“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. But before you grab a Yoplait and call it a day, Dr. Smith says it's a mistake to rely on yogurt for probiotics. "Not all yogurts contain probiotics, and even the ones that do don't contain enough strains to be beneficial (unless you eat upwards of 25 servings or so)," he says. Additionally, consuming a lot of yogurt may mean that you're downing lots of added sugar, especially if it has fruit or honey added. "Lastly, yogurt can mess with your digestive system if it’s not fond of dairy. The side effects: bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and, in some instances, acne," he adds.

Here are the top foods Dr. Smith recommends for gut health.

Lean proteins rich in omega-3

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 also great: they have lots of amino acids that can help with mood, says Dr. Smith. Avoid meats with high amounts of saturated fat.

Fruits and berries

Hey, fiber. 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 more chicken

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.


When in doubt, Dr. Smith recommends taking a scientifically-backed probiotic.

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