Chocolate for gut health? A nutritional psychiatrist shares what makes your gut happy.

Emerging science tells us we are what we eat in more ways than one. Not only does the food we consume impact our gut health, our gut health also impacts our brain and other body systems.

In an interview with CBS News, Dr. Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist and author of “This Is Your Brain on Food,” shared the key elements to include in your diet for boosting both physical and mental health.

First up? Fiber.

“Fiber is extremely important for your gut health and you can get it from vegetables, berries, fruit, colorful salad — but you can also get it from extra-dark natural chocolate, (which is) rich in things like serotonin. It’s also a fermented food,” she said, adding that chocolate has also been studied for its impact on depression.

“A population-based study of more than 13,000 individuals showed an improvement of more than 70% in depression,” she said. “So your gut health is also your mental health — it’s your physical health, but it improves things like your mental well-being as well.”

Naidoo said to beware of chocolate-based candy bars, which are typically full of sugar, and instead “learn to get used to” extra-dark natural chocolate. “A lot of people love it,” she added.

In addition to a plant-based diet, lean proteins and healthy fats are also important, Naidoo said, and staples of the Mediterranean diet.

Patterned on the traditional cuisines of the region, this style of diet emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, legumes, nuts and whole grains. It has also been associated with several health benefits, including fewer Alzheimer’s signs in the brain and lowered heart disease risk.

Naidoo said the diet’s components are good for your gut too — but she said it’s also OK to introduce more spices and flavors from other cultures in what she calls a “Mediter-Asian” diet.

“It’s a way to still take those nutrients from the Mediterranean diet and make it typical to foods you eat and make it more available to people so they really want to eat it,” she said, adding these happy gut-health foods can lead to multiple health benefits.

“The end goal here is both better physical and mental well-being (and) reduction in inflammation,” she said. “Inflammation is the basis of so many diseases, both physical diseases but also now mental health and uptick of anxiety, mood disorders and things like that. So reducing that inflammation is critical and all the foods here will help you do that.”

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