A Healthy Mind Takes Guts!

Family Health Diary

As parents, we often focus on nurturing our children’s physical health through balanced nutrition and regular exercise. However, there’s another crucial aspect of their mental well-being that sometimes gets overlooked: their gut health. Emerging research is shedding light on the profound connection between gut health and mental well-being. We must delve into the fascinating world of the gut microbiome and its impact on the mood, emotions, and mental health of our little ones.


The Gut Microbiome: A Universe Within

Imagine your child’s gut as a bustling metropolis, teeming with trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms collectively known as the gut microbiome. This complex, busy city, plays an important role in various aspects of health, including digestion, metabolism, and immunity. But its influence doesn’t stop there; mounting evidence suggests that the gut microbiome also exerts a profound effect on brain function and behaviour through the gut-brain connection.


The Gut-Brain Axis: Connecting Two Worlds

The gut and the brain may seem worlds apart, but they are intricately linked through a bidirectional communication highway known as the gut-brain axis. The Vagus nerve physically connects the gut with the brain and allows signals to travel back and forth between the gut and the brain.

What’s remarkable is that the different microbes or ‘gut buddies’ living in the gut microbiome play a crucial role in affecting this communication, influencing everything from mood and emotions to cognitive function and stress response.


Nutrition: Fuelling the Mind-Body Connection

Now, let’s talk about the role of nutrition in nurturing a healthy gut microbiome and supporting optimal mental health in children. Just like any thriving community, the gut microbiome thrives on diversity and balance. A diet rich in fibre, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fermented foods provides the essential nutrients and prebiotic fibres needed to nourish our ‘gut buddies’.

On the other hand, a diet high in processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats can throw out the balance of our gut buddies. If our ‘microbe mates’ don’t get enough of what they need to keep strong, this can lead to various mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.


The Mood-Gut Connection: Understanding the Link

But how exactly does gut health influence mood and emotions? The gut microbiome produces happy chemicals such as serotonin and oxytocin, which play key roles in regulating mood and emotional well-being. In fact, a massive 95% of our serotonin, often referred to as our “happy hormone,” is produced in our gut!

Furthermore, our gut buddies also help produce short-chain fatty acids that protect our brains from stress. These SCFAs not only support gut health but also have a positive impact on brain function and mental health.


Biff, Bax and Lacy

The Gut Foundation has just released its third animated video to teach our tamariki all about how they can look after their ‘gut buddies’ to keep their minds healthy & happy!

We welcome the return of ‘Microbe Mates’ who have a big impact on mood and emotions. The two main microbes that positively impact mental health are: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.

Lacy the Lactobacillus

Lacy helps make a feel-good potion for your brain called oxytocin! Lacy loves yogurts with probiotics and fermented foods!


Biff the Bifidobacterium

Biff helps make a special happy potion for your brain called serotonin! Together, you and Biff can help you worry less about stuff and remember things better!


Bax the Bacteroides

Bax is your buddy at breaking down foods you eat and working with friends, like Lacy and Bif, to send happy feelings to your brain and make you feel awesome!


Just like in life, diversity is best! Eating a wide variety of whole, nutrient dense foods will feed all the different gut buddies that live inside our microbiome.

Encourage your child to eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Show your Tamariki the Gut Foundation videos and talk as a whanau about how what we eat doesn’t just feed us, it feeds our gut buddies.

We may like to eat treats, but we also need to give our gut buddies what they like too!

Include probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods: Incorporate fermented foods like probiotic yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, or kimchi into your child’s diet to introduce beneficial probiotic bacteria. Additionally, you can include prebiotic (fibre) foods such as garlic, onions, (greener)bananas, apples, tomatoes, pumpkin, mushrooms, chickpeas and oats to feed the good bacteria in the gut.

Try to limit processed foods and sugar where you can, as these can negatively impact gut buddies and contribute to mood swings and behavioural issues.


In conclusion, nurturing a healthy gut microbiome is key to good mental health and emotional well-being. It is not so much about ‘healthy’ eating, rather eating what your gut buddies need to keep you and them happy. Remember, a happy gut equals a happy mind!

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