Commonly known as our ‘second brain’, our gut is becoming more widely recognised as having significant impact on not only our physical health, but also our mental and emotional wellbeing. This connection is another example of why we need to take a holistic approach to our wellbeing.
Without a healthy gut, we’re unable to effectively absorb nutrients in the right quantities to give our minds and bodies what they need to function at an optimal level.
So, while we might be eating all of the ”right’ things, our bodies might not be reaping all of the benefits. This can create an imbalance.
We talked to Psychologist and Nutritional Coach Jayta Szpitalak, to learn more about the connection between food and mental health, how we can increase our nutritional absorption and the importance of looking at our health holistically.
How did you become passionate about nutrition?
Being American, I had a typical American diet of a lot of processed foods, which was not very nutritious.
As an adult, I started treating myself like a kid and sneaking veggies and more wholesome foods into my diet until it became second nature.
I also have a mental health private practice in NYC, which I still have. I hold skype therapy with my clients back at home and I found that food and mood are so closely connected.
The more I counseled people, the more I noticed how much of a difference people felt with their mental health once they were eating a cleaner diet.
I realised I needed to take my interest further and become more educated on the topic.
You’re Psychologist and Nutritional Health Coach, how to you find that the two connect?
Many people ask me how I made the jump from Psychological Counseling to owning a health food brand. Believe it or not, the journey is not that unrealistic as the two are very related.
I practiced yoga psychotherapy with my clients at times, so I was already keenly aware of the body and mind connection. To further my knowledge, I became certified in Nutritional Health Coaching as well.
As I began using the two types of counseling together, I noticed the positive affect our diet can have on our emotional health.
Soon after, a plethora of research began to surface regarding our microbiome’s and gut flora. According to scientific research, 90% of the neurotransmitters created in your gut affect your mental wellbeing. Hence, our guts now being referred to as our second brain.
All these findings coupled with my own tumultuous health journey of having a broken body after having children, led me to do more research on how to naturally combat depression and anxiety.
The research I found was amazing. In that, nature has given us so many cures. The one finding I found most interesting is that Turmeric/Curcumin can work better than some anti-depressants.
Turmeric, however is very hard for our bodies to digest. Upon delving deeper down the rabbit hole, I found empirical research indicating that fermenting Turmeric makes it more bioavailable and easier to digest.
I began recommending Turmeric to my clients. Not just for mental health, but for pain, inflammation and prevention. However, I could not find the fermented version anywhere.
Hence, Fermentanicals was born.
Fermentanicals aims at not only improving physical health, but mental health as well. We made it our mission to take nutrient dense super foods and present it to consumers in the most digestible or bioavailable way, via fermenting or sprouting.
How can we make sure that we’re getting all of the nutritional benefits of functional foods?
There are so many ways to amplify the nutrients you can take from the foods you eat, it’s all about arming yourself with knowledge.
The two ways I like to share are the following;
- Aside from gut healing foods such as bone broth, try and eat foods that are diverse in healthy bacteria, such as a live sauerkraut (not a sterilized one) or other fermented foods. Take probiotics, or incorporate a kefir into your daily routine.
(All these foods will positively affect the flora in your gut. Which, essentially aid the digestion of other foods while helping your brain function optimally. )
- The second method is to pair your foods correctly to extract more nutrients. Combining certain superfoods with the right partners can be helpful to amplify the nutritional intake. For example; matcha has a high antioxidant profile and is great at revving up your metabolism. However, when a matcha latte is made with dairy, the calcium from the dairy prevents the body from absorbing the antioxidants and minerals from the tea. It’s best paired with a non-dairy milk or warm water.
How can we tell if we’re absorbing nutrients properly?
You will see signs in your body and or mood if you are not absorbing your nutrients properly, or if you have a poor diet.
Your tongue and mouth are good indicators. Bleeding gums or sores may be a sign of vitamin deficiency.
Some obvious signs include;
- bloating or digestive issues,
- increased irritability,
- trouble sleeping,
- breakouts or dry skin,
- cracked lips,
- more hair fall than usual,
What might cause issues with our digestion?
This is a difficult question to answer as every person is so unique and foods may affect people differently. For example, some people may be gluten or lactose intolerant. So, what works for one person may not work for another.
A few things affect everyone across the board. Having an unhealthy microbiome definitely has implications on your digestion. Our emotions influence our digestion as well.
If you perceive your food in a negative way (for example you feel guilty and anxious by eating a sweet treat) you may be inhibiting your digestive system from operating optimally.
Effectively, stress is felt in the body the same way whether the stress stimulus is real or imagined. So if you feel guilt, which is a form of stress, your body will respond with the physiologic stress-state of releasing cortisol.
This increases your heart rate and blood pressure, decreasing digestive function (through reduced blood flow to your digestive system and decreased oxygen into your gut).
Another typical reason people can have issues with their digestion, are the acids and barriers that can be ingested from certain foods. For example, all nuts, seeds, and grains are coated in protective acids that wreak havoc on our digestive system, such as phytic acids.
How can we fix this?
It’s all about being tuned into your body. If you are mindful about how you feel after you eat, you will pick up any potential food intolerances as you will notice the discomfort associated with them.
The more insight you have into your body and your emotions, the greater your level of awareness will be. You can then recognise and understand how to care for your symptoms.
When it comes to the protective barriers on grains, seeds and nuts, activation helps reduce the acids covered on nuts and sprouting does the same for grains.
As mentioned earlier, take steps to improve your gut health and make sure that you take time when you eat.
What difference does it make to eat activated, sprouted or fermented foods?
These ancient processes aid digestion of certain foods as well as changing their micronutrient profiles.
For example, Turmeric is an incredibly hard herb to digest. It has been proven to be most effectively ingested through fermentation. This is because it metabolises the curcumin and 300 other powerful compounds found in the herb outside the body, allowing for quicker absorption into the blood stream upon ingestion.
Similarly, sprouting super-seeds such as chia, flax, quinoa, and buckwheat. This shows to have up to triple the vitamins and minerals, double the antioxidants and more protein. As well as a reduction of calories and carbohydrates post sprouting.
Sprouting germinates the seed, shedding the harsh outer acids and changing the molecular level thus enhancing the micronutrient profile of the seed allowing it for easier digestion and absorption.
What is the difference between activated, sprouted and fermented?
Fermenting is a metabolic process where you convert starches or sugars into alcohol or organic acids through an anaerobic process.
Put simply, it’s when certain microorganisms, like bacteria, partially digest food before we even eat them. Fermenting is an ancient technique used to preserve foods.
Fermented foods are also an excellent source of probiotics, which are great for our digestive systems and general health. Fermenting essentially helps with bioavailability and digestion.
You can ferment foods by adding a starter culture, salts, or sugars, to the foods you’d like to preserve.
Activating essentially means soaking in salted water, draining, and dehydrating at very low temperatures. This helps to shed harsh outer acids that prevent optimal digestion.
Sprouting, however, takes activation further as it begins the germination process and essentially refers to seeds that have started grow.
This not only sheds the harsh digestive barriers such as phytic acid, it enhances the nutritional composition of the seeds amplifying the vitamin, mineral, antioxidant, and protein count found in the same foods.
Take sprouted chia and sprouted flax for example. These two ingredients are difficult to sprout, however doing so unlocks the seeds ‘super’ potential. Sprouted Chia contains triple the vitamins and minerals to non-sprouted chia. Flax doesn’t have the same reputation that Chia does, however it is just as super of a seed.
The problem with flax (or linseeds) is that it has a high-fat content, and so the seeds or the oil go rancid quickly. Additionally, flax is coated with high amounts of phytic acid, making it incredibly difficult to digest. Therefore, we are trained to think we should mill or grind it before we consume it. However, grinding the seed does not eliminate the exterior acids.
This is why sprouting is so magical. Not only does sprouting remove the outer acids, it also doubles the antioxidants found in the flax, therefore protecting the high lipid count from going rancid, increasing the shelf life and allowing you to absorb more of the amazing Omega’s.
What is your top piece of advice when it comes to nutrition?
I take a functional approach to health and firmly believe that all facets of our being influence each other. This means, that when we are seeking to be healthy or nutritious, we must not only examine our physical wellness, we should also consider our mental state (our diets, our lifestyle etc). I firmly believe they all influence and impact each other.
For example, take an individual who is looking to lose weight. Their mood around the perception of weight loss may catapult or halt the very weight loss itself. If they are stressed out when they are eating their healthy meals because they are not enjoying it, or are stressed out, your body may take longer to digest the meal, wreaking havoc on the digestive system, and slowing the metabolism down.
However, if they are positive and enjoying the meal, they are able to digest optimally.
So, when it comes to nutrition, I really think people should listen to their bodies and take a holistic approach. Also – persevere! Everything is about consistency.
What connection do you experience between your food and your mood?
About Jayta, Founder of Fermentanicals
Aimed at combining her two professions of Psychology and Nutritional Health, Jayta created Fermentanicals with a mission to empower and support an individual’s path to achieve physical and mental wellness.
Upon keeping up with the research that links Curcumin and Turmeric to aid in depression recovery, Jayta began recommending turmeric to supplement the diets of her patients. Knowing that turmeric is not easily absorbed by the gut, she discovered that fermenting the herb is the best way to increase turmeric’s bioavailability (or absorption level).
Creating wholesome food products is informed by Jayta’s belief that well-being is a balance of lifestyle, food and mental health.