Top 10 Foods to Nourish Gut Bacteria and Boost ‘Happiness’

Bowl of oatmeal with strawberries and milk.

The water-soluble fiber in oatmeal serves as a prebiotic, nourishing good bacteria in our gut. (Image: Vitali Shastun via Dreamstime)

Have you ever experienced being in the company of individuals who are frequently moody and unpleasant? Unbeknown to most people, such unpleasantness and moodiness could be a reflection of the unsuitable and poor composition of gut bacteria. The state of one’s mind and body are closely related to one’s digestion and gut bacteria. 

10 common ‘happy foods’ known to nourish gut bacteria and improve your mood  

1. Oatmeal

One of the most widely used, convenient, and nutritious breakfast foods is the humble bowl of oatmeal. The water-soluble fiber in oatmeal can help reduce cholesterol. It is rich in Vitamin B6, which has special importance as a precursor of serotonin and plays a role in our behavior and mood. Oatmeal also contains norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, which plays a role in a person’s mood and ability to concentrate, and phenylethylamine, an organic compound found to act as a central nervous system stimulant in humans. The fiber also serves as a prebiotic, nourishing good gut bacteria.     

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2. Soybeans

The soybean is a miracle food that can be made into bean milk, bean curd (tofu), or cooked as a dish, such as steamed soybeans and fish, etc. It is rich in γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a naturally occurring amino acid that works as a neurotransmitter in your brain. When GABA attaches to a protein in your brain known as a GABA receptor, it produces a calming effect. This can help with feelings of anxiety, stress, and fear. 

A piece of tofu sits on a plate atop a wooden mat next to a pair of chopsticks with soybeans scattered across the dark table on which it sits.
Soybeans are rich in γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter in the brain that produces a calming effect. (Image: Jedimaster via Dreamstime)

3. Mackerel

Mackerel is a common deep-sea fish rich in EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) both of which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. As a fish, Mackerel has important nutrients for synthesizing the “happy hormone” serotonin. It also has superb prebiotic elements that nourish good gut bacteria.  

4. Small dried fish

Small dried fish is a nutritious and inexpensive food. It can be added to a soup or any cooked dish and even served as a snack. Dried fish are rich in both calcium, which helps in the operation of our neural system, and magnesium, which aids one’s learning and memory. Various other nutrients in small dried fish can make us more relaxed.

5. Spinach

Spinach is rich in folic acid needed by the body for the synthesis of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine which are neurotransmitters that have a positive impact on mood. In addition, it is full of cellulose and phytochemicals which help the growth of good gut bacteria. Frequent intake of spinach can help with good moods and positive thinking.  

6. Guava

Guava is rich in Vitamin C which is essential for the body to synthesize dopamine, norepinephrine, and other neurotransmitters. Dopamine makes us feel confident and happy while norepinephrine keeps us motivated. In addition, Vitamin C can reduce the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. For these reasons, more Vitamin C in the diet can have a positive impact on mood and guava is one of the richest sources.

Sliced guava sits on a cutting board next to a glass full of guava juice topped with a sprig of mint.
Guava is rich in Vitamin C, which is essential for the body to synthesize dopamine, norepinephrine, and other neurotransmitters. (Image: Dwiputrirats via Dreamstime)

7. Black sesame seeds

Black sesame seeds are especially good for vegetarians. Since the calcium in soybean milk is found to be much less than that of dairy milk, sesame seeds are added to soybean milk in order to counter-balance this difference. Calcium is an indispensable nutrient for relaxation. Black sesame seeds are also rich in a variety of nutrients that synthesize norepinephrine and this neurotransmitter keeps us feeling energetic and refreshed. Black sesame seeds can be served as a snack or added to drinks or meals, making the dishes tastier and putting us in a good mood.

8. Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds have the highest level of Vitamin E, more than found in all other nuts. The anti-oxidation mechanism of Vitamin E can protect our brain cells. In addition, they are rich in magnesium which helps metabolize the stress hormone cortisol, making us less anxious. Sunflower seeds also contain a variety of nutrients that synthesize the “happy hormone” serotonin. Sprinkling some of the seeds on our breakfast oatmeal or on a salad is like sprinkling the seeds of happiness to bolster our moods.    

A bowl of shelled sunflower seeds sits in front of a sunflower that is lying on a dark wooden table with whole sunflower seeds scattered around it.
Sunflower seeds contain a variety of nutrients that synthesize the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin. (Image: Marilyn Gould via Dreamstime)

9. Wheat germ

Wheat germ is rich in Vitamin E and also contains tryptophan which helps in the production of melatonin and norepinephrine. Wheat germ contains concentrated nutrition to supply the energy for a seed to germinate. Consuming wheat germ can fill us with energy.

10. Yogurt

Studies have shown that people whose calcium levels are low tend to be nervous, anxious, and irritable. Supplementing calcium not only prevents osteoporosis but also boosts our good moods. Yogurt is rich in calcium, and a current dietary guideline suggests a daily intake of at least one and a half cups. Sugarless yogurt can be blended with fruits to make a drink, which not only nourishes the gut but also protects the brain cells.

Translated by Audrey Wang

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