Did you grow up with the story that the appendix doesn’t matter and we have no idea what it does? Spoiler: we do know and it is rather useful. There are certain things I used to think – or not think — about the gut. Firstly, and probably most telling of all, is that I didn’t even realize that the colon is actually just another name for your large intestine. This was my starting point on gut-related knowledge when in early January I launched myself headfirst into The Psychobiotic Revolution by Scott C. Anderson. Now, at the beginning of May, I could regale you with torrid tales of just exactly how your food makes its way from teeth to tush. While that, I’m sure, would make for a scintillating blog post all on its own, instead I will share with you the book titles that got me started on my adventures in treating my chronic anxiety and depression with the cheapest, readily available medicine: real, good food.
The title of this book won me over right away. The concept of your gut acting as a second brain? Sign me up! Anderson, a science journalist, is joined in this book by two medical researchers who are actively studying the brain-gut connection and all those tiny little microbes that live within your belly. Written for the lay person, this is an immensely readable, often humourous, introduction to this new branch of science exploring the relationship between our diet and chronic conditions like mood disorders, autism, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and more. The sheer number of microbes (AKA bacteria AKA your fellow travelers on this crazy roller coaster we call life) that reside within our guts is staggering: they outnumber our own cells by more than 10 to 1! Anderson also includes reviews of probiotic products and explores the foods that best feed the beneficial bacteria calling you home, ensuring they camp out in your belly for as long as possible and crowd out potential pathogens by lighting up tiny little NO VACANCY signs.
If you liked this title you can also try Brain Maker: the power of gut microbes to heal and protect your brain – for life by David Perlmutter, MD and The Mind-Gut Connection by Emeran Mayer, MD.
Gut: the inside story of our body’s most underrated organ by Giulia Enders
I figured I was the only person ever to be interested in reading about the minutiae of how food is passed through your body but apparently not! While science journalist Mary Roach’s Gulp dates back to 2013 and provides some excellent coverage of digestion, Enders’ Gut (2015) was recently republished for 2018 and includes updated information on the science behind your second brain (your gut) and its delightfully complex microbiome. Also delightful? The strangely adorable illustrations that accompany some decidedly less-adorable subject matter. Plus, this is one title that will finally answer the question you asked your biology teacher back in middle school: what’s the deal with the appendix?
The Happiness Diet : good mood food by Rachel Kelly
Now armed with the knowledge that our gut produces around 90% of a person’s serotonin (a feel-good chemical that is often the focal point in medication used to treat depression), it is not so surprising that what we eat (and how it is used by our bodies) has a noticeable effect on our moods. This book is part cookbook, part nutritional guide providing a handy chart of foods based on their impact on your mental well-being and overall health. The chapters are divided into therapeutic themes like Steady Energy and Beating the Blues. With lots of accessible science behind the recipes this is a great title to provide a less clinical introduction to nutritional therapy.
For more recipes, try Eat Your Way to a Healthy Gut by Dale Pinnock. With its matter of fact approach it calls for ingredients you may actually have on hand and the recipes don’t require you to juggle seventeen prep stations at once. Having a hard time saying “goodbye” to sugar? Try the Date, Almond and Chia Balls.
Year of No Sugar by Eve Schaub
After the realization that sugar was likely a big contributing factor to my own chronic conditions it was encouraging to find tales of other people trying to drop the sweet stuff from their diets. In Year of No Sugar Eve Schaub not only stops eating sugar but she somehow convinces her husband and two school-aged daughters to go along with the challenge as well. Schaub’s exploration into the world of no-sugar brings up some very familiar territory for me regarding the limitations of using bananas and dates to sweeten everything and just how far one is willing to go to find sweetness in a refined-sugar-less existence.
Food: what the heck should I eat by Mark Hyman, MD
This last title is the one currently on my side table: Food: what the heck should I eat? by Mark Hyman, MD. If you’re as confused as I was about all the incongruous studies being published about food – okay, are eggs good or bad? Does all meat really raise your risk of cancer? Wait, drinking cow’s milk causes osteoporosis?! – this book takes a hard look at the scientific food studies past and present and sifts out the accuracies from the inaccuracies. Slightly irreverent, Hyman calls his preferred diet “pegan” — a cross between two contradictory diets (vegan and paleo) – and it focuses on whole, anti-inflammatory foods that don’t mess around with your blood sugar. Having this title on hand to get a level-headed look at what you’re about to put into your body is immensely helpful.
All this newly acquired knowledge of microbiomes (food cravings are actually those billions of little beasts living in your gut whispering to your brain about what they’d like to eat), the processes of digestion, how this all affects your mood, and just how to go about getting those systems firing on all cylinders can seem overwhelming. Changes to your daily routine are hard to make and it helps to go a bit at a time rather than dive in headfirst. Read one book, maybe two and see where they might lead you. Have you made any changes to your diet lately? Let me know what you’ve been reading — or eating!