Did you know that your gut acts like a second brain? And that the relationship between the brain and the gut is more intense than the epic love affair between Jack and Rose in Titanic?

If your gut is drowning, your mind will inevitably jump into that freezing water too.

This article aims to explain the passionate relationship between your brain and your stomach, and how you can use that hot-blooded connection to improve your mental health.

In addition, you will be served 11 antidepressant recipes, stuffed with crucial brain foods.

brain gut

Brain foods and your “second brain”

To understand how brain foods contribute to our mental health (or our mental illness), we first need to accept the intimate relationship between the brain and the gut.

Modern research reveals that instead of acting as two estranged relatives only engaging in the occasional and rather forced holiday phone call, the communicative style between the brain and the gut equals that of teenagers in love. Communication between these two lovebirds is frequent and endless. And you possess the power to make their love affair constructive – a relationship where both parties offer each other support and comfort – or destructive – a relationship where both parties seek to control and inhibit the other’s space to grow.

In their research article with the rather startling title “Gutted!”, Thomas Bastiaansen and his colleagues explain how the brain and the gut are connected via the vagus nerve – a connection also known as the gut-brain-axis. The gut-brain-axis can be thought of as a bidirectional highway with substances constantly travelling back and forth between the head and the stomach.

gut nervous system

Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist Dr. Uma Naidoo teaches us that 90% of the body’s serotonin receptors are located in the gut (serotonin is a neurotransmitter which stabilizes our mood and feelings of well-being). So, there is no wonder why some nutritionists and nutritional scientists call the gut “the second brain”. What you eat will inevitably impact how you think and feel. And communication is quick.

What you eat during a day will impact the bacteria in your gut. And the bacteria will affect your mental state.

Dr. Naidoo explains that by adding fiber to your diet, the “good” bacteria in your gut will thrive. The good bacteria decrease inflammation in the body and protect your brain from depression, anxiety and other diseases.

It’s important to remember that good gut bacteria can’t live without fiber. So, it doesn’t matter how much protein you chew – there is no healthy gut environment without vegetables, fruit, legumes, seeds or whole grains.

You can also choose to feed the “bad” bacteria – the bacteria which thrive on sugar, white flour, processed meat, artificial sweeteners, stabilizers and thickeners. When you feed the bad bacteria a high-fat, high-sugar diet, they throw a party in your stomach, causing inflammation in the body. Inflammation increases the risk of depression and many other diseases, such as leaky gut, panic anxiety and skin rashes.

When bad bacteria thrive, good bacteria fail.

The good news is that there is only one person who has the power to influence the relationship between the brain and the gut. It’s you.

By carefully choosing what goes in your mouth, you can feed the type of bacteria that sends an endless stream of comfort and support to your brain.

So, how do you do that? What kind of brain foods will most effectively support your mental health?

Below, you’ll find 11 brain healthy recipes, designed to make your good gut bacteria thrive.

If you want more information about a research-based antidepressant diet, read: An easily digested guide to diet and depression

11 brain healthy recipes

Suggestion: Start by exchanging one high-sugar meal a day for one of the recipes below. Next week, you exchange two meals a day and so on.

Let’s start with some brain boosting breakfasts:

Brain food recipe #1: Walnut smoothie


Nuts (including almonds) are a great brain food and an important part of the antidepressant Mediterranean diet. Depression has been linked to magnesium and zinc deficiency. Nuts contain both of these essential nutrients along with many other brain healthy substances. So, if you’re not allergic, try to eat 2 tablespoons of unsalted nuts every day. This is easy to do – just throw them in a smoothie.


2 tablespoons almond flour (or crushed almonds)

5-6 walnuts (or 10-16 hazelnuts if you prefer)

30-50 ml shredded UNSWEETENED coconut (or coconut flakes)

100 ml of your favourite frozen berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries… choose a different mix every day)

Half a banana

50 ml water

Do like this:

Put everything in a blender. Blend it and pour in a tall glass.

Brain food recipe #2: Avocado sandwich


Let’s talk about bread. White flour is not good for your brain. So, if you want to feed your good bacteria, you should avoid light bread.

The following recipe involves a slice of sourdough because the fermentation process gives the bread qualities which your good gut bacteria will love. Also, avocado is a great source of magnesium.


2 slices of sourdough bread (or rye bread)

1 avocado

1 tablespoon lemon juice (that you press yourself)

Sea salt

1 teaspoon cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil

Chili flakes (optional)

Do like this:

Cut the avocado and put the flesh in a bowl. Add lemon juice and sea salt. Mash everything together with a fork. Spread the mash onto the bread. Garnish with chili flakes (if you like it spicy) and olive oil.

Suggestion: This is a classic – don’t shop hungry. Decide in advance when to go shopping for food and exactly what to buy. Look at the ingredients lists for the brain food recipes and add the products to your shopping list right away.

Brain food recipe #3: Muesli


Another way to make sure you get your daily intake of nuts and seeds is to make your own breakfast muesli.

Here’s what you need for 4 servings:

3 tablespoons flaxseeds

3 tablespoons sunflower seeds

3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

1 tablespoon psyllium (a fiber-rich seed)

3 tablespoons mixed nuts (for example almonds, hazelnut and walnuts)

3 tablespoons dried berries (for example blueberries, raspberries and cranberries)

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

If you like coconut, add 3 tablespoons shredded UNSWEETENED coconut (or coconut flakes)

Do like this:

Set the oven to 180 °C. Chop the nuts, mix them together with the seeds and spread over a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Stir around every other minute.
Let your muesli cool and serve with kefir or unsweetened yoghurt.

Brain food recipe #4: Beetroot smoothie



2 celery stalks

1 beetroot

Juice from a lemon

A handful of spinach

Half an avocado

Do like this:

Rinse the spinach and celery. Chop the celery into smaller pieces. Peel the beet and chop it into smaller pieces. Put everything in a blender. Blend it. Serve in a tall glass.

Now, let’s move on to lunches and dinners:

Brain food recipe #5: Salmon soup


The omega-3 fat found in fat fish and caviar is another important brain food which can help improve your mental health. Make sure to include a few servings of fish every week to your diet, especially when dealing with depression.

Besides omega-3-rich salmon, the following recipe includes turmeric with a pinch of black pepper, which is a powerful combination to feed your brain – both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.

Ingredients for 4 servings:

600 grams salmon

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 carrots

1 onion

2 cubes fish bouillon

1 litre of water

200 ml creme fraiche

2 tablespoons turmeric

Black pepper

Chili flakes

1-2 lime

Do like this:

Chop the carrots and onion. Fry them in olive oil in a large pot or wok pan for around 10 minutes. Crumble the bouillon cubes and add to the mixture in the pan. Add the water and let it boil for around 10 minutes. Add creme fraiche, turmeric, black pepper and chili flakes. Stir. Dice the salmon (big dices) and add it to your soup. Bring to a boil.
Serve your soup with some freshly squeezed lime.

Suggestion: If you don’t like cooking with turmeric and black pepper, put them in a spicy smoothie.

Brain food recipe #6: Omelette


Ingredients for 4 servings:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic

4 handfuls of spinach

Basil leaves

6 organic eggs

50 ml chopped olives

100 grams crumbled or diced feta cheese

2 diced tomatoes

Sea salt

Black pepper

Do like this:

Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic. When the garlic is slightly brown, add the spinach and basil leaves. Cook for one minute. Whisk together the eggs, olives, feta and tomatoes. Add the mixture to the pan and cook until the eggs have a firm texture. Add sea salt and pepper.

Suggestion: Keep a grocery list in your smartphone. You can, for example, use the iphone app “reminders”. Whenever you realize you need more of something edible at home, just add it to the list. And whenever you come across a new antidepressant recipe, pick up your phone and add the ingredients to your list right away. That way, you don’t have to spend hours planning your trips to the grocery store.

Brain food recipe #7: Salad with lentils


Salads are your best friends when it comes to eating for mental health. Make sure to use a variety of vegetables, seeds and fruit in your salads. It helps you get all the nutrients you need, while making sure you don’t get tired of a particular vegetable mixture. Remember to add an endless stream of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil to your salads.

Ingredients for 4 servings:

A bunch of chard

Sea salt

200 ml boiled lentils

2 shredded scallions – also known as green onions (you can exchange the scallions for red onion if you want a stronger taste)

The juice from 2 limes

6 tablespoons of cold-pressed virgin olive oil

2 avocado (if you had avocado for breakfast – exchange it for another fruit or vegetable. Why not try mango, baby carrots or cooked beetroot?)

A bunch of watercress or arugula

3 tablespoons of pistachios (you can also use cashews, hazelnuts or almonds)

2 tablespoons flaxseed

Do like this:

Boil your chard with sea salt for about 20 seconds. Put the boiled chard in a bowl together with lentils and scallions. Add lime juice and olive oil. Slice the avocados and place them in the bowl. Add watercress, pistachios and flaxseeds.

Suggestion: Eat the rainbow! Stuff your fridge with a variety of vegetables in as many different colours as you can find. Choose a different vegetable combo every day. Your plate will look nice and the variation helps you get all of the important nutrients you need. And don’t forget to throw seeds on your salad. If the vegetables get sad and flabby before you have time to eat them – toss everything in a frying pan (always fry in olive oil) and mix with egg to make an omelette, or with brown rice to make a rice dish. Perhaps add some chili if you like your food spicy.

Brain food recipe #8: Chard and sweet potatoes


Ingredients for 4 servings:

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 peeled sweet potatoes

A bunch of chard

Sea salt

2 cloves of garlic

100 grams of walnuts

If you want, you can add a handful of your favourite seeds

Do like this:

Set your oven to 175 °C. Cut your sweet potatoes in half and place them in an oven dish, greased with olive oil. Bake the sweet potatoes for around 45 minutes.
Boil the chard with salt for around 20 seconds. Chop the garlic and cook in a pan with olive oil. Add the chard to the garlic mixture.
Roast the walnuts in a pan.
Take the oven dish out of the oven. Put the chard-garlic-mixture and walnuts over your grilled sweet potatoes. If you want, toss a handful of seeds over your dish.

This dish is nice to serve with boiled broccoli.

Brain food recipe #9: Super simple mackerel


If you want to learn how to cook fish the easiest way possible, this is the recipe for you.

Ingredients for 4 servings:

4 mackerel fillets

100 ml extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Black peppe

Do like this:

Set the oven to 180 °C. Whisk together olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. Put your mackerel fillets in an oven dish and pour the olive oil over the fish. Bathe the fish in the oil by turning it around a few times. Put your dish in the oven for around 15 minutes.

Serve with: Oven baked carrots and tomatoes

Do like this:

Set your oven to 180 °C. Chop up a few carrots and split a few tomatoes. Put the vegetables in an oven dish and sprinkle them (or drown them) with olive oil. Add salt and pepper. Put your dish in the oven and bake for around 20 minutes.

Brain food recipe #10: Oven baked cauliflower


Cauliflower is an underestimated source of nutrients. Cauliflower contains vitamins, minerals and fiber which feed your good gut bacteria.

Ingredients for 4 servings:

3 tablespoons coconut oil

2 tablespoons curry powder (If you don’t like curry, you can substitute it for other spices, such as cumin mixed with coriander. Maybe throw a pinch of chili into the mix.)

1 teaspoon turmeric

A pinch of black pepper

1 teaspoon sea salt

1-2 cauliflower

2 tablespoons chopped almonds

Do like this:

Set your oven to 175 °C. Mix coconut oil with the spices. Cover your cauliflower with the coconut mix and put it in an oven dish. Bake for a few minutes until it’s soft all the way through. Roast your almonds in a pan and spread over the cauliflower.

And here comes dessert:

Brain food recipe #11: Chocolate chip cookies


Did you know that the flavonoids in dark cacao are really good for your brain? So, make sure the chocolate you eat contains more than 70% cacao.

As mentioned before, white flour is one of the things you want to stay away from when depressed because it increases inflammation in the body and thereby the risk of depression. So, what do you do when you just have to eat cookies? Well, you can use this cookie recipe with zero percent white flour. It includes foods, such as almonds and dark chocolate, which are actually really good for your brain. Yes, sometimes life is wonderful.

Ingredients for 6 cookies:

20 grams dark chocolate (more than 70% cacao)

50 ml almond butter

50 ml peanut butter

2 tablespoons cacao

1-2 tablespoons organic honey

Half a tablespoon of water

1 teaspoon baking powder

A pinch of vanilla powder

Do like this:

Set your oven to 175 °C. Mix all ingredients except for the dark chocolate. Chop the chocolate in large chunks and add to the dough with a spoon. Shape the dough into cookies, 1 cm thick. Place the cookies on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes.

In conclusion

You have the power to decide the quality of the relationship between your gut and your brain, which impacts your mental health. The brain food recipes in this article will help your gut send a loving supply of nutrients to your brain.

Suggestion: Start small! Don’t try to transform your diet overnight. If you want to embrace a research-based antidepressant diet – download the Flow Depression App (free). It will give you step-by-step instructions for how to change your eating habits.

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