Psychobiotic Food: Nourishing Your Mental Health with Your Gut

Last Updated on March 7, 2024 by Lindsay Delk, RDN

Your gut may not be one of the first things you think of when you are considering your mental health. But research shows that your gut health is closely linked to your mental health. Getting butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous is a small example of this. Eating psychobiotic food is a great way to nourish your gut and influence your mental health.

This post was written by Lindsay Delk, RDN. It is for informational purposes and is not intended to replace medical advice or instructions given by your healthcare provider. 

6 psychobiotic foods (pickles, yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickled beets, and kombucha) in glass bowls on a table

What Are Psychobiotics?

Psychobiotics are probiotics and prebiotics that provide psychological or mental health benefits, such as reducing stress levels and decreasing depression and anxiety symptoms. Probiotics are the good live bacteria that live in your gut, and prebiotics are the “food” for the probiotics.

Psychobiotics provide their benefits in several ways, including by reducing inflammation and helping produce neurotransmitters.

Psychobiotic bacteria commonly include strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These psychobiotics are becoming increasingly recognized for their influence on the gut-brain axis—how the gut and brain communicate with each other—and the role they play in maintaining a balanced mind.

A picture of the GI tract surrounded by words that represent psychobiotic food, such as probiotics, flora, supplements, moods, yogurt, and fermented foods

What Is Psychobiotic Food?

Psychobiotic food is food that contains these psychobiotics. Fermented foods are psychobiotic foods because they contain strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Food fermentation is an ancient culinary art that produces probiotics, extends a food’s shelf life, and gives the fermented food a unique tangy flavor.

The following are the most common fermented foods or probiotic foods:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Unpasteurized kimchi
  • Unpasteurized fermented sauerkraut
  • Unpasteurized fermented pickles (see my favorite brands here)
  • Other unpasteurized fermented vegetables
  • Miso
  • Kombucha
Probiotic food written on a chalkboard surrounded by fermented pickles, sauerkraut, miso, yogurt, and kimchi

Prebiotics are often considered psychobiotics also because they are the specific types of fiber that feed the healthy microbes in your gut. Pairing probiotic-rich foods with prebiotic-fiber foods will nourish your gut microbiota.

The following are the most common prebiotic foods:

Prebiotic foods written with wooden tiles surrounded by onions, leeks, garlic, apples, bananas, flaxseed, oats, and seaweed

Incorporating Psychobiotic Foods into Your Diet

While you can take psychobiotic supplements, aiming for a psychobiotic diet with real, nutrient-rich food is the best first approach. Here are a few strategic ways to incorporate more psychobiotic foods into your diet:

>Start Your Day with a Psychobiotic Boost

Try a bowl of yogurt topped with banana slices and oat granola. This breakfast bowl introduces probiotics and prebiotics into your system along with a balance of carbs and protein for a steady release of energy.

Prepare overnight oats with Greek yogurt for a quick breakfast or snack. Try these recipes: Blueberry Cheesecake Overnight Oats, Pistachio Overnight Oats, or Overnight Oats with Frozen Fruit and Almonds.

>Snack Smart

Keep fermented snacks, such as fermented pickles or other fermented vegetables, kefir, or kombucha on hand when the urge to snack hits.

>Make Good Mood Meals

Get your greens and your psychobiotics in one go with a salad including dandelion greens, grilled salmon or shrimp, and your favorite ingredients topped with a miso or yogurt-based dressing.

Spread whole wheat bread with mashed avocado, layer on some kimchi or other fermented veggie, then add a protein like grilled chicken.

Bottom Line

Eating psychobiotic food is not a cure-all for your mental wellness, but it is an avenue worth exploring in conjunction with other therapies. Read about the pillars of a good mental health diet here: Good Mood Food – The Pillars of a Good Mental Health Diet.

By maintaining a diet rich in diverse, nutrient-dense, and live-culture foods, you can improve your physical health and see mental health benefits. By crafting your meals and snacks to include these beneficial foods, you’re paving the way for a happier gut and, quite likely, a happier brain.

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