The Psychobiotic Diet: A New Nutrition Strategy To Reduce StressPublished on Monday, August 21, 2023 by
Harnessing the Power of Food: The Science Behind the Stress-Reducing Psychobiotic Diet
Stress is a pervasive societal issue, and although the intensity and frequency of its influence varies across the population, it remains an emotional state that the vast majority of us would sooner minimize if we could.
The American Psychological Association recently went as far as to describe stress as a “National Mental Health Crisis” that would yield “serious health consequences for years to come.”
A strong statement on a really important social issue, and one that I do truly care about.
While I’m the first to admit that food doesn’t fix everything, there is little questioning the growing scientific reality that a strong style of eating has really significant potential to improve one’s mental health and stress resilience.
Which brings us to the topic of today’s inquiry, the “Psychobiotic Diet” – a novel approach to nutrition that is aggressively aimed at leveraging the gut-brain connection by boosting the human gut microbiome with the goal of positively influencing stress levels.
But what does it mean to follow a psychobiotic diet, and will it actually help reduce your stress?
Let’s take a closer look.
The Psychobiotic Diet Study
Earlier this year, the Molecular Psychiatry journal published the results of their psychobiotic diet intervention study, which heavily utilized three families of foods known to influence the human gut microbiome positively.
The study participants were otherwise healthy adults, and their changes in perceived stress levels were measured over time compared to a control group who followed conventional dietary guidance.
Both the control and intervention groups met with a dietitian as part of the study process.
Here’s What They Did
The psychobiotic diet was characterized by an extra emphasis on three food families.
- Prebiotic-rich Foods: 6-8 servings per day of foods known to contain prebiotic fiber, like onions, leeks, garlic, cabbage, apples, asparagus, banana, oats, dark chocolate (cocoa), and barley.
- Legumes: Such as lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, and black beans. These were consumed every other day, on average, 3-4 servings per week.
- Fermented Foods: 2-3 servings per day of kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha. In this case, one serving of fermented foods was equivalent to one cup.
Here’s What They Found
- The psychobiotic diet reduced perceived stress by 32%, whereas stress reduction in the control group was only 17%.
- The more closely the psychobiotic diet was followed, the more stress reduction was observed.
Interestingly, the study authors noted that the regular consumption of fermented foods was the most challenging piece of guidance to adhere to for the study participants.
I know that fermented foods generate a great deal of public interest, so if you’d like to learn more about them and their benefits on inflammation and the gut microbiome, be sure to read my previous Foodguides.com piece on the subject.
My Thoughts On The Study
While there are scientific limitations to a study of this nature, the findings are certainly intriguing and point to the fact that microbiome-focused eating strategies may offer more protection against stress than a generally balanced diet would.
This is an important observation for two big reasons.
#1 Stress Is A Big Issue, Affecting Many People
This means that the results of this study have significant potential to influence and excite people about modifying their diet in a positive direction, a very important consideration given what I’m about to say next.
#2 The Foods In Question Are Not Widely Consumed
Fermented foods, prebiotic-rich foods, and legumes (particularly the last two!) are so nutritionally valuable but also significantly under-consumed.
When I take both of these factors into consideration, I feel a strong sense of contentment around this study and its findings because while it is true this is just one study, and it does not definitely prove eating in this way will universally reduce your stress levels – the overwhelming likelihood is that the vast majority of people out there will benefit in multiple ways from thinking more about the foods emphasized in the study.
Food for thought, at the very least.
- American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Stress in americaTM 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/report-october
- Berding, K., Bastiaanssen, T. F. S., Moloney, G. M., Boscaini, S., Strain, C. R., Anesi, A., Long-Smith, C., Mattivi, F., Stanton, C., Clarke, G., Dinan, T. G., & Cryan, J. F. (2023). Feed your microbes to deal with stress: a psychobiotic diet impacts microbial stability and perceived stress in a healthy adult population. Molecular psychiatry, 28(2), 601–610. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-022-01817-y
Andy De SantisMPH, RD