Kimchi noodle salad is a delicious way to sneak in mood boosting probiotics, and it takes less than 30 minutes to make. Vegan and gluten free too!
Happy Friday! I'm excited to share the first post of my new series, Good Mood Food. As you know, I'm a firm believer that food can and should contribute to a healthy and happy life. In this series, I'll be highlighting foods that have a specific impact on brain health, and mood and using it in a tasty new recipe.
For my first post, I want to look in depth at a group of foods essential to mental health - fermented foods. Fermented foods have been preserved or produced by the action of microorganisms like bacteria and yeasts, which digest sugars, turning it into gasses, acids or alcohol...I know, I'm not really selling it. But trust me, fermented foods are much tastier than it sounds, and they've been an essential part of the human diet for thousands of years. And guess what? If you've had yogurt, sourdough bread, sour cream or soy sauce, you've already swallowed a nice little mouthful of bacteria.
Fermented food is important for health because it introduces and replenishes the supply of probiotic bacteria to our gut. Did you know we have more bacteria in our gut than cells in our body? In fact, our gut bacteria outnumbers our cells 10 to 1. So, I guess we kind of are what we eat!
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Having a healthy intestinal flora is important for more than digestion. Studies have shown how changes to our intestinal bacteria can effect weight and have an impact on cardiovascular health and bone health. But what I find most notable and fascinating is how fermented foods improve mood.
You probably think of your brain as this intricate and complex organ and your gut as, well, a poop shoot. But you could argue that our gut has almost as much influence over our thoughts and mood as the brain. The gut is home to the enteric nervous system (ENS), the second greatest concentration of nervous system cells outside the brain. Many scientists refer to the gut as "the second brain." While the gut can't think, per se, it does influence thoughts and mood in other ways and one of those ways is through our gut bacteria.
Gut bacteria produces neurotransmitters, including 95% of the bodies serotonin and about half the bodies dopamine. Serotonin is often called the good mood hormone and dopamine is part of the reward system. Gut bacteria also protects against an endotoxin called lipopolysaccharide, which even small increases of can provoke depressive symptoms (and increase blood sugar). Fermented foods also decrease inflammation in the gut. Mild inflammation in the gut has been shown to increase anxiety and and lower levels of brain derived neurotropic factor, a neuropeptide that's known to be low in depression. If you'd like to read more about the science behind it, here's a fascinating journal article that looks into the science of mental health and fermented foods.
Kimchi might be my favorite fermented food. I'm slightly addicted. If you ever catch me hanging out in front of the refrigerator with the door wide open, it's probably because I'm eating kimchi out of the jar (or peanut butter, but that's another post). Kimchi, made by fermenting cabbage in chili paste, is essential to Korean cuisine. It's used to flavor soups, stews and in fried rice or is eaten as a side dish. I know fermented cabbage might not get you excited, but trust me, it's incredible! Think of it as spicy saurkraut!
This dish is a great way to enjoy kimchi in all of it's raw, probiotic filled glory. To make a full meal, add some type of protein. We tossed in pieces of grilled local chicken breast seasoned with 5-spice powder. Or for a vegan version, use edamame, cubes of baked tofu, or sprinkle it with extra peanuts or hemp hearts.
Kimchi Noodle Salad
Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE
Toss in edamame, cooked chicken or baked tofu for additional protein.
- 8 ounces whole grain noodles (I used black bean noodles)
- 1 cucumber, halved lengthwise and chopped into thin half moons
- 1 cup kimchi, drained
- 1/2 cup chopped scallions
- 1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons sriracha or gochujang
- 1/2 cup toasted peanuts, roughly chopped
- Cook noodles in a large pot of salted water according to package instructions. Drain. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of sesame oil to prevent it from clumping. Set aside to cool.
- When noodles are room temperature, place cucumber, kimchi, scallions and cilantro in a large bowl. Add noodles and toss to combine. Drizzle remaining sesame oil and sriracha/gochujang over the top. Toss again to combine. Top with toasted peanuts.
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