Psychologists usually look to factors in the mind in an attempt to help people struggling with mental health issues. But that process is quickly changing. While the mind is a beautiful and powerful place, studies show that the stomach may also play an important role in your overall health — physically and socially.

In a 2015 study done by William & Mary Psychology Professors Matthew Hilimire and Catherine Forestell in conjunction with University of Maryland School of Social Work Assistant Professor Jordan DeVylder, researchers reveal a possible connection between the mind and the gut. Their findings disclose a connection between fermented foods which contain probiotics (the good  bacteria in your digestive tract) and social anxiety symptoms. Those probiotic filled foods could be the answer to decreasing one’s fear of social situations.

Psychologists asked over 700 college students about the fermented foods they consumed over the course of 30 days. The questionnaire also asked about consumption of fruits and vegetables as well as exercise frequency. The researchers found that individuals who had consumed more fermented foods (such as yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha) had reduced cases of social anxiety. The effect was greater in those who rated highly on the neurotic scale. The researchers also found, secondarily, that those who exercised more were more likely to have reduced social anxiety. So, those who were susceptible before the study would show the strongest connection between eating yogurt and participating in group therapy.

While further research is needed to solidify some other points of the study such as whether or not a causative connection can be made between eating fermented foods and reducing social anxiety, it’s safe to assume that a diet which includes probiotic filled foods is good for your health and your social life.

Here are five fermented foods that are tasty, healthy, easy to eat, and that help to decrease social anxiety:

1. Yogurt

All yogurts contain some probiotics. The yogurt with the “Live & Active Cultures” seal contains approximately 100 million probiotic cultures per gram when it’s manufactured — this equates to about 25 billion probiotic cultures within one cup. Kefir, a fermented milk product, is a drinkable type of yogurt which has even more probiotics.

2. Kombucha

Kombucha is a type of effervescent tea which combines black (or green) tea, natural sugar, yeast, and bacteria (the good kind). The yeast and bacteria consume the sugar and the result is a delicious drink high in B vitamins, acetic acid, and probiotics. A very small amount of alcohol is included in this drink during fermentation and studies have shown that it helps to stabilize blood glucose levels.

3. Miso

Miso, a Japanese seasoning, is a paste-like substance made from soybeans, rice, and barley. It has a bold taste and works well in soups, stir-frys, and drinks including this Blueberry Miso Smoothie. Since it is high in sodium, only a little bit is needed to season up any dish.

4. Tempeh

Tempeh, the nutty-tasting relative of tofu, is made from naturally fermented soybeans. It is a good source of probiotics as it contains amino acids. It contains a good dose of iron, calcium, and protein. It can be used in burgers and stir-frys. And because it’s fermented, it’s much easier to digest than some soy products.

5. Kimchi

Kimchi is a spicy fermented cabbage, closely related to sauerkraut. Pasteurized versions of kimchi do not contain probiotics. However, if you look for “unpasteurized,” “live and active cultures,” or “naturally fermented” labels, you will find the real deal. Don’t forget to refrigerate as getting sick from rotten food that is already unpasteurized is a greater possibility.

What we eat is just one way to look at our mental states. As researchers and psychologists continue to learn about the connections between our brain and our stomach, it seems like food will increasingly have a profound effect upon how we feel and how we connect with others. This is just one wonderful reason to be kind to your tummy.

Featured photo credit: Frozen yogurt with raspberry coulis at Frozen in South Yarra/Katherine Lim via flickr.com

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