FILIPINOS who suffer from poor mental health can benefit from eating local in-season vegetables since gut health can improve mood, said doctors and wellness experts.  

Without vegetables, opportunistic bacteria can prey on an unbalanced gut microbiome, inflaming the gastrointestinal system which leads to poor mood regulation, according to speakers at the recent National Mental Health Summit. 

The folk song “Bahay Kubo” names essentials like singkamas, talong, sitaw, and upo (turnip, eggplant, string bean, and white squash), which provide dietary fiber that transforms into butyrate, a metabolite that helps produce serotonin.  

“Butyrate communicates with cells that produce serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters that regulates your mood,” said Dr. Carisse Diana “Candy” Drilon-Dalman, medical director of wellness clinic Centro Holistico, at the Oct. 25 summit organized by mental health services provider Mind You and the Department of Health.   

Dr. Dalman added that 98% of serotonin is produced in the gut, which makes eating metabolite-producing vegetables an important part of self-care.  

“The gastrointestinal system starts in the mouth. Everything you put in your mouth affects the entire system. Your gastrointestinal system is the connection of your environment to your internal environment,” she said.  

The diversity of one’s gut microbiome depends on where an individual is in the world, she added, since human beings are always more “attuned” to local food.  

Vegetables endemic to the Philippines can regulate moods, according to Dr. Susana M. Balingit, a wellness doctor at The Farm at San Benito and an advocate of using food as medicine.  

“If we were just to use what’s local and endemic to where we come from, we would have a lot to help us improve our mental health,” she said. 

Here are Dr. Balingit’s recommended vegetables and the corresponding areas of mental health they address:  

Sprouts — mushrooms, togue (mung bean sprouts), bamboo shoots, ubod ng niyog (coconut palm heart)  

  • To strengthen liver and gall bladder  
  • For when you’re angry, restless, frustrated, resentful, and sluggish

Leafy vegetables — saluyot (jute leaves), talbos ng kamote (sweet potato leaves), kangkong (water spinach)  

  • To help the heart and small intestines  
  • For when you feel overly excited, tense, restless  

Fruit vegetables — ampalaya (bitter gourd), squash, upo  

  • To keep your pancreas, spleen, and stomach healthy   
  • When you feel extra sensitive or like you want to cry or have strong craving for sweet taste  

Beans/Seed vegetables — sitaw (string bean), bataw (hyacinth bean), patani (lima bean), sigarilyas (winged bean), mani (peanut)  

  • To strengthen your lungs and large intestines  
  • For when you’re depressed, nostalgic, lethargic, indecisive  

Root crops — garlic, onions, ginger, kamote, cassava, gabi (taro)  

  • To reinforce your kidneys and reproductive organs  
  • For when you feel worried, overwhelmed, confused, scared, or hesitant and crave for a salty favor  

“We claim our country to be one of the most eco-diverse but we allow other people to teach us what to eat. They just taught us what they know they have and what they can sell to us, but what happens to what we have?” said Dr. Balingit. — Brontë H. Lacsamana