Seven servings a day chase the blahs away—really!
Seems obvious: Who doesn’t get at least a little bit excited by a heaping bowl of fresh-cut fruit (especially if someone else has done the cutting for us)? But now science confirms that happiness and mental health rise with the number of servings of fruits and vegetables we eat each day.
Researchers at the University of Warwick and Dartmouth College studied 80,000 people living in the United Kingdom, and compared their fruit and veggie intake with their life satisfaction, mental well-being, presence of mental disorders, self-reported health, happiness, nervousness, and how often they “feel low,” factoring in such variables as the rest of their diets, alcohol, and many demographic, social, and economic factors. In an overwhelming number of cases, people who ate the World Health Organization-recommended five servings per day were happier than those who didn’t, and those who ate seven per day were happiest.
Some of this can be explained by looking at what these fruits and veggies are replacing—namely foods that can have a negative effect on our mood and outlook. “People who eat more fruits and vegetables typically eat less sugar and refined carbs,” says John Bagnulo, PhD, MPH, who teaches nutrition and fitness in Kripalu’s Healthy Living programs. “They also generally tend to be more active, and one could easily see how more activity could improve a person’s outlook as well.”
But it’s not just what fruits and veggies are not. Fruits and veggies are the richest sources of potassium and magnesium, both of which have anti-depressant effects. They are also, as a whole, anti-inflammatory, which can lead to better neurological health, adds John. “To many people this sounds far-fetched, but there is more and more evidence that inflammation causes much more than just pain and discomfort in particular regions of the body,” says John. “It can cause general malaise and negatively impact how they look at life.”
Of course, in addition to being a sometime mood-killer, winter can be a more difficult season for getting enough fruits and veggies in our diets. There are fewer local options; our days our shorter. John offers these tips for getting in your “uppers” this winter:
Plan ahead. Try turning the surplus from your summer or fall harvests into kimchi or sauerkraut. The process is simple, and requires only vegetables (any type, though favorites are cabbage, kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, and mustard greens), water, and salt. In as few as four days, you can have deliciously preserved vegetables without losing any of their nutritional value. In fact, some research suggests that nutritional value may actually be improved through fermentation, especially in the case of fermented greens.
Replace grains with veggies. Starch from fruits and vegetables like squash and sweet potatoes will pack a higher nutritional punch than that from grains and cereals. Grains, even whole ones, typically drive inflammation, are almost always a metabolic acid load, and are basically a filler at best. Starchy vegetables, despite their sometimes-higher glycemic index, are not associated with a greater risk of diabetes or weight gain, unlike grains and flour.
Get creative. Use more fruits and vegetables in less conventional ways. For instance, mix pumpkin or squash with cinnamon and ginger, bake until tender and sweet, and top with coconut milk. Or bake apples with cinnamon for a healthy, sweet dessert.