Can You Eat Your Way To Better Mental Health?

CNN Article

It is well known that eating lots of fruit and vegetables is good for your physical health, but our latest research suggests that it might be good for your mental health too.

A study from Australia in 2016 found improvements in psychological well-being after increases in fruit and vegetable consumption. We wanted to know if this finding held true using a larger sample (more than 40,000 participants) from the UK Household Longitudinal Study.

Our analysis showed that increases in the consumption of fruit and vegetables are linked to increases in self-reported mental well-being and life satisfaction in data that spans a five-year period, even after accounting for other determinants of mental well-being such as physical health, income and consumption of other foods.

A New Year, new food resolution: More fruits and veggies

The benefits of physical activity for mental health are well established. The estimates from our work suggest that adding one portion to your diet per day could be as beneficial to mental well-being as going for a walk on an extra seven to eight days a month. One portion is equal to one cup of raw vegetables (the size of a fist), half a cup of cooked vegetables or chopped fruit, or one piece of whole fruit. This result is encouraging as it means that one possible way to improve your mental health could be something as simple as eating an extra piece of fruit every day or having a salad with a meal.

It is important to stress that our findings alone cannot reveal a causal link from fruit and vegetable consumption to increased psychological well-being. And we can’t rule out so-called “substitution effects”. People can only eat so much in a day, so someone who eats more fruits and vegetables might just have less room in their diet for unhealthy foods. Although we accounted for bread and dairy in our study, ideally, future research should track all other foods consumed to rule out alternative explanations.
But when taken in combination with other studies in this area, the evidence is encouraging. For example, a randomised trial conducted in New Zealand found that various measures of mental well-being, such as motivation and vitality, improved in a treatment group where young adults were asked to eat two extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day for two weeks, although no changes were found for depressive symptoms, anxiety or mood.
Though our own study cannot rule out that people with higher levels of mental well-being might be eating more fruits and vegetables as a result, a recent commentaryon our work by the authors of the 2016 Australian study sheds further light on this. The authors show that the number of fruit and vegetable portions eaten in a day can predict whether someone is diagnosed with depression or anxiety two years later. But the reverse does not seem to be true. Being diagnosed with depression does not appear to be a strong predictor of fruit and vegetable consumption two years later. This suggests that it is perhaps more likely that eating fruits and vegetables is influencing mood and not the other way around.

Looking for causes

Although several studies, including our own, have found a link between fruit and vegetable consumption and mental well-being, we need large trials to provide robust evidence that the link is causal. However, randomised controlled trials are expensive, so another way to identify causation is to focus on the biological mechanisms that link the chemicals commonly found in fruit and vegetables to physical changes in the body. For example, vitamins C and E have been shown to lower inflammatory markers linked to depressive mood.

 

Although more research is needed, our work adds weight to a growing body of evidence that eating fruits and vegetables and having higher levels of mental well-being are positively related, and the signs of a causal link from other recent studies are encouraging. We are not suggesting eating fruits and vegetables is a substitute for medical treatment, but a simple way to improve your mental health could be to add a little more fruit and veg to your daily diet.

The Best Foods to Eat for Better Sleep

Author Article

Nonfat Popcorn
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Nonfat Popcorn

The carbohydrates in nonfat popcorn help bring the amino acid tryptophan into your brain, where it’s used to make a sleep-inducing neurotransmitter called serotonin. Since eating a heavy meal within two hours of bedtime can keep you awake, popcorn (just 93 calories in three cups popped) is a great late-night snack. Choose plain, fat-free popcorn and jazz it up with some curry powder or any of these other tricked out popcorn toppings.

Halibut
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Halibut

Halibut is packed with two building blocks for better sleep: tryptophan and vitamin B6, and when it comes to seafood, halibut has a mild flavor and meaty texture that appeals to finicky fish eaters. Other foods high in tryptophan include poultry, beef, soybeans, milk, cheese, yogurt, nuts, and eggs.

Mango Lassi
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Mango Lassi

Packed with antioxidants, protein, and vitamins, this treat satisfies your creamy, sweet craving as well as ice cream—without the sugar bomb.

BTW, a lassi is basically a smoothie, but it’s always made with yogurt. To make a mango lassi: cut up one fresh, peeled mango and put it in a blender. Add a handful of ice, a small scoop of plain Greek yogurt (go with full-fat dairy for all its health benefits) and a splash of water or milk. Add a dash of stevia for extra sweetness if desired.

Don’t like mangoes? Substitute frozen berries or watermelon.

Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas)
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Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas)

High-fiber garbanzo beans (or chickpeas) are rich in vitamin B6, which your body uses to produce serenity-boosting serotonin. Try adding garbanzo beans to salads, soups, and stews when you need sleep.

Chamomile Tea
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Chamomile Tea

This herbal drink lacks the caffeine found in traditional teas, and it has a calming effect on the body. Also, a warm liquid before bed can make you feel cozy and ready to hit the sheets.

Related: How to Practice Mindfulness with Tea

Honey
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Honey

A rise in blood sugar can reduce the production of orexin in the brain. Orexin is a recently discovered neurotransmitter that’s been linked to wakefulness. Try drizzling a small amount of honey in your chamomile tea for a touch of sweet without a full-down sugar rush.

Dried Tart Cherries
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Dried Tart Cherries

A handful of dried cherries not only provides the requisite serotonin-boosting carbs, but it’s also one of the few food sources of melatonin, which has been found to promote better sleep and lessen the effects of jet lag. Plus, tart cherries are packed with antioxidants.

Turkey
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Turkey

The reason behind your epic post-Thanksgiving feast nap is also the secret to helping you sleep better. Tryptophan, an amino acid found in turkey, is known to help calm you down and naturally get you to sleep.

Not feeling a deli turkey sandwich? Try roasted pumpkin seeds, which also contain tryptophan.

Banana  Soft Serve
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Banana “Soft Serve”

Frozen bananas make the perfect base for healthy, vegan “nice cream”. and the potassium in them will not only help you fall asleep faster but can prevent those awful cramps (AKA Charlie horses) that wake you up. All you need is the proper blending technique. The trick is to keep blending for several minutes. At first, they’ll just look slimy, but then air works its magic and before you know it frozen bananas morph into a creamy, light treat. Add a handful of chopped nuts for a sweet and salty treat.

Kale Chips
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Kale Chips

Don’t knock these roasted green “chips” until you’ve tried them. The hefty dose of vitamin K helps repair and build muscles while you sleep. Simply chop up a bunch of kale, toss with olive oil and sea salt, and spread out and bake at 350 degrees until crispy.