Brain Food: A Guide to Eating For Mental Well Being

The Truth about the American Diet

September is National Fruits and Veggies Month, and although the benefits of plant consumption are indisputable, emerging diet fads and changing guidelines have left more than 75% of consumers confused about nutrition. As a result, many Americans have turned to their own internet-based research to seek clarity. However, online research can be time-consuming and often requires sifting through a cacophony of conflicting opinions to get to any evidence-based information. 

Despite consumer confusion, it has been well-established that: 

1.    Americans are over-consuming grains, sugar, sodium and saturated fats while under consuming fruits and vegetables.

2.    Eating fruits and vegetables is beneficial to both physical and mental health.

Plant Consumption Improves Mental Wellbeing 

The benefits of eating fruits and vegetables seem to be endless. Not only are plant-based diets better for the planet, but they also benefit our bodies. While the physical health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables have been well known for decades, recent evidence suggests that diets rich in fruits and vegetables may also improve psychological well-being. 

According to a study published in 2019, increased fruit and vegetable consumption improves mental well-being. Using data from more than 40,000 participants in the United Kingdom, the study found that mental wellbeing increased in a dose-response fashion to both quantity and frequency of fruits and vegetables consumed. Researchers concluded that even modest increases in fruit and vegetable consumption have positive effects on wellbeing. 

Another study published in 2017, found that increased fruit and vegetable consumption is positively associated with happiness and inversely associated with depression. Researchers randomized 522 students into three groups. For 14 days, students in group 1 continued their usual diet, students in group 2  received two daily text reminders to eat fruits and vegetables, and students in group 3 received two high quality servings of fruits and/or vegetables per day. Researchers found that the students in group 3 demonstrated higher happiness and lower depression scores. 

A third study involving more than 6,000 participants similarly found that fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with improved psychological wellbeing. This study reported psychological wellbeing was “positively associated with the consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits in men and women…especially when consumed on a daily basis.”

Plant Consumption Improves Cognition

Consuming fruits and vegetables may also help with cognitive function. Using 20 years of data from over 28,000 men, a 2018 study found that the increased consumption of vegetables, fruit, and fruit juice was associated with lower odds of poor cognitive function. Even after controlling for non-dietary factors and overall energy intake, researchers found that participants who consumed leafy greens, red and orange vegetables, berries and orange juice demonstrated the highest cognitive functioning scores. 

Current Dietary Guidelines: Food Plate vs. Food Pyramid

Do you remember, the food pyramid? Using a tiered triangle, the pyramid visualized grains, like bread and pasta, as the largest component of a balanced meal. However in 2011, changing dietary guidelines replaced the food pyramid with the food plate. Now, fruits and vegetables take center stage. Half of the food plate is dedicated to fruits and vegetables indicating that the largest component of a balanced meal should be plants. What about grains? The remaining ½ of the plate is split evenly: ¼ for grains and ¼ for proteins.

How many servings of fruits and vegetables did you eat yesterday? According to current guidelines, the recommended daily number of servings of fruit is 2-4 and vegetables is 3-5. If you’re not quite reaching those recommended amounts, you are not alone. Remember, change doesn’t need to happen all at once. If you’d like to eat more fruits and vegetables, consider increasing your intake by just one serving per week until you’ve reached your goal. 

8 Simple Ways to Eat More Plants

Ready to make a change? Here are 8 simple and delicious ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet:

  1. Half Your Plate. At each meal and snack, fill half your plate with fruits and/or veggies.
  2. Add Some Extras. When a recipe calls for a fruit or a vegetable, try adding a little (or a lot) more than suggested. 
  3. Blend It In. Smoothies aren’t just for fruit! They’re also a great way to eat more leafy greens. Try adding spinach or kale into your next blended beverage.
  4. Take A Dip. Spice up your vegetables with a new dip!  Explore new flavors of hummus, try a spiced yogurt or even use your favorite salad dressing as a dip for raw vegetables. 
  5. Spread It On.  Try swapping out mayonnaise for a plant-based spread like guacamole. Puréed cooked spinach is another vitamin-packed and spreadable option for sandwiches.
  6. Heat it Up.  Roasting and grilling are great ways to give your favorite veggies a major flavor boost. After cooking, enjoy plain, add to a sandwich or use to top a salad.
  7. Jazz It Up.  Boost any vegetable recipe by adding different nuts, seeds and spices, or experiment with specialty oils such as infused olive oils, avocado or palm oil. Topping with parmesan is another great way to vegetables things up!
  8. Just Add Chocolate.  Try dipping your favorite fruits in dark chocolate for a fun (and antioxidant-packed) snack. 

Neuro Wellness Spa is here to support you in your wellness journey. We are excited to offer evidence-based nutrition and exercise coaching as well as an array of IV nutrition therapies. Interested in learning more? Contact us today.

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