According to CNN, recent research shows that an increase in the number of fruits and vegetables a person eats is linked to an increase in self-reported mental well-being and life satisfaction. To come to this discovery, researchers used a sample of over 40,000 participants from the U.K. Household Longitudinal Study and looked at data that spanned a period of five years.
The promising analysis even accounts for other variables such as income, consumption of other foods, and physical health. This last category is especially important, as the benefits of regular physical activity for one’s mental health are already well-known. Physical activities, such as yoga, tend to serve multiple health purposes. In fact, the top three reasons people do yoga are its impact on health, the enjoyment of yoga itself, and how yoga serves as a stress reliever.
Focusing on your diet, however, could be a more time efficient way of boosting your mental health. Estimates from the recent research suggest that adding just one portion of fruits or vegetables to your diet can be as good for your mental health as going on a walk for an extra seven to eight days a month.
This is great news for the 67% of millennial consumers who say that they love to order healthy options at restaurants. That one additional portion can be as simple as one cup of raw vegetables, half of a cup of cooked vegetables, or one piece of whole fruit.
CNN’s recent study isn’t the first one to explore a link between healthy eating and a healthy mind. Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand published a study in April 2018 that surveyed 422 adults between the ages of 18 and 25. The study found that participants who ate more raw fruits and vegetables reported higher levels of psychological well-being when compared to participants who consumed the cooked alternatives.
The benefits of adhering to a diet with more raw food include increased life satisfaction, improved mood, and reduced depressive symptoms. Outside of mental health, this type of diet also has positive impacts on a person’s physical well-being. According to U.S. Dietary Guidelines, eating at least two and a half cups of fruits and vegetables per day is linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke.
While the results of the recent studies are not conclusive and cannot point to a definite link between a healthy diet and better mental health, the results are promising for those looking for additional ways to improve their mental well-being.
“Changing your nutrition can be a great addition to traditional therapy, like CBT and medication, [but it] comes at a much smaller cost and can be a great way to self-care,” says Anika Knüppel, researcher and Ph.D. student at University College London.
Knüppel, who is also a contributor to a European program that focuses on preventing depression through food called MooDFOOD, says that the best strategy for improving mental health through nutrition is to reduce unhealthy habits while you are increasing healthy ones. Anyone who is ready to commit to this method should focus on a diet like the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes healthy fats. At the same time, they’ll have to abandon fast food restaurants altogether, the number of which has more than doubled in the U.S. since the 1970s.
The authors of the study told CNN that they certainly need more research to find a concrete cause-and-effect relationship between healthy eating and good mental health. In the meantime, they strongly recommend finally listening to your nagging mother and adding some more fruits and veggies to your diet. It can’t hurt, and your brain might just thank you for the mood booster.