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Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness

How Many Fruits and Vegetables to Eat to Boost Your Mood?

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New study finds eating more fruits and vegetables improves happiness.

A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health has found that eating more fruits and vegetables can boost your happiness as much as going from being unemployed to employed. This research is one of the first and largest studies illustrating the power of nutrition, fruits and vegetables in particular, to improve mood and psychological well-being.

Only one in four Americans eat the recommended amount of daily fruits and vegetables. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults eat between 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables a day, depending on your age and level of activity. But to boost your mood, you will probably need more than the daily recommended amount.

The study examined the food diaries and psychological well-being of a randomly selected group of 12,000 people. Researchers found that going from eating no vegetables and fruit to at least 8 portions of vegetables and fruit boosts happiness the same amount as the change from being unemployed to employed. The improvement in life satisfaction occurred within two years, which is a lot faster than other proven effects of fruits and vegetables, like protecting against cancer and lowering heart disease risks.

What is a portion of vegetable or fruit? Serving sizes vary based on the type of vegetable or fruit. One serving of raw spinach or lettuce is two cups, whereas cooked greens is one cup. One serving of bell peppers is about one cup chopped, raw or cooked, or two small bell peppers. One serving of broccoli is 1 cup, or about 10 florets. For fruit, one serving can be two handfuls of blueberries, a small banana, or 16 grapes.

food-mood-connection

Not all fruits and vegetables give you the same amount or type of nutrients. Colorful vegetables like dark leafy greens, red and yellow peppers, and sweet potatoes tend to have more vitamins, phytonutrients, and antioxidants compared to white potatoes or corn. Berries have been found to be particularly good for boosting mood. It’s important to eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruits to get the most diverse and balanced nutrients.

How you prepare and cook fruits and vegetables – from raw to steaming to stir-frying to roasting— impacts nutrients and depends on the type of fruit or vegetable. Steaming and quick blanching tend to preserve nutrients better in vegetables like broccoli and carrots, with the exception of bell peppers, which release more nutrients when roasted. how best to prepare your vegetables to release and preserve the most nutrients.

For sauerkraut, miso, and kimchi fans, fermented vegetables have an additional advantage to boosting mood with their probiotic and prebiotic nutrients. Emerging animal research studies suggest eating probiotic foods changes intestinal microbiota in the gut, which can positively influence mood via the gut-brain connection and reduce anxiety and depression.

Eating more fruits and vegetables not only improves just your physical health but also has an important psychological payoff as well.

Marlynn Wei M.D., J.D.     Aug 08, 2016     Urban Survival      Your guide to managing life in the city
Marlynn Wei, M.D., J.D., is a board-certified Harvard and Yale-trained psychiatrist and therapist in New York City.
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