People always correlate healthy eating with healthy bodies, but what about healthy minds? The brain is one of the most complex and vital organs in our bodies and we can do so much more to keep it happier and healthier.
A recently published study in the February issue of Social Science and Medicine has linked the consumption of fruits and vegetables with better mental health. According to Dr. Redzo Mujcic and Professor Andrew Oswald, of the University of Warwick, fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of clinical depression and even anxiety. They took lead on a similar physiological study on how eating fruits and vegetables are linked to improved mental wellbeing. Drs. Mujcic and Oswald note how eating around four extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day can boost people’s mental health to such an extent that it can offset half the negative psychological impacts of divorce and a quarter of the psychological damage of unemployment (Potter, 2019).
More than 41 million Americans have filed for unemployment insurance since the spread of COVID-19 and although that number has declined, millions of Americans are still left without work. The spike in unemployment has led to an increase in depression, anxiety, and even suicide rates. These rates are known to have the potential to be cut in half just by eating seven or eight portions of fruits and vegetables a day (Potter, 2019). Fruits and vegetables are packed with beneficial nutrients like vitamin B, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants like vitamin C, and phytochemicals such as carotenoids and flavonoids, all of which have a positive effect on our well-being and brain development.
To Eat or Not to Eat
Everything we do in our lives should be focused on helping ourselves as well as others’ minds, bodies, and spirits. What we eat has a serious impact on how we think and feel, so why not eat the foods that make us feel our best? Greens and other leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli are rich in brain-healthy nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene. Research from Harvard University studies these vegetables and concluded that these plant-based foods may help slow cognitive decline as well as enhance mental well-being.
Another food crucial for a healthy mind and positive well-being is berries. Berries are filled with plant metabolites called Flavonoids which provide health benefits through cell signaling pathways and antioxidant effects. These flavonoids are what give berries their vibrantly delicious colors and also help to improve memory. In a 2012 study published in Annals of Neurology, a group of researchers at Harvard Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that women who ate two or more servings of strawberries and blueberries each week saw a memory decline of up to two and a half years.
Fruits and veggies aren’t the only foods that can support a healthy mind…but so can different nuts. Nuts provide an adequate source of protein and healthy fats that the body needs. In a 2015 UCLA study, researchers found that the walnut is linked to improving cognitive test scores and enhancing cognitive development. The walnut can do this because of its high source of omega-3 fatty acid which is called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA not only improves cognitive function but also lowers blood pressure and protects our arteries (Harvard Health Publishing).
One food in industrial societies that has been notably praised for years for its nutritional value and health benefits is animal milk. But is that information about our need for animal milk true? Baby’s first food should always be its own mother’s milk, not milk from a different species. When the child transitions to solid food, a milk source should continue to be its own mother’s milk and the nutrition from the plant food the child is eating. There is a strong commercial interest in selling animal milk but there is no justification for it, and in fact it has many negative effects on the growing human body.
Just after childhood, many people lose the enzyme called lactase, which is required to digest milk. As we age we become lactose intolerant which makes us allergic or sensitive to two main components in milk; lactose (milk sugar) and casein (milk protein). These two main components of milk are contributed to inflammation in the body and brain, overall affecting mental health. Research has shown that people who suffer from various forms of neuropsychiatric diseases like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and autism, often have significantly increased immune reactions to casein in milk, which corresponds with the severity of their mental symptoms. It has been concluded that the symptoms of these mental illnesses can be improved incredibly and in some cases cured completely on a dairy-free diet (Severance, E., Dickerson, F., Halling, M., Krivogorsky, B., Haile, L., Yang, S., . . . Yolken, R, 2010, May).
Our minds and our guts are very well linked together; what we eat and how we eat affects how we think. Meats and dairies are known to come from outside sources, such as industrial farms and factories. Ways we can put an end to this industrialized and unethical sourcing of food is by purchasing and consuming locally grown produce.
Our society has been taught to continuously consume processed and convenient foods, and we are left to obliviously and quickly eat. By purchasing locally grown or sourced produce, the connection we feel to our foods grows deeper. The act of mindfulness makes us more aware and conscious of our actions throughout the day. One way we can start to become more mindful is by being aware of where our foods are coming from.
So maybe instead of grabbing that tub of ice cream to deal with our emotional stresses, let’s grab some locally and ethically sourced fruits and veggies to provide us with not only comforting flavors but comforting nutrition. Everything we put into our bodies not only affects our bodies’ functions but also our brains, which are the controllers of our bodies. With the stressful times we are living in, it seems like happiness can be hard to come by but should never be seen as out of reach. Healthy eating provides us with the nutrients we need to support a happy, healthy life. Its time to think about our happiness and it starts with what we eat.
Emamzadeh, A. (2019, April 15). Does Eating Fruits and Veggies Mean Better Mental Health? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-new-home/201904/does-eating-fruits-and-veggies-mean-better-mental-health
Potter, A. (2019, May 30). Does eating fruit and veg help your mental health? Retrieved from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-05-fruit-veg-mental-health.html#:~:text=The%20study%20discovered%20that%20eating,the%20psychological%20damage%20of%20unemployment.
Publishing, H. H. (n.d.). Foods linked to better brainpower. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/foods-linked-to-better-brainpower
Severance, E., Dickerson, F., Halling, M., Krivogorsky, B., Haile, L., Yang, S., . . . Yolken, R. (2010, May). Subunit and whole molecule specificity of the anti-bovine casein immune response in recent-onset psychosis and schizophrenia. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20071146/ Ea
Written by Sean Connelly, Ramapo College Intern, with Karen Ranzi, M.A.