I know first-hand how a whole foods, plant-based diet can impact physical health. I’ve seen the drastic changes in my body over the course of the last few years. Losing over 65 pounds and reclaiming my health can do that to a person. However, something occasionally overlooked when we discuss the benefits of this lifestyle is how it can positively impact the part of us that no one else can see or experience – our mental well-being.
Some of the most significant health conditions that keep us down are psychological. Depression and anxiety are just two of many diseases that function on a continuum (often called "spectrum disorders"). They range from a relatively normal state (after all, everyone should feel anxiety and depression from time to time) to serious health conditions that can have significantly negative repercussions. As is often advised by good medical doctors, nutritionists, and your average person with some common sense, a healthy diet can greatly impact both the mind and body for the better.
Of course, the challenge over time has been to properly define what a “healthy” diet really is.
There are many fad diets that attempt to propose a “product diet” as a solution for all of your health woes. What I mean by this is a diet is packaged as a product that requires financial investment for specific, brand name, food products. Not to mention, these are usually sold by known celebrities who probably never even tried it for themselves. To add, it certainly does not help when all the success stories of this diet, and ones similar to it, all appear to be the same marketing ploy using choice quotes, airbrushed and Adobe Photoshop bodies, and a “money back guarantee” that never seems to actually be possible to claim.
Even the government has tried to define what constitutes a healthy diet. While on the surface this may seem like a well intentioned effort, once you dig into the details you will come to notice how so many food recommendations are the result of significant lobbying and the exchange of money. The meat industry makes up a large constituent of government food lobbyists. How can we trust nutritional guides that are put out to show us what being “healthy” means when these are derived from research using the funding of meat companies? There will certainly be significant bias. Unfortunately, due to this, the nutritional values promoted by the government and these mega-corporations can’t be taken at face value, or as truth of how we should live our daily lives.
Other scientific research can certainly be more credible, though. That is to say, privately funded or research conducted using general funding sources (ie. A university receives a grant and distributes the funds across educational departments) may help to avoid at least a large portion of the blatant bias as seen in the scenario above.
A great example of this is new research conducted by the University of Warwick, which studied the psychological well-being effect of eating extra fruits and vegetables – up to 8 portions - per day. The study does not indicate if individuals were eating strictly vegan or vegetarian diets, but rather the assumption is their diets were as diverse as humans in general, and the main difference lies in the increase of their daily fruit and veggie intake.
Across the 12,000 randomly selected participants, a significant and measurable positive benefit was noted. In addition to scientific measurement, the participants were also advised to keep journals during this time so they could reflect on their mood. For more details, consider checking out a more detailed write up about the study specifics at Science News Journal or checking out the study yourself published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Farmer Fred’s Thoughts:
A whole foods, plant-based diet can have a powerful effect on the body and mind. As this study starts to show, increasing the amount of fruits and veggies in your diet (whatever your diet may be) is a simple way to add valuable nutrition to your life that will influence your mental well-being. It should be noted that diet alone (even a healthy one) is not the only factor that will influence your mind. The food we eat may not be powerful enough to help us prevent depression and anxiety that comes from loss, a rough day at work, a lack of sleep, etc., but it can help prevent the unnecessary and frivolous experiences of these intense emotional states from day-to-day. Not to mention, when you do encounter situations that cause real, difficult to manage mental unrest, a good diet can certainly help you cope a little bit better.
If your feeling depressed for no good reason, changing your diet can have life-altering effects. Add some time outside in the sunshine and some exercise, and your likely on your way to a better you with just a few simple changes.
If you think adding more servings of fruits and veggies to your diet is a challenge, consider making a quick smoothie. I find these easy and refreshing to prepare in a blender, and it can help make consuming these servings even easier. We have a great and refreshing Frozen Fruit Sorbet Smoothie you can easily prepare with just a few ingredients.
It's ultimately very interesting to see how a simple action like eating more fruits and veggies can change our lives for the better. It is a great starting point even if you have not fully taken to a plant-based diet.
So, how does this new research make you feel?
Do you think there is an inherent positive effect that stems from just eating fruits and vegetables?
I challenge you to get a conversation started with your friends and family, especially if you know they struggle with a poor diet and the poor negative side effects like depression and anxiety that can stem from bad dietary choices.
Feel free to weigh in on this topic in the comments below!