Your happiness is only 4 cups away.
It takes just 2 cups of fruits and veggies to lift your spirits! In a New Zealand clinical trial on the effects of eating 2 cups each of fruits and vegetables (FV) over two weeks on 171 young adults between the ages of 18-25 with low FV consumption, resulted in improved psychological wellbeing.
Details of the clinical trial and analysis
The participants were divided into 3 groups with one group receiving 3 extra servings of FV daily, a second group getting daily text messages on the importance of eating FV and the last was a control group. Each group was screened daily for depression, anxiety, well-being and vitality. They also had vitamin C and carotenoid levels drawn before and after the study. The first two groups increased their FV intake to 3.7 servings daily but it was only the group that were given the fresh produce rather than cued to eat more, that reported improved psychological well-being.
The authors attribute the improvement in only the first group, despite the same consumption of FV in both groups, to the fact that the second group ate mainly cooked veggies in casseroles and lesser quality FV. The first group was given FV that had a long storage life – kiwi, oranges, apples and carrots- and were eating their FV fresh and raw, not cooked. The fruits and veggies provided to the first group are also high in vitamin C and carotenoids. The authors also suggest that part of the improvement in well-being might be due to beneficial changes in the gut biome – an area I’ve covered in previous blogs.
Vitamin C and beta-carotene
Vitamin C and beta-carotene are considered cofactors, or “facilitators”, of dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain that promote positive psychological well-being. Vitamin C or Ascorbate is a powerful antioxidant that plays a vital role in the brain. Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ischemic stroke cause oxidative stress that can damage the brain. Ascorbate protects the brain against this damage.
The Harvard School of Public Health did a study on the use of beta-carotene supplements on brain health. Over 6000 participants were given a beta-carotene supplement – the equivalent of 9 carrots or a placebo over an 18 year span and a one year span. Results showed that those taking beta-carotene supplements over the 18 year period had improved cognitive function than the placebo group.
Supplements vs food
So you’re thinking, “Well, I’ll just take a vitamin.” Harvard medical school conducted a longitudinal study on 15000 doctors who took a daily multivitamin to see if it would help prevent cancer and heart disease. After 11 years there was no reduced risk of heart attack, stroke or death from heart disease. The study showed only a reduced risk of 8% of newly diagnosed cancer among the participants who took a multivitamin.
Dr William Kormos, editor and chief of the Harvard Mens Health Watch, states:
“It does not appear that a multivitamin can replace a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables.”
He states further:
“Rather than relying on supplements, it’s a better to obtain nutrients from food, which contains a variety of healthful ingredients.”
Food is more than just a vitamin and mineral – it’s a package of micronutrients, along with fiber and other components that nourish your body and feed the good gut bacteria in your colon.
Eat your carrots, oranges, apples and kiwi
I have a dear friend who asked her adult children recently what I always said to my kids before they could go over to play at their house when they were younger. Each of them replied “eat your carrots!” lol! My kids had their fair share of mac and cheese, but they also had at least one carrot daily. They’re high in beta-carotene, vitamin A, some B vitamins and fiber.
Citrus fruits and kiwi are excellent sources of Vitamin C and they, along with apples, are wonderful sources of fiber. Dietary fiber feeds our gut and keeps us full. They are all less than 100 calories per serving. Fruits have more carbs but they are less calorie-dense than other snack foods like granola bars, cookies and chips.
Spoilage of produce
I hear from many of my clients how their produce keeps going bad before they eat it. There is a solution to this problem! Buy only fruits with a rind, peel or skin and store them in the fridge drawer. And buy veggies either frozen or with a long fridge life-like carrots, cabbage and celery.
Cabbage is the simplest veggie. Just peel the outer layer and it’s ready to be sliced or grated. I add cabbage to my salads, to wraps and have even roasted it. Carrots don’t even have to be peeled – just use a course sponge while you run them under the tap. I keep cleaned carrots cut up in a bag in the fridge (my husband kindly does this).
The dirty dozen
There are some fruits and veggies that are sprayed with pesticides more heavily. Onegreenplanet.org recommends you buy the following fruits and veggies organic:
- Sweet bell peppers
- Cherry tomatoes
- Sugar snap peas (imported)
- Hot peppers
I do buy organic carrots – they are much sweeter than regular carrots and don’t cost much more. At least oranges and kiwi are not on the list, and are available year round.
Feel better and lose weight
Boosting your intake of fruits and veggies is a no brainer. Not only will they help your brain – both emotionally in the short-term and cognitively in the long run, they will help you get to or maintain a healthy weight. They are convenient, low-calorie, have a long storage life, and are affordable. Have them for breakfast in a frittata or omelet, for lunch in a soup or salad, and for dinner roasted or steamed. In honor to Dr Suess:
Do you like fruits and veggies?
Would you like them in your home?
Would you like them at your work?
Could you eat them in your car?
Would you, could you in the dark?
You do not like them so you say
Try them, try them and you may!
Eat 4 cups daily and you will see
Your brain will lift the fog away
Your smile will be here to stay
Your hunger will be kept at bay
As your weight will lower day-by-day!