Mental & Behavioral Health

Your Food, Your Mood: Turning Healthy Eating Habits into Mental Well-Being

While it is no secret that a healthy diet helps maintain a healthy body, few people stop to consider the effect that their eating habits have on their mental health. Sure, caffeine can cause anxiety, alcohol can cause depression, but can eating healthy actually improve your overall mood? One study says yes.

Researchers in New Zealand found that study participants who ate healthy foods experienced what is called "positive affect," a term that refers to positive emotional states such as joy, interest, and attentiveness. In other words, people who eat healthy foods are more likely to feel emotionally happy.

Your first questions undoubtedly are, What kinds of foods, and how much do I have to eat? We all know that eating healthy can be difficult, especially considering the average American's fast-paced lifestyle. You have work to do, a family to take care of, errands to run, and sometimes the drive-thru is the easiest and cheapest way to fuel up in between.

You haven't even had time to go to the gym this week, let alone cook three square meals a day for yourself and your family. Not to worry! Earning the benefits of healthy eating doesn't have to be difficult. Take the time to discover all the best foods and how to incorporate them into your diet, as well as which foods you should steer clear of in the grocery store.

While this list is wonderfully comprehensive, try to focus on your fruits and vegetables; these are the foods that are shown to positively affect your mood. The New Zealand researchers found that a mere seven or eight servings of fruit and veggies a day are enough to improve your attitude both that day and the next.

And no, you don't have to eat a bowl of raw kale or choke down a fistful of carrots every morning to see these benefits. There are plenty of easy ways to incorporate your daily serving of fruits and vegetables into your meals without hating what you're eating. The internet is full of ideas on how to eat and snack healthy. Here are several that stand out:

  • Pair fruit with cheese: This is first on my list for obvious reasons. We all know how addictive cheese can be, and it really is the most satisfying snack after a long day of work. Maybe you even sit down on the couch with a plate of it and a (generously-poured) glass of wine.

    It's okay, we're all guilty of it. Consider adding some fruit to the plate. Apple and pear slices, as well as grapes, complement all of your favorite cheeses. This has to be the easiest and most indulgent way to add some healthy food to your day.
  • Make fruit salad: Everybody knows that leafy greens are great for your health, but maybe you just don't like salads. No lettuce, no problem! Chop up your favorite fruits, such as apples, oranges, peaches, grapes, strawberries, and bananas, and throw them in a bowl. This is a delicious and convenient snack that can even be taken with you on the go.

  • Add veggies to the dishes you love: This is a great way to get a serving or two of vegetables without going out of your way or forcing yourself to eat something you dislike. If you're making eggs for breakfast, consider adding some chopped onions, spinach, or bell peppers.

    You'll be surprised at how delicious an egg-and-veggie scramble is! Busy weekday, hungry family, and no time to cook a gourmet dinner? Don't feel guilty about whipping up a quick and easy pasta dinner, just add in some broccoli or cauliflower florets.

  • Drink your veggies and fruits: If you have a juicer, fantastic! Meal-prep some pitchers of veggie and fruit juice using whatever you have in the fridge: apples, kale, carrots, celery, oranges it's all fair game. If not, store-bought is fine, but just make sure it's 100% juice!

    Some popular choices are V-8 and Naked juices. These really pack a nutritional punch, and are easy to bring to work or chug before your busy day starts -- and they're delicious!

These are only some of the ways you can get those eight servings. There are countless options; find the ones that work best for you and your family and stick to them. Within no time, you'll start to see and feel the benefits: you will begin to feel calmer, happier, and more energized. The key is making healthy eating into a habit. If you really keep to it, your positive mood may even go full-circle and influence your physical health.

Having a consistently positive affect can help reduce stress and boost your immune system, making you less vulnerable to infections, particularly colds. Eating healthy and being healthy can seem like a challenge to the average person, but once you put some of these suggestions into practice you'll find that the rewards are well worth the effort.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. You certainly are what you eat, so take the extra couple of seconds to add some happiness to your diet!

About the Author:

Alexis Levine is Director of Product at MediKeeper, a technology company that designs customizable wellness portals. Alexis is responsible for driving the overall product strategy and has deep industry knowledge as she helps clients across the country with their employee wellness programs.

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