I’m not someone who adheres to a super strict diet. I love carbs, such as pasta and bread, as well as the occasional sweet treat (like chocolate cake). But I also know that eating more nutrient-rich foods is key to maintaining great physical health. Now, new research reveals that a diet filled with fruits and dark green leafy veggies can benefit your mental health as well!
A 2021 study published in the Journal of Personalized Medicine looked at the connection between diet and mood in adults over 30. The study included 1,209 participants (329 of men and 880 of women) who completed food and mood surveys. The surveys highlighted key food groups such as whole grains, dark leafy green veggies (DGLV), meat, legumes, and dairy. These surveys included six self-administered questions on the participant’s mental distress based on the Kessler-6 psychological distress scale (K-6), which the authors calculated into a total sum.
From there, researchers categorized each participant’s mental wellbeing as either low, moderate, or high mental distress. Additionally, the adults were asked if they exercised for at least 20 minutes a day. The authors noted that previous studies highlight that exercise helps reduce anxiety and depression-related symptoms. Data for this study was collected over a three year period.
Researchers found a closer link between women’s mental health and their diet compared to men. They claimed that mental distress and exercise patterns influence dietary habits. Essentially, those who exercised regularly were less apt to engage in unhealthy eating (processed foods) and reported as experiencing less mental stress. Lead author Lina Begdache, PhD, RDN, takes a “food is fuel” approach when explaining this unique dynamic from the findings.
“Fast food, skipping breakfast, caffeine, and high-glycemic food are all associated with mental distress in mature women,” she said in a statement. “Fruits and dark green leafy vegetables are associated with [positive] mental wellbeing.”
The USDA recommends that women over 50 consume two to three cups of DGLV and 1 1/2 to two cups of fruit per day. It’s easy to enjoy both at the same time with a refreshing smoothie or green juice. Or you could try this tasty recipe for a greens and grapefruit salad with glazed walnuts (yum!).
Eating more vibrant and colorful produce like spinach, berries, and kale could give our mood a much-needed boost over time. I’m glad, because a lot of these fruits and veggies are about to be in season and at their flavor peak!