Here’s a reason to eat more fruits and vegetables that you probably never heard before: Doing so can make you happier, according to research.
Scientists from Dartmouth College and the University of Warwick analyzed the eating habits and mental health of more than 80,000 people. The study found that psychological well-being rose with the number of daily servings of fruits and veggies the participants ate.
The researchers reported that measures of well-being—including life satisfaction and happiness—peaked at 7 to 8 servings. Yet the average American eats just 3 servings daily, missing out on both a source of joy and the amazing cornucopia of health benefits these foods offer.
In my book, The Omni Diet: The Revolutionary 70% plant + 30% Protein Program to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease, Fight Inflammation, and Change Your Life Forever, I look at intriguing ways plant foods boost brain health.
Packed with phytonutrients, enzymes, minerals and vitamins, fruits and veggies fight the chronic inflammation that sparks cardiovascular disease. In fact, a large study found that eating one extra serving a day cuts risk for stroke by up to 40 percent.
The antioxidants in these nutritional powerhouses—especially colorful fruits and vegetables—also protect the brain from oxidative stress and free radical damage, helping to keep your brain sharp and ward off diseases and cognitive decline.
Here’s a look at some of the best brain-boosting plant foods:
- Blueberries and strawberries. Sometimes called “brainberries,” these succulent nibbles help stave off memory loss and mental decline in older women, Harvard researchers once reported, using data from the long-running Nurses’ Health Study. Among 16,000 women ages 70 and older, those who ate the most berries had the slowest rate of age-related memory decline. Flavonoids in berries are thought to explain their protective powers. Earlier research also suggests that blueberries may help reduce risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
- Avocados. Food scientists also report that the popular guacamole ingredient may be almost as beneficial as blueberries for enhancing brain health. Known in the Amen household as “God’s butter,” the creamy green fruit improves blood flow and oxygenation of the brain—with just one-fourth of an avocado producing measurable benefits, according to Villanova University.
- Pumpkin seeds. Studies suggest that the tasty green nuggets may be effective for treating social anxiety and can aid in combating depression. A randomized study also found that pumpkin seed oil improves mood swings—and reduces hot flashes—in menopausal women, compared to a control group of women who were given wheat germ oil. Additionally, the researchers reported that women who received pumpkin seed oil showed a significant decrease in blood pressure, while their levels of heart- and brain- protective HDL (good) cholesterol rose.
- Tomatoes. The tasty red fruit are rich in two potent antioxidants: lycopene and beta-carotene, both of which help eliminate health-damaging free radicals. Finnish scientists also report that men with the highest level of lycopene in their blood had the lowest risk of stroke. Overall, a diet high in this brain-healthy compound cut stroke risk by 55 percent, the study reported.
- Nuts. As randomized study published in New England Journal of Medicine, found that eating nuts, along with a diet high in fish, fruits, vegetables, beans and extra virgin olive oil, trims risk for stroke by an astonishing 46 percent, compared to eating a low-fat diet. In the study, participants ate a one-ounce portion of mixed nuts (walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts) daily. In an earlier study, Tufts researchers reported that a diet rich in walnuts may improve mental performance.