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Nutrition’s Impact On Mental Health

It is well known that fruit and vegetable intake is associated with reduced risk of several chronic diseases; however, did you know eating fruits and vegetables can also reduce symptoms of depression and stress? Research shows that various minerals and vitamins present in produce, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and folic acid, have known beneficial effects on the mechanisms involved in of depression including the ability to reduce the oxidative stress that contributes to mental health, which can in turn boost a person’s mood! [i] [ii]

Let’s look at a variety of fruits and vegetables related to better mental health, along with some simple ways to include them in a meal.

Dark leafy greens such as arugula boast a good source of folate and calcium as well as vitamin A and C. Sprinkling fresh arugula atop cheese pizza can be a quick way to grab a green and toss it into a meal!  This recipe for Salad Pizza gives a unique spin to pizza night!

Leaf Lettuce not only contains fiber and is low in calories, but is also a source of vitamin A. There are so many varieties of lettuce such as Manoa Lettuce, Red Leaf Lettuce, and Butter Lettuce, just to name a few.  Any variety of lettuce that you use can be chopped and added to a taco, burrito bowl, or Mexican Salad Bowl for Taco Tuesday or any family supper.

Kiwifruit is high in vitamin C and a good source of fiber.  To make a simple snack, slice a ripe kiwi in half, and use the skin as a ‘bowl’ to eat the kiwi flesh right out of the skin!

Cucumbers contains vitamins C and K as well as potassium.  They are both delicious and versatile, making them easy to incorporate vegetables into many dishes from appetizers to snack dips. One of my favorite things to do with cucumbers is slice it in various, unique ways. Slicing cucumbers into spears make it easy to roll them in a tortilla with ranch dressing.  Slicing them on a bias make them easy to use as a dipping alternative to chips. Flavored ice cubes with cucumbers to have cucumber water on demand is one of my favorite ideas for cucumbers!

Baby carrots are familiar to so many people for pairings such as ranch dressing or hummus; however, buying the whole large carrots can get be a great addition sliced and diced into a homemade chicken noodle soup.  Honey Mustard Roasted Carrots can make a family pleasing side dish for a weeknight meal made in under 30 minutes.

Bananas are a good source of potassium, and convenient due to its portability. Since bananas are so easy to peel, many people use them as a great addition to the lunch box.  However, when those bananas start to get spotted or overripe, don’t be tempted to throw it out.  Peel them and put them in a sealed bag to store in the freezer until you are ready to use them.   Sweeten smoothies, make Banana Oatmeal Muffins, or even add them to your pancake mix.

Citrus fruits like oranges and lemons are an excellent source of vitamin C, and they are easy to incorporate into the rotation, whether it’s sipping on lemon water or snacking on orange slices.

Fresh Berries are a good source of vitamin C and are known for their antioxidant effects.  It’s easy to add berries into your favorite smoothie for a blend and go breakfast.  Adding berries to plain vanilla yogurt can add fiber and flavor to elevate the snack!  If you find blueberries on sale, stock up and make a Blueberry Jam, and freeze the extra berries for future use.

The bottom line is that eating more fruits and vegetables, whether they are fresh, frozen, cooked, or raw, can provide a variety of nutrients that provide the body with benefits including mental health.  Start simple and find easy ways to have a plant at each meal!

[i] Carrie Dennett, M. R. (2019, July). Today’s Dietitian. Retrieved from The Power of Produce: https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0719p16.shtml
[ii] Dong d. Wang, Y. L. (2021, March). Ciculation . Retrieved from AHA Journals: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.048996

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