It's not a drug, and yet it gives the same mood lift as finding your ideal job. What is it? The scientifically proven answer is healthy eating!
It turns out eating plenty of fruit and veg, and consuming a healthy diet, has a powerful feel-good factor. It ranks right up there with having a supportive life partner, focusing on family, and enjoying your work. What these things all have in common is they can give a greater sense of satisfaction with life than a plump bank account.
What the Scientists Say
But don't take our word for it, because this is what scientists from the University of Queensland say. They undertook research into the impact of a proper diet, and to their surprise found that long before the physical benefits clicked in, there was an improvement in how people felt about themselves.
The study looked at 1,200 Australians, following them and their dietary habits for two years. Amazingly, they found that a healthy diet resulted in higher satisfaction and happiness than promotion at work.
The Benefits of Fruit and Veg
There are a couple of theories about why healthy eating helps lift the mood. The first is that a diet with fresh produce is rich in carotenoids, a pigment found in many vegetables (such as carrots). Indeed, carotenoids are a plant chemical with antioxidant properties that can protect against cancer, strengthen the immune system, and slow cell aging.
There are over 600 different types of carotenoids in fresh fruit and veg. What's now coming to light is that this group of plant chemicals also have anti-anxiety properties, which is one explanation for the feel-good factor a healthy diet has to offer.
Another theory is that fresh foods contain high levels of vitamin B12. The latter plays an integral part in the production of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, and help increase levels in the body. If the word serotonin sounds familiar, it's because of many modern antidepressant medications, such as fluoxetine, target raising the serotonin available to the brain to enhance mood.
Junk Food has the Opposite Effect
If you still aren't convinced and would prefer to comfort-eat a supersize burger than a carrot stick, know that junk food has a negative impact on mood. Research from Penn State University showed that the more junk food people ate, the lower their spirit. Also, they found that depressed people consumed more chocolate than happy people, in one of life's classic examples of emotional eating.
Easy Ways to Eat More Fruit and Veg
For those people who like the theory of healthy eating but find it difficult in practice, here are some easy ways to incorporate fruit and veg into your day.
- Easy Access -- Don't hide the fruit but keep a full fruit bowl on the table where it's easy to grab. Have carrot batons and celery sticks ready in the fridge, so that when you need to snack they are to hand.
- Focus on Food -- Don't opt for the same old meals; instead, think about the benefits of what you're going to eat. Try deciding which veggies you're going to eat first, then plan a meal around them so that they're not an afterthought.
- Fresh and Frozen -- Life is hectic, and it can be tricky to keep the house stocked with fresh food. However, the good news is that frozen vegetables such as peas and carrots can be just as nutritious. Keep these store cupboard favorites, and you'll always have a veggie to pop into a casserole or stew.
- Use Fruit as a Topping -- Instead of having sweet syrup on top of your dessert, opt for a portion of pureed fruit instead. Fruit is nature's candy and can satisfy a sweet-tooth and with the bonus of lifting your mood.
In short, it's time to take a fresh look at healthy eating. Not only will it do your body good, but it helps you feel well to boot.