Simple answer to thinking more clearly (and protecting your memory)

By: Dr. Victor Marchione | Brain Function | Thursday, October 23, 2014 - 05:00 AM

HEALTHY EATING, MENTAL HEALTHSometimes it might seem like feeling blue or having a low mood is a regular part of your day as the colder weather and shorter days start to close in.

Certainly there have been several studies that have shown that there are many lifestyle factors that can impact our mental health, too. But one that might surprise you is diet.

Recent research has uncovered the real impact of healthy eating on your mental health.

Are you eating enough fruits and vegetables?

The research, a large-scale study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), looked at nearly 14,000 adults aged 16 and over as part of the Health Survey for England. Most of them, at 56 percent, were female.

Warwick Medical School researchers assessed the mental well-being of participants with the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (WEMWBS). Researchers then looked at scale results and any contributing factors like smoking, body mass index (BMI), drinking habits, and the consumption of fruits and vegetables.

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What’s most important for mental health

Body mass index (BMI)

The heavier the participants got, the more likely they were to give results that indicated low mental well-being. But lower BMI didn’t show a correlation with higher mental well-being, oddly enough. The numbers just showed the decline was evident as the person’s BMI went up.


In the same fashion as the higher BMI, more is obviously worse. An increase in the number of cigarettes smoked each day correlated with an increase in the results which were tied to poor mental health.

Healthy eating

This is where some of the biggest changes were seen. Getting your fruits and veggies in could help you be a happier person. The study results showed the less fresh produce the person consumed, the worse their mental health was likely to be. A third of the respondents who ate five or more servings a day reported high levels of mental well-being.

The results also showed a steep decline when the individual ate only a serving or less a day. Only 6.8 percent who had minimal intake reported a good state of mind. This is all the more reason to make sure to keep your intake high. One big serving of broccoli just isn’t going to cut it according to the research.

“The data suggest the higher an individual’s fruit and vegetable intake, the lower the chance of having low mental well-being,” says study lead Dr. Saverio Stranges.

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Sensible alcohol consumption, for the sake of this study, was considered less than four drinks a day for men and three for women. The more alcohol consumed, the greater the connection to lower mental well-being, which includes mental illness and mental health problems. Just as with BMI, no matter the quantity of alcohol consumed, there was no correlation with better mental health. So another key to a fit mind is less alcohol.

Smoking and eating plenty of fresh produce were both consistently associated with better mental well-being for all of the study participants. On the other hand, obesity and drinking correlated with poor levels of mental health but not with better mental health.

Why optimism does a body good

Mental well-being, which includes things like optimism and happiness, is something you should make certain you don’t overlook. It’s an important factor to examine because of its association with mental illness and mental health problems. These issues can easily manifest into physical symptoms like stress and lowered immune system. As I’ve discussed, you can take steps to prevent the onset of mental troubles with simple lifestyle adjustments.

Keep in mind that if you are a smoker this adds to a hard-hitting list of reasons why giving up those cigarettes is critical for your health. According to the Canadian Lung Association, quitting smoking leads to a lowered risk of heart attack, heightened senses and increased lung capacity. It can also reduce your chances of lung cancer.

Be happy: Shop the produce aisle

While you’re at it, keep eating that fresh produce! Getting five servings or more a day could make you happier as well as physically healthier. Fruit and vegetable consumption is tied to lower blood pressure, better blood sugar levels and a lower risk of some types of cancer. The list of benefits continues to grow.

It has always been my opinion that taking care of your body, while important, isn’t the only way to stay fit and healthy. You need to fire on all cylinders! Keeping yourself in a positive state of mind is important when looking at your overall health.

Swapping those potato chips for carrot sticks and dip is a good start. Just remember, all the small changes really do add up.

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