Healthy Eating: How Food Affects Our Happiness
When it comes to women’s health and wellbeing nothing is better for us than the nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. But many of us are not getting enough. We already know the high-fat, empty calorie “Western” diet has filled our plates with little nutritional value, contributing to the growing obesity epidemic (along with a lack of sufficient water intake and exercise).
In a 12-year study of more than 69,000 women, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the Western diet was found to significantly raise the risk of coronary heart disease, while other studies have shown increases in colon cancer, diabetes, inflammation, and other ailments. What is often overlooked is the effect our lifestyle choices have on our mental wellbeing. Demands of career and family often create anxiety, feeding depression and negative self-esteem – ultimately reducing our quality of life. It is little wonder that prescriptions for medications to help deal with these problems are pervasive. But are they really necessary?
Researchers have identified five regions around the world where the people live longer, healthier, happier lives. These regions are referred to as “Blue Zones.” The people who live in the Blue Zones experience low rates of chronic disease and illness and are three times more likely to live to be 100 years old. They follow diets rich in plant-based foods with the majority of their calories coming from grains, nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
The connection between healthy eating and happiness is so important that Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones, incorporates it into his list of top 20 habits for healthier living. The list suggests taking a walk in nature or chatting with friends to relieve stress and eating more fruits and vegetables as a way to prevent premature death.
Author and expert in plant-based eating and mindful living, Lani Muelrath, cites the results of a “large population, multi-wave study” in her book titled, The Mindful Vegan,which focuses on the relationship between mental wellbeing and healthy eating. The study reports:
“Results were consistent across all five waves: greater fruit and vegetable consumption was positively associated with reduced depression, less psychological distress, fewer mood and anxiety problems, and improved perceived mental health.”
While the primary focus from healthcare providers centers on choosing foods that facilitate a healthy body (mostly in efforts to avoid, mitigate or resolve chronic conditions like hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes), making these choices to improve mental wellbeing are equally important. Even people who have no reason to lose weight can benefit from making healthier lifestyle choices.
Knowing what to do is one thing; following through on a commitment to healthy eating is another. Fast foods, snacks heavy with artificial flavors and ingredients, quick meals loaded with sodium, sugar, and preservatives, make it convenient for us to grab a meal on the run or throw a family dinner together on the fly.
Choosing to buy and prepare meals with fruits and vegetables is made easier with a little thought and some inspiration. Mental Health America offers wonderful suggestions to make the shopping process easier.
We are learning more and more about the body-mind connection as it relates to our ability to create long, vibrant lives, doing the things that matter to us. For us women, who tend to downplay our own physical health as we care for those around us, the reality is that in doing so, we adversely affect our mental health.
The hope of a brighter future for us, our families, and the world can be as simple as beginning with eating our fruits and vegetables . . . something I remember my own mother telling me to do.