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Food/Nutrition Columnist Author: Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN, Food & Nutrition Columnist - Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

Protect Your Mind – Eat Fruits, Vegetables and Nuts

By Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN, Food & Nutrition Columnist -
Nov 13, 2016 - 8:26:45 AM

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( - Much of nutrition research focuses on how diet and diet changes can prevent or treat heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Today, a newer field of research is emerging to better understand the link between diet and our mental health. What you eat can affect your emotions. That’s actually good news, because if you change what you eat you can change how you feel. And, there is even better news. Research is showing you do not have to do an excessive overhaul of your diet because a moderate adherence to a healthy eating pattern can have an effect on how you feel.

Moderation has always been a cornerstone of nutrition counseling. Small changes do yield big results. And, now we have research to prove that. Researchers, part of the SUN project, followed over 15,000 participants for more than 8 years to see if there was a connection between diet and the risk for depression. During the study’s follow-up 1,550 participants reported a clinical diagnosis of depression or had used antidepressant drugs. When the researchers drilled down into the diets of these individuals they found some startling similarities.

Those people who ate diets including fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts had a lower risk for depression when compared to those who ate a diet with fewer healthy choices and more meat and sweets. These results showed a connection between what we eat and our emotions. The results make sense since earlier studies have shown that people with depression have suboptimal intakes of important nutrients and higher scores on depressive symptom scales have been associated with lower diet quality. Nuts are high in omega-3 healthy fats and fruits and vegetables offer a wide array of vitamins and minerals. Those participants that ate these foods regularly in the SUN project had the lowest risk for depression.

The researchers also concluded that participants did not need to be healthy food zealots. In fact, there was a threshold of effectiveness. Participants that ate a moderately healthy diet had the lowest incidence of depression. Those that were obsessively healthy about their food choices did not derive more protection against depression. But, those that ate a diet of poorer quality did have a higher risk. These finding, once again, demonstrate that moderation is a wise approach to healthy eating.

Sadly, when it comes to fruits and vegetables, too many Americans fall short on both the amount eaten daily and the variety. According to the USDA potatoes, tomatoes and lettuce make up almost 60% of the vegetables American eat. And, even with this limited selection, per capita consumption of fruits and vegetables has slumped 7% in the last 5 years. The Produce for Better Health Foundation’s report, State of the Plate 2015, states that the decline in fruit and vegetable intake is due primarily to two factors.

There has been a decline in vegetable side dishes served at dinner as more Americans dine out and take out. Families want more convenience at dinner which includes fewer side dishes. In addition, many families no longer eat together every night and family members may eat different foods even when they eat together. All these factors contribute to fewer vegetable dishes being served. Americans are also drinking less fruit juice at breakfast today which lowers their overall fruit intake for the day. Drinking less juice at breakfast is caused by a variety of reasons – more drink choices to pick from, the use of flavored water, and the consumer’s desire to use less sugar-sweetened drinks. Many consumers have confused 100% pure juice with high sugar beverages and have stopped encouraging these healthy juices at breakfast.

When it comes to nuts the trends are more encouraging. Once considered too high in fat to eat regularly, most Americans now know that a small daily serving of nuts is a healthy habit because they are rich in good fats. The USDA estimates that 1 in every 10 Americans eats nuts daily and overall our nut consumption has gone up modestly but steadily since 2005. And, the latest National Health and Examination Survey showed that people who regularly ate nuts had a healthier overall diet and a higher nutrient intake.

Bottom line: Make an effort to include nuts, fruits and vegetables in your meals every day because your mind and body go together. When you eat well you take care of both.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books. Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:

Diabetes Counter

Calorie Counter

Protein Counter

Healthy Wholefoods Counter

Complete Food Counter

Fat and Cholesterol Counter

Available in print from Gallery Books:

Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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