The Best Foods For Your Mental Health Are Actually Super Simple To Whip Up

Think about all the times you stressed yourself out because you wanted to make sure you ate at least one well-balanced meal in the midst of, what I like to call, the “millennial grind.” Well, according to new research, gone are the days when you needed to sweat your skills in the kitchen for hours on end to whip up the foods that benefit your brain. As it turns out, the best foods for your mental health are ready to eat, right off the shelf — which likely comes as a bit of a relief to those of us who have too much to do, all day every day, to eat like a Food Network star. Thanks to fresh veggies and fruits, you don't have to be Bobby Flay in order to eat right.

Let me ask you this, friends: Do you eat your vegetables? How about fruit? At the risk of sounding like a parent, here, I’m just going to put this out into the universe: You seriously need to eat more produce. I know the notion of eating four and a half cups of fruits and vegetables per day, like the FDA recommends, sounds a little excessive, and maybe even bland. But according to new research, the more raw fruits and veggies you eat, the lower your risk of depression and mental illness. Packing an extra banana or adding a side of broccoli to your lunch just got a whole lot more appealing, didn't it?

Raw produce might help improve your mental health because of the amount of nutrients fruits and veggie have in their natural state.

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During an experiment carried out by researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand, 400 young adults between the ages 18 and 25 across the U.S. and New Zealand were asked a series of questions about how often they eat fruits and vegetables, what specific foods they eat more of, and how these foods are prepared. From there, Health reports, participants were screened for signs of mental illness, “like depression and anxiety.” Taking their findings into consideration, as well as lifestyle factors like how much the participants exercise, their diet, any pre-existing health conditions, their ethnicity, and their gender, the researchers looked for links between mental health/overall mood, and how often the participants ate these vital food groups.

It’s not a coincidence, BTW, that the study focused on participants who fell under the millennial bracket. According to the study authors, people in this age group tend to eat less fruits and veggies overall, and they're apparently more susceptible to mental health disorders, too. So, no, this isn't science calling out the entire generation for failing to do as your mother told you and eat your produce, but it might be a solid wake-up call, nonetheless.

It turns out, according to the study's findings, the more raw fruits and vegetables participants ate, the better their psychological well-being proved to be. The researchers wrote,

Raw fruits and vegetables may provide greater levels of micronutrients than processed fruits and vegetables, which could explain their stronger association with improved mental well-being.

They added,

...cooking and canning would most likely lead to a [loss] in nutrients, thereby limiting their beneficial impact on mental health.

Having said that, though, you don't need to go and donate all your canned goods, or toss out the dried fruit you always snack on at your desk. Health reports that, while raw fruits and vegetables were linked to "positive mood" and "life satisfaction," the study authors found that just eating these foods in general — regardless of whether they're cooked, canned, etc. — can make you feel happier overall.

Eating any type of raw produce is better than avoiding the stuff, but certain foods have more of an impact on your mental health than others.

Personally, I’m an advocate for eating more fruits and vegetables on the whole because, as someone who’s been plant-based for almost a year now, I can honestly say eating an abundance of fresh produce every day has made me feel amazing both physically and mentally. According to the study, though, certain foods will have more of an effect on your mental health than others, so the next time you go to the grocery store, be sure to add these items to your list: carrots, bananas, apples, dark, leafy greens, grapefruit, lettuce, citrus fruits, berries, cucumber, and kiwi.

So, now that you know what to buy, let’s talk about the best ways to eat them because, TBH, snacking on spinach leaves and biting into heads of lettuce doesn’t sound all too appetizing. You probably don’t need me to tell you that apples and peanut butter is the tastiest healthy snack on earth, but did you know bananas and almond butter are up there, too? Add some coconut flakes on top, maybe some raisins or a sprinkle of chocolate chips (Enjoy Life’s vegan dark nibs are a personal, better-for-you fave of mine), and you’ve got yourself a sweet breakfast, snack, or dessert.

Believe it or not, shredded carrots can easily be incorporated into sweet stuff, too. Mix ‘em into overnight oats with some nut milk, a drizzle of maple syrup, and cinnamon, and you basically have a healthier version of a tasty carrot cake. Kiwis and fresh berries are also delicious for a nighttime snack, if you melt down some dark chocolate and drizzle the homemade sauce over a bowl-full.

I know myself, and before I went veg, it was no question: sweet over savory always. Now that I've experimented with a fair share of the latter, though, I've come to find incorporating more greens into your diet doesn't have to be so intimidating. Instead of a burger bun, for example, experiment with lettuce leaves. They add crunch, water, and a serving of greens all in one shot. As for greens like spinach, arugula, kale, and chard, use them as a base for salads, or drop some raw spinach leaves into your smoothie recipes (seriously, you'll never even notice).

Trust me, I know raw produce can be boring, and that you love to loathe all the overly healthy stuff because it doesn't always taste the best. But once you learn how dress up these goods, your mind, as well as your body, will thank you for it.