Can These Foods Make You Happier?

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The pursuit of happiness has become a cultural obsession. Of course, people have always wanted to be happy. That’s not new. But now it’s been turned into a science. Numerous TED talks advise us on how to be happier. Books constantly come out claiming to offer daily programs that increase happiness. You can even go online and get certified as a Happiness Life Coach if you're so inclined. You can hire a coach if you want, but there's an easier, scientifically backed way to increase your chances of being happier, and it starts with your next meal. New scientific studies show that eating certain foods can increase your happiness. And I’m talking about healthy foods, not sugar or comfort foods. So, what are these foods? Read on to find out… A study at the University of Otaga in New Zealand shows that you can increase your chances of enjoying happier, more satisfying days if you eat more fruits and vegetables. And the biggest happiness payoff, according to this research, comes from eating fruits and vegetables raw.1 "Our research has highlighted that the consumption of fruit and vegetables in their 'unmodified' state is more strongly associated with better mental health compared to cooked/canned/processed fruit and vegetables," says researcher Tamlin Conner. Dr. Conner adds that it’s likely that when fruits and vegetables are cooked, canned or otherwise processed, some of their mood-boosting nutrients are lost.

Eating Raw Fruits and Vegetables Reduces Depression

In this study, around 400 people aged 18 to 25 were surveyed about their consumption of fruits and vegetables while they also answered questions about their mental health, lifestyle and demographic characteristics. When the researchers adjusted the data to take into account other factors like exercise, chronic health issues, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status and sleep habits, they found that the quantity of fruit and vegetables the study participants ate was correlated with mental stamina and happiness. "Raw fruit and vegetable consumption predicted lower levels of mental illness symptomology, such as depression,” says Dr. Conner. “They also improved levels of psychological well-being including positive mood, life satisfaction and flourishing. These mental health benefits were significantly reduced for cooked, canned, and processed fruits and vegetables.”

Top Ten “Happy Foods”

Dr. Conner’s research found that the top ten raw foods most often linked to better mental health were carrots, bananas, apples, dark leafy greens such as spinach, grapefruit, other citrus fruits, lettuce, fresh berries, cucumber and kiwifruit. Meanwhile, a study in the UK, at the University of Warwick, also demonstrates that eating more fruits and vegetables is linked to being happier.2 The study, which also involved researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia, showed that every extra daily portion of fruits and vegetables added to a daily diet, up to eight each day, produced a measureable increase in happiness. The study, which included around 12,000 people, went on for two years. According to researcher Andrew Oswald, of all the health benefits linked to fruit and vegetable consumption, this boost in happiness seems to be the quickest to occur -- "Eating fruit and vegetables apparently boosts our happiness far more quickly than it improves (other aspects of) human health."

Nutrient Helps Body Adapt to Stress

Another mood-lifting benefit of some fruits and vegetables comes from the fact that they contain resveratrol – a natural compound found in foods like grapes, blueberries and cranberries, as well as in peanuts and pistachios. A study at the University of Buffalo shows that resveratrol helps the brain avoid the negative effects of stress by limiting the activity of a stress-related enzyme in brain cells that can make you more prone to depression. The enzyme, known as PDE4 (phosphodiesterase 4), is released when stress causes the release of too much of the hormone corticosterone.3 "Resveratrol may be an effective alternative to drugs for treating patients suffering from depression and anxiety disorders," says researcher Ying Xu. So if you've ever had that feeling you wanted to be happier – and who doesn’t? – now you can easily do something about it. Chomp on an apple, pear, carrot or any other fruit or vegetable. According to these studies, it will give you the ineffable sweet taste of a better mood. Resveratrol supplements are also available. While I’ve never before heard of taking them to improve happiness, I see no reason not to try it. Resveratrol is safe and known to improve cardiovascular health and reduce inflammation.

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