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Healthy foods for a healthy mind

Fruits and vegetables aren’t just healthy for your body – they’re good for your mind, too.

We’ve known that these foods lead to a healthy heart and blood vessels because they are major sources of nutrients, such as potassium, fiber, magnesium, and antioxidants. And eating more produce is linked to a lower risk of death from heart disease, stroke, cancer, and respiratory diseases. 

You might not think about how what you eat impacts your mental health. However, studies have shown that eating more fruits and vegetables lowers stress and increases mental well-being among adults who ate 3-4 servings of produce daily. 

While researchers are still working to understand the link between eating more fruits and vegetables and their positive impact on mental well-being, we can add this benefit to the growing list of reasons to prioritize produce. 

According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (PDF), adults should eat at least 4-5 cups of both fruits and vegetables daily. For reference, 1 serving size of fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables is 1/2 cup, or the size of your fist. 

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey from 2019 of adults in North Carolina revealed that only 11% ate the recommended servings for fruit, and only 9.5% the recommended servings for vegetables. So how can we add more fruits and vegetables to our routine? 

  • Make it easy: Including fruits and vegetables doesn’t need to mean planning a whole new meal. It could be as simple as including a whole fruit, such as an apple or banana, as a snack or side to breakfast. Add a steamed or microwavable vegetable as a side to a meal. Slice some tomatoes, cucumbers, or avocado to add to your favorite sandwich.
  • Make it a plan: Plan your meals around fruits and vegetables. This could mean adding another vegetable to your chicken stir-fry, adding a handful of dark leafy greens to your favorite soup, or planning for 1/2 your plate to be fruits and vegetables – a great way to get in the recommended servings!
  • Make it affordable: If your food budget is a concern, choose canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, which often go on sale and can be stored longer than fresh produce. To keep canned and frozen a healthy choice, choose those without added sugars or sodium listed on the food label. 
  • Make it delicious: Do you turn up your nose at fruits and vegetables? Try preparing them in a new way. Consider roasted, sautéed, boiled, or baked. A few extra minutes to prepare can enhance produce by bringing out the natural flavors. Don’t forget to add any herbs and spices, too! 

Keeping fruits and vegetables top of mind when shopping and planning for meals may not only benefit your physical health, but your mental health too! Aim for a colorful plate and see the benefits to your overall well-being. 

Help with nutrition

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina health plan members can speak with one of our registered dietitians for no additional cost. This service is part of your insurance plan. 

We can help you with a wide range of nutrition goals. Call 800-218-5295, extension 55547.

Kate Ragsdale, MS, RDN, LDN, contributed to this article.

authors photo

Julia McQueen, MPH, RD, LDN

Julia McQueen, MPH, RD, LDN

Dietitian Case Manager

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