How many servings of vegetables do you typically eat in a day? Chances are, not enough. At least for most people, since the average American is only consuming just over 1 cup of vegetables each day. The minimum recommendation is 2 - 2.5 cups per day. I sometimes push people to eat at least 6 cups, if not more. But aim for at least 3 cups daily - one with each meal. Yes, even breakfast.
Vegetables are a great source of micronutrients, or trace amounts of vitamins and minerals required for optimal human growth and development. People who eat more vegetables tend to be healthier (I'm excluding those properly following a carnivore diet here, because they tend to be healthy too without vegetable consumption - but that's a different topic for a different post). Recent studies show that those who consume vegetables also tend to be happier. That's right, vegetables could replace your happy pills!
Studies show that those who prioritized vegetable consumption had a 33% lower risk of developing depression and other mood disorders compared to those who ate a diet heavy in processed foods. Processed foods promote inflammation while vegetables help to combat it. Depressive disorders have been linked to inflammation. So it makes sense that eating foods to help combat it and avoiding foods that promote it would help. Eating vegetables helps to crowd out processed foods so people are less likely to consume them.
I recommend filling half your plate at each meal with some type of vegetable source. I love leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables. Colorful root vegetables are great too, as the colors in them suggest high micronutrient density. Starchy vegetables are great too in moderation. Sweet potatoes are one of my favorites!
So is it best to eat your vegetables cooked or raw? That's really up to what you prefer. Cooking them does tend to lead to some loss in nutrients, so it may be better to consume them raw. However, cooked vegetables are usually easier to digest. Fresh is best. Frozen works too. I suggest avoiding canned vegetables if possible. I tend to consume a mix of raw and cooked vegetables. I prefer leafy greens raw and cruciferous vegetables lightly steamed or roasted.
One serving of vegetables is about half a cup. This means that the average American is eating roughly two servings of vegetables per day. And that data may include school lunches, which allow for tomato paste on pizza and deep fried potatoes to count as a serving. Corn is also often counted as a serving of vegetables, but corn is actually a grain.
To increase your vegetable consumption for better mood outcomes, I suggest evaluating your vegetable intake. Then aim to increase it by one serving of vegetables each week until you've reached 6-9 servings per day. Some days you may have more, and some days you may have less. Again, this is personal preference and also depends on availability.
Let me know if you see an increase in mood-boosting benefits when you start to consume more vegetables. I'd love to hear from you about your experience. And also let me know how you get more vegetables into your diet. Salads and sheet pans of roasted vegetables are my favorite ways to consume vegetables for better mood benefits.