Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States ages 18 and older (this is 18% of the population). Depression also has a major impact, affecting 9.5 percent of the adult population, accounting for $83 billion in lost productivity each year. It's not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa. Approximately one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Sadly, one of the most obvious (yet under-recognized) factors in the development of major trends in the declining state of mental/emotional health in America are the roles of diet and nutrition. The body of evidence linking diet and mental health is growing at a rapid pace. Diet’s impact on short and long-term mental/emotional health is a solid indicator of the fact that food plays an important contributing role in the development, management and prevention of specific mental/emotional health problems; especially problems such as anxiety/stress, depression, schizophrenia, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Over 65% of those healthy individuals who do not report daily mental health problems eat fresh fruit and/or drink fruit juice every day, compared with less than 1/2 of those who do report daily mental health problems. This pattern is almost identical for those who regularly eat fresh vegetables and salad.
More and more nutritionists are now claiming that empty carbohydrates are often to blame for contributing to negative feelings, including anxiety, depression and feelings of anger. When compared to individuals who eat healthier foods like fruits, leafy greens and legumes, those who consume packaged or processed foods are often mentally unbalanced, emotionally unsettled or irritated more easily. Nutritionally-sparse diets filled with processed foods, refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, trans-fats, etc. have been directly associated with a host of unstable mental/emotional health issues. In addition, those who indulge in animal products are often known to exhibit more violent and aggressive tendencies.
Foods that help control anxiety, stress, anger and other conditions that lead to depression and other problems are almost always plant-based. As a matter of fact most plant-based foods are known to help keep negative mental emotional flare-ups at bay. A great example is leafy greens, which have high vitamin “C” content, an antioxidant known to fight stress. Leafy greens also contain magnesium, a nutrient responsible for relaxing muscles and reducing anxiety.
According to a study published in the March/April issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, an 18-week, plant-based dietary intervention program boosts employee productivity, while alleviating symptoms of anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
Researchers with the non-profit “Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine” placed GEICO employees with a BMI (body/mass index) of 25 or above, or who were previously diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, on a low-fat, low-glycemic, high-fiber vegan diet. The study participants experienced overall productivity and measurable improvements in anxiety, depression, fatigue, and general health, according to the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36) and the Work Productivity and Activity Impairment Questionnaire. Study participants also lost an average of 10 pounds, lowered LDL cholesterol by 13 points, and improved blood sugar control (if they had type 2 diabetes).
During the study, healthful vegan options, including vegetable hummus sandwiches, seasonal leafy green salads, and black bean chili, were available in employee cafeterias. And because their menu featured a variety of fruits and vegetables, it was nutritionally-dense and rich in vitamins and minerals. Study participants favored healthful carbohydrate-rich foods, including brown rice, steel cut oats, and rye bread, which help regulate serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin helps control mood.
One of the study authors, Neal Barnard, M.D. says: “The same foods that curb the risk for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, may help boost overall mood.” The study authors also hypothesize that when individuals improve their physical health, they may become more physically and socially active, increasing their mood and overall quality of life.
“Helping employees improve their health through a plant-based dietary intervention is a win-win situation for employees and the company,” notes Dr. Barnard. “Who doesn’t want to feel great, increase energy, and maximize productivity in the process?”
Stay tuned… Coming soon… More articles on the spiritual/mental/emotional aspects of a vegan diet and lifestyle.
Rae Indigo is ERYT 500