- Research shows that eating fruit more regularly may improve mental health.
- More consumption of savory snacks like chips were associated with increased anxiety.
- These research findings can support greater outreach programs to promote healthy eating for mental wellness.
Eating healthy food is often encouraged to promote mental health and well-being. Now, a study published in British Journal of Nutrition found that frequent consumption of fruit is associated with lower depression scores.
This study was conducted with 428 healthy adults across the United Kingdom, and survey responses demonstrate that regular consumption of fruit was linked to lower depression and better mental health outcomes.
Given how healthy eating can support mental health, these findings may benefit public health services to improve physical and mental well-being.
Understanding the Research
For this study, researchers surveyed 428 adults across the United Kingdom and found that the more often respondents ate fruit, the lower their depression scores were. And their mental health scores increased overall.
Regularly consuming savory foods, such as chips, was correlated with more mental lapses and greater anxiety. Mental lapses included misplacing items, forgetting planned tasks, and difficulty remembering names.
Though the study sample was nationally representative of the United Kingdom, it was relatively small and only those whose first language was English were able to participate.
Healthy Food Fuels Mental Wellness
Neuroscientist and clinical social worker Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C, says, “This study found a link between higher psychological health and well-being when we eat fruit, and lower psychological health and well-being when we eat savory, low-nutrient snacks.”
“The study highlighted that it’s not the portion size but rather the regular consumption of fruit that can really have a positive impact on our mental health. Consuming savory snacks often can lead to forgetfulness, and feelings of anxiety and depression,” she says.
When it comes to how human bodies function, Weaver notes that people sometimes forget that they also rely on fuel, much like cars.
“Our body is the vehicle that helps us get up and go, therefore it’s important to fill our vehicle with the best fuel, as nutrition impacts our mental health because what we eat determines how we feel,” she says.
Weaver highlights, “When we eat nutrient-rich foods that provide the minerals and vitamins that our body relies on to function, we have more energy to meet the demands of our day. However, when we eat processed foods, we satisfy our hunger but don’t truly get the vitamins and nutrients to succeed. This leaves us feeling tired, sluggish, anxious, and depressed.”
While savory snacks may be tasty, inexpensive, and easily accessible, Weaver notes that with intentional planning, increased fruit intake is possible.
“Eating fruit may not be as convenient as eating a savory snack because fruit is more expensive and has a short shelf life,” she says.
Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C
Consistently eating fruit as opposed to a savory snack has a positive impact on psychological functioning. I wish the public knew that food is medicine and we can participate in our own healing.
Weaver recommends, “Be mindful that you might have to schedule more trips to the store, more time to meal plan. and you will have to come up with a strong ‘why’ to help you to stay motivated.”
Individuals feel better and function at optimal levels when their bodies are fueled well, according to Weaver.
“Neuroscience has even proven that the influence of our outer environment determines what happens in our inner environment. Therefore, if we want a healthier mental state, we have to be mindful of what we are putting into our body,” she says.
“Consistently eating fruit as opposed to a savory snack has a positive impact on psychological functioning. I wish the public knew that food is medicine and we can participate in our own healing.”
As a therapist, Weaver has had patients report that they often struggle with cravings.
“I share with them that the pleasure and reward center of our brain likes salt, sugar and fat, so it is like an impulsive toddler who just wants more and more pleasure and enjoyment,” she says.
“Our pre-frontal cortex is like the parent that has to say no to the toddler who is throwing that temper tantrum. As a parent, we sometimes have to make thoughtful decisions because we know the consequences. Our toddler brain will be mad, but our parent brain knows our toddler brain will soon get over it,” she explains.
One of the ways to change your food choices is by building self-awareness through journaling and charting, according to Weaver. Through Regain No More, she offers individual and group counseling and resources to help clients with changing their food choices.
Increasing Consumption of Healthy Foods
Registered dietician, nutritionist, and brain health coach at Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, Molly Rapozo, MS, RDN, CD, says, “Frequent fruit consumption has a direct positive relationship, while nutrient-poor savory snacks have a direct negative relationship, with elements of our psychological health.”
Rapozo explains, “This study reports frequent intake of savory snacks (e.g., chips) was associated with an increase in cognitive failures (memory errors), which were in turn associated with more symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety, along with a general decrease in well-being.”
While this study did not find a positive association related to vegetable intake, Rapozo notes that many others have, which is why she recommends increasing both fruit and vegetable intake.
“Include a serving of fruit or vegetable with each meal and snack,” she says.
Rapozo recommends, “Visit your local farmer’s market to select seasonal produce with peak flavor. Experiment with something new. Try a fruit or vegetable that you haven’t had before or use produce in a novel way.”
Molly Rapozo, MS, RDN, CD
Don’t try to change everything overnight, as behavior change is most successful with small, reasonable steps.
Like starting the day with berries to top off a favorite breakfast item, Rapozo notes that there are many options.
“If you don’t like prepping produce, choose prepared items at your local grocery store, like pre-cut fruit,” she says.
It is okay to enjoy an occasional savory snack, such as a single serving of chips, according to Rapozo.
“Avoid buying the big bag,” she says.
In the study, fruit was defined as fresh or tinned (canned), so Rapozo notes that unsweetened frozen fruit is also a nutritious option.
“I would not recommend dried or juiced as these preparations are much higher in total carbohydrates, making these items less healthful choices,” she says.
Rapozo recommends a balanced intake of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats for meals and snacks, as she gives tangible examples of apple slices and almond butter, or strawberries and walnuts with plain Greek yogurt.
Whole grain toast with peanut butter and banana slices are a great option, according to Rapozo, as is cottage cheese with pineapple, and chia pudding with blueberries.
“Don’t try to change everything overnight, as behavior change is most successful with small, reasonable steps,” she says.
What This Means For You
As the study demonstrates, consumption of healthy food is associated with better mental health. If your current eating habits could be improved, these research findings can prompt changes to boost both physical and mental health. Fueling your body isn’t just about physical well-being—your brain needs energy too.
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