Can Fruits & Veggies Help Your Mental Health?

By Beth Leipholtz 02/20/19

For a new study, researchers explored the potential link between intake of fruits and veggies and mental well-being.

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Eating your fruits and vegetables may be just as important for your mental health as it is for your body, according to CNN’s “The Conversation” column. 

The column is written by the authors of a recent study done on the topic: Neel Ocean, research fellow in behavioral economics, and Peter Howley, associate professor of economics at the University of Leeds.

For the recent study, the two drew from a 2016 study done in Australia which found that an increase in fruit and vegetables consumption led to improvements in a person’s psychological well-being. 

Howley and Ocean wanted to determine whether the outcome was the same with a larger pool of participants. So, they studied more than 40,000 individuals from the UK Household Longitudinal Study.

“Our analysis showed that increases in the consumption of fruit and vegetables are linked to increases in self-reported mental well-being and life satisfaction in data that spans a five-year period, even after accounting for other determinants of mental well-being such as physical health, income and consumption of other foods,” Ocean and Howley wrote. 

According to the researchers, adding just one serving of fruits or vegetables daily may have as many benefits for mental well-being as adding seven to eight walks per month to your physical regimen.

In this case, they define "one serving" as one cup of raw veggies, half a cup of cooked veggies, or one entire piece of fruit. 

Howley and Ocean did point out that their research alone is not enough to establish a solid link between eating

fruits and veggies and mental well-being. They also point out what they call the “substitution effect.”

“People can only eat so much in a day, so someone who eats more fruits and vegetables might just have less room in their diet for unhealthy foods,” they wrote. “Although we accounted for bread and dairy in our study, ideally, future research should track all other foods consumed to rule out alternative explanations.”

The two also a highlight a commentary on their findings by the researchers of the 2016 study in Australia. 

“The authors show that the number of fruit and vegetable portions eaten in a day can predict whether someone is diagnosed with depression or anxiety two years later,” Howley and Ocean wrote. “But the reverse does not seem to be true. Being diagnosed with depression does not appear to be a strong predictor of fruit and vegetable consumption two years later. This suggests that it is perhaps more likely that eating fruits and vegetables is influencing mood and not the other way around.”

In the end, the two say that while their findings are encouraging, more research on the topic is needed in order to draw definite conclusions. 

“We are not suggesting eating fruits and vegetables is a substitute for medical treatment, but a simple way to improve your mental health could be to add a little more fruit and veg to your daily diet,” they wrote. 

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.

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