They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but researchers from Aston University have found that eating more fruit may also keep the therapist at bay. Their study finds people who habitually and frequently eat fruit are more likely to report greater positive mental well-being and less likely to experience depressive symptoms.
Notably, this work indicates how often we eat fruit is more influential on mental health than the overall amount of fruit we consume over the course of a usual week.
On the other end of the snack spectrum, the study also suggests people who eat more “savory” snacks like chips tend to deal with more anxiety.
“Very little is known about how diet may affect mental health and wellbeing, and while we did not directly examine causality here, our findings could suggest that frequently snacking on nutrient-poor savory foods may increase everyday mental lapses, which in turn reduces psychological health,” says lead study author and PhD student Nicola-Jayne Tuck in a university release.
“Other studies have found an association between fruit and vegetables and mental health, but few have looked at fruit and vegetables separately – and even fewer evaluate both frequency and quantity of intake.”
What about vegetables?
The research team surveyed 428 adults in the United Kingdom for this study. More specifically, they were looking for any and all connections between eating habits (fruits, vegetables, sweet and savory snacks) and mental health.
After accounting for demographic and lifestyle factors including overall health, age, and exercise, the analysis revealed that both nutrient-rich fruits and nutrient-poor savory snacks have a connection to psychological health, albeit in different ways. Interestingly, the team did not find a direct association between vegetable consumption and mental health.
Regardless of overall fruit consumption quantity, the more often an individual ate fruit the lower they scored for depression (and the higher for well-being). Meanwhile, people who usually snacked on nutrient-poor foods like chips were more likely to report everyday mental lapses (or subjective cognitive failures) and lower overall mental well-being. More lapses displayed an association with higher levels of anxiety, stress, and depression, as well as lower mental well-being.
Conversely, however, researchers did not observe a link between those lapses and fruits, veggies, or sweet snacks. This indicates something unique is going on when it comes to mental health, “everyday mental lapses,” and nutrient-poor savory snacks.
What exactly is an everyday mental lapse?
Examples from the study authors include forgetting where you put an item like your keys, forgetting the reason you walked into a certain room, and failing to remember the names of acquaintances.
“Both fruit and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, fiber and essential micronutrients which promote optimal brain function, but these nutrients can be lost during cooking. As we are more likely to eat fruit raw, this could potentially explain its stronger influence on our psychological health,” Tuck explains.
“It is possible that changing what we snack on could be a really simple and easy way to improve our mental wellbeing. Conversely, it is also possible that the forthcoming restriction of processed snack foods at checkouts, due to come in this October, could not only improve the country’s physical health, but mental health too,” the researcher concludes.
“Overall, it’s definitely worth trying to get into the habit of reaching for the fruit bowl.”
The findings appear in the British Journal of Nutrition.