Food as Medicine, Mental Health, Wellness

Power of fruit and veggies on mental health

Academic journal articles aren’t known for being inspiring, but I came across a paragraph that made me say “Whoa!”  It does such a beautiful job of summarizing the findings on how fruit and vegetable intake (FVI) can affect mental health in so many ways. See if you find this paragraph as powerful as I did.

(Note: I’m printing it twice.  First a version with the select words bolded by me, and references removed, because there are so many that they make it hard to read.  The second version has the references left in.)

“There is now good evidence that higher FVI is related to better mental health. Research has established that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have a lower incidence of mental disorders, including lower rates of depression, perceived stress, and negative mood. People who eat more fruits and vegetables also have a higher likelihood of optimal mental states, such as greater happiness, positive mood, life satisfaction, and socio-emotional flourishing, which captures feelings of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in life.  Importantly, these associations between FVI and various mental health indicators appear to be (i) dose-dependent (to various points) whereby higher intakes of fruit and vegetables (FV) are associated with increasingly higher mental health scores, (ii) robust when controlling for demographic, economic/social, and health covariates (e.g., gender, income, education, BMI, smoking, exercise), and (iii) bolstered by longitudinal and intervention research that has shown causal relationships between higher FVI and mental health. For example, using longitudinal data from 12, 389 people in the Household, Income, and Labor Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, Mujcic and Oswald (2016) found that a shift from “low” to “high” intake of FV across a period of 2 years resulted in significant improvement in life satisfaction, showing an average gain comparable to moving from unemployment to employment. Interventions have also shown that increasing fruit and/or vegetable consumption improves depressive symptoms among clinically-depressed adults, improves feelings of vigor in young men with low baseline levels of vitamin C and a higher baseline mood disturbance, and increases flourishing in young adults with a low baseline consumption of FV. Some research has indicated that positive mood states can also shift people toward healthier food choices, and negative mood states such as stress can shift people toward unhealthier food choices and overeating; however, the longitudinal and experimental research designs outlined above provide convincing evidence that FVI can also have a direct and causal impact on subsequent psychological well-being.”

Powerful stuff, right?! What else can give us so many benefits with so little risk?

Unfortunately, many health problems can make it harder to eat fruits and veggies.  Everything from grocery shopping to cooking to chewing, swallowing, digesting and more can be difficult or even impossible.  But this excerpt is a reminder that it’s very possibly worth the effort to maximize fruits and veggie intake when feasible.

Thanks to Dr. Kate Brookie and her colleagues for collecting and summarizing this evidence in such a powerful way.

Here’s the original version with references:

“There is now good evidence that higher FVI is related to better mental health. Research has established that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have a lower incidence of mental disorders, including lower rates of depression, perceived stress, and negative mood (Trichopoulou et al., 2003; Mikolajczyk et al., 2009; Jacka et al., 2010, 2011, 2017; Ford et al., 2013; Gopinath et al., 2016; Bishwajit et al., 2017; Li et al., 2017). People who eat more fruits and vegetables also have a higher likelihood of optimal mental states, such as greater happiness (Lesani et al., 2016), positive mood (Ford et al., 2013; White et al., 2013), life satisfaction (Blanchflower et al., 2013; Mujcic and Oswald, 2016), and socio-emotional flourishing, which captures feelings of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in life (Conner et al., 2015, 2017a). Importantly, these associations between FVI and various mental health indicators appear to be (i) dose-dependent (to various points) whereby higher intakes of fruit and vegetables (FV) are associated with increasingly higher mental health scores (e.g., Blanchflower et al., 2013), (ii) robust when controlling for demographic, economic/social, and health covariates (e.g., gender, income, education, BMI, smoking, exercise; Blanchflower et al., 2013; Mujcic and Oswald, 2016; Bishwajit et al., 2017), and (iii) bolstered by longitudinal and intervention research that has shown causal relationships between higher FVI and mental health (Carr et al., 2013; Mujcic and Oswald, 2016; Conner et al., 2017a; Jacka et al., 2017). For example, using longitudinal data from 12, 389 people in the Household, Income, and Labor Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, Mujcic and Oswald (2016) found that a shift from “low” to “high” intake of FV across a period of 2 years resulted in significant improvement in life satisfaction, showing an average gain comparable to moving from unemployment to employment. Interventions have also shown that increasing fruit and/or vegetable consumption improves depressive symptoms among clinically-depressed adults (Jacka et al., 2017), improves feelings of vigor in young men with low baseline levels of vitamin C and a higher baseline mood disturbance (Carr et al., 2013), and increases flourishing in young adults with a low baseline consumption of FV (Conner et al., 2017a). Some research has indicated that positive mood states can also shift people toward healthier food choices (Gardner et al., 2014), and negative mood states such as stress can shift people toward unhealthier food choices and overeating (Singh, 2014); however, the longitudinal and experimental research designs outlined above provide convincing evidence that FVI can also have a direct and causal impact on subsequent psychological well-being.”

Source:  

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5902672/pdf/fpsyg-09-00487.pdf

Brookie KL, Best GI, Conner TS. Intake of Raw Fruits and Vegetables Is Associated With Better Mental Health Than Intake of Processed Fruits and Vegetables. Front Psychol. 2018;9:487. Published 2018 Apr 10. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00487

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