There have been several studies that link food and mood. In fact, over the years, Rose Hill has devoted this newsletter to the subject several times. We have covered how food affects mood, the brain/gut connection, and the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Our understanding though of how these things all intersect with mental health is a developing science.
A new study is adding to our understanding of this topic. Published this spring in The British Journal of Nutrition report a more in-depth look at potentially how eating fruits and vegetables may impact symptoms of mental illness. This study broke out fruits from vegetables and added sweet and savory snack items individually. Additionally, the researchers looked at quantity and frequency of consumption and included exercise, age, general health rating, and smoking status in stepwise regression models for the relationship with depression, wellbeing, and anxiety.
Similar studies done in Australia and New Zealand support the findings and assumptions of this recent study. Interesting conclusions were that the frequency, not necessarily the quantity of fruit consumed was correlated to better mental health outcomes. Vegetables did not show this statistically significant improvement. The findings were consistent across all ages and found that raw is better than cooked or canned foods. Finally savory snacks and salty fast food, but not sweet snacks, were associated with an increase of anxiety.
These findings may seem to contradict the conventional advice to eat lots of fruits and vegetables every day. But increasing the frequency was the significant difference in fruit consumption not the total amount. The researchers tried to explain why vegetables did not show the same benefit. Cooking or processing food reduces the amount of nutrients. And fruit is most often eaten raw as snacks throughout the day, where vegetables were most often consumed cooked, at dinner with family. Raw fruits may maximize the absorption of nutrients with antioxidant properties, thus have a more potent influence. To further explain the outcomes, experts agree that the nutrients and antioxidants found in fruit help to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.
This is where the connection between fruit and mental health is made. People who frequently snack on nutrient poor foods (like fast-food) were more likely to experience everyday mental lapses and report lower mental wellbeing. A greater number of lapses was associated with higher reported symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression. The nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, and carotenoids that can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress may reduce mental lapses too.
Rose Hill Center’s holistic treatment program is individualized and includes an assessment by our registered dietician, Laura Leblanc. Laura works hard to ensure that daily meals are not only healthful but include a variety of fruits and vegetables. In fact, fruit is available all day for residents to snack on. Laura also runs nutrition groups each week to highlight the importance of cooking with fresh food and proper serving sizes. Residents have a chance to practice meal planning and cooking fresh foods, so they are prepared to eat well when they graduate from Rose Hill. Our food choices as well as our relationship with food can have a strong impact on our ability to manage stress and times of transition. Having a balanced, peaceful relationship with food, as well as ensuring we’re getting the nutrients our body needs to function, can be vital.