How Fruit Can Improve Your Mental Health
Could an apple a day keep the psychiatrist away?
Posted September 28, 2022 | Reviewed by Devon Frye
- Researchers found that those who ate fruit more often had lower levels of depression and higher levels of mental well-being.
- Frequent snacking on nutrient-poor savory foods was linked to lower mental well-being and higher anxiety, stress, and depression.
- A potential mechanism behind these effects is fruit consumption may help decrease inflammatory processes.
A study published earlier this year in the British Journal of Nutrition reported that eating fruit regularly can improve your mental health.
Researchers looked at the relationship between fruit consumption and psychological well-being. After considering demographic and lifestyle factors, those who ate fruit more often had lower levels of depression and mental well-being.
Interestingly, the frequency of eating fruit was found to be more important than the total amount consumed. No direct association was found between eating vegetables and psychological health.
The researchers also found that those who frequently snacked on nutrient-poor savory foods (such as chips) were more likely to experience everyday mental lapses, lower mental well-being, and higher anxiety, stress, and depression.
Nicola-Jayne Tuck, lead author and a doctoral student in the College of Health and Life Sciences at Aston University, explained:
"Very little is known about how diet may affect mental health and well-being, 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."
“It is possible that changing what we snack on could be a really simple and easy way to improve our mental well-being,” Tuck added. “Overall, it’s definitely worth trying to get into the habit of reaching for the fruit bowl.”
Inflammation and Depression
A potential mechanism by which frequent fruit consumption may lead to lower levels of depression is by decreasing inflammatory processes. Although many factors play a role in the development of depression, research findings over the past decade or so have shown an association between depression and increased inflammatory activation of the immune system affecting both the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Antidepressants have also been shown to decrease inflammation, and higher baseline inflammation levels predict lower treatment efficacy for most treatments.
The type of inflammation referenced here doesn’t make your brain swollen or sore. We’re talking about inflammation on a microscopic level that causes cells to release distress signals in the form of inflammatory cytokines. Levels of inflammatory cytokines tend to be higher in people with mood disorders, and drugs that increase inflammatory cytokines cause depression in some individuals.
Two potent promoters of inflammation are refined carbohydrates and refined vegetable oils frequently found in ultra-processed foods recently linked to higher risks for dementia and adverse mental health symptoms. In contrast, fruits contain high levels of phytochemicals that act as anti-inflammatories and antioxidants. The most common phytochemical group is flavonoids, which give fruits their vibrant colors.
One Way to Get More Fruit Into Your Diet
So, regular consumption of a diverse selection of colorful fruits could provide significant mental health benefits. As the study by Tuck and colleagues showed, it's not the total amount of fruit you eat that matters—it's how often you eat it. But eating the same fruits every day can get monotonous.
Personally, my favorite way to incorporate regular servings of various fruits into my diet is with fruit smoothies. By using a basic formula—one cup reduced fat milk, one cup frozen chopped fruit, and one scoop of flavored protein powder—and mixing up the fruit and protein powder combinations, I've found that I can easily go more than a year without repeating the same shake.
So if you're looking for natural preventative approaches to maintain or improve your mental health, make sure you're stocking up on fresh fruits and making them a part of your daily routine.