Raw fruits and vegetables may be better for your mental health than cooked, canned and processed products, a study reveals. Public health campaigns have historically focused on aspects of quantity for the consumption of fruit and vegetables. However, the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, found that for mental health in particular, it may also be important to consider the way in which produce was prepared and consumed.
“Our research has highlighted that the consumption of fruit and vegetables in their ‘unmodified’ state is more strongly associated with better mental health compared to cooked/canned/processed fruit and vegetables,” said Tamlin Conner, Psychology Senior Lecturer at University of Otago in New Zealand. Conner believes this could be because the cooking and processing of fruit and vegetables has the potential to diminish nutrient levels. “This is likely to limit the delivery of nutrients that are essential for optimal emotional functioning,” added Conner.
For the study, over 400 young adults from New Zealand and the US, aged 18 to 25 were surveyed. This age group was chosen because young adults typically have the lowest fruit and vegetable consumption of all age groups and are at high risk for mental health disorders. The group’s typical consumption of raw versus cooked and processed fruits and vegetables were assessed, alongside their negative and positive mental health, and lifestyle and demographic variables that could affect the association between fruit and vegetable intake and mental health (such as exercise, sleep, unhealthy diet, chronic health conditions, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and gender).
“Controlling for the covariates, raw fruit and vegetable consumption predicted lower levels of mental illness symptomology, such as depression, and improved levels of psychological wellbeing including positive mood, life satisfaction and flourishing,” said Conner. “These mental health benefits were significantly reduced for cooked, canned, and processed fruits and vegetables,” she said.
“This research is increasingly vital as lifestyle approaches such as dietary change may provide an accessible, safe, and adjuvant approach to improving mental health,” Conner added. The top 10 raw foods related to better mental health were: carrots, bananas, apples, dark leafy greens such as spinach, grapefruit, lettuce, citrus fruits, fresh berries, cucumber, and kiwifruit.