Whether you’re suffering from the winter woes or can’t quite put your finger on why you’re feeling so down, the answer to your urge to sing the blues could be found at your local farmer’s market or grocery store. A recent study has confirmed what many health nuts believed to be true: raw fruits and vegetables might be the cure for what ails you — not only for your physical health, but for your mental health too.
One 2016 survey found that Americans consume more fresh foods, including fruits and vegetables, than they did three years prior. But most of us can probably say we could stand to incorporate more produce into our diets. However, it looks as if the type of produce consumed might matter a bit more than how much of it we eat.
According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand and published in Frontiers in Psychology, it’s the raw fruits and vegetables that provide the most benefits. Unmodified produce has more nutrients than fruits and vegetables that have been cooked, canned, or processed in any way, which means the former has more benefits when consumed.
The study examined 400-plus young adults (between the ages of 18 and 25) in both the U.S. and New Zealand. The study participants completed surveys pertaining to their raw produce intake compared to the canned, processed, and cooked fruits and vegetables they ate on a regular basis. Study researchers then compared their diets to participants’ self-reported mental health issues that included feelings of depression and anxiety, life satisfaction, and overall mood.
Results showed that consumption of raw produce was connected with higher positive moods and life satisfaction, as well as lower rates of depressive symptoms. Higher intakes of modified produce did not correlate with these same heightened, positive effects on mental health. That isn’t to say that these modified fruits and vegetables are somehow harmful to mental or emotional well-being, as participants reported that eating even modified produce did show some mood improvement. However, consuming raw produce resulted in much greater mood elevation and reduction of depressive feelings.
Although the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends several cups of fruits and vegetables per day, it’s estimated that around 70% of Americans don’t meet these daily recommendations. If you’re looking for specific produce to incorporate into your diet, the study in question did identify some of the most beneficial raw fruits and veggies. These included carrots, apples, bananas, grapefruit, dark leafy greens and lettuce, citrus fruits, cucumber, berries, kiwi, cabbage, tomato, celery, mushroom, and red onion.
As the study’s lead author, Dr. Tamlin Conner, explained in the published report: “This research is increasingly vital as lifestyle approaches such as dietary change may provide an accessible, safe, and adjuvant approach to improving mental health.” She added, “If our patterns are confirmed in intervention studies, it would suggest that health policies could focus on promoting the consumption of raw and unprocessed produce for optimal well-being.”
Although it might be tempting to reach for a pint of ice cream when you’re feeling down in the dumps, you might do well to reach for a bag of baby carrots or a fresh fruit cup instead. While it not might feel quite as decadent in the moment, you might find your mood lifts a lot more quickly. It seems like the old adage of “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” could actually be right — even when it comes to your therapist.