It turns out the way you eat affects more than just your physical health. According to new research, eating lots of fruits and vegetables can boost your mood. In one study, researchers from the University of Leeds found that eating just one extra portion of fruits and vegetables a day has a positive effect on your mental well-being, according to a news release. The researchers say that their findings show that what you put in your body can not only affect your physical health; it can also affect your mental health.
"While further work is needed to demonstrate cause and effect, the results are clear: people who do eat more fruit and vegetables report a higher level of mental well-being and life satisfaction than those who eat less,” Dr. Neel Ocean of the University of Leeds, one of the authors of the study, said in a news release.
The researchers followed the same individuals over an unspecified time period and controlled for other factors that could have affected their mental well-being, such as their ages, education, incomes, marital status, employment statuses, lifestyles, and health, the news release said. They also tracked other foods they were eating, such as bread or dairy products, according to the news release. The participants who ate more fruits and vegetables reported better mental well-being over time, the researchers said.
Another new study out of the University of Manchester supports these findings, saying that eating a "healthy diet" can ease symptoms of depression, according to a news release. Researchers analyzed data from around 46,000 people and found that eating nutrient-dense meals that are high in fiber and vegetables is beneficial to your mental health, the news release said.
"This is actually good news,” Dr. Joseph Firth, an honorary research fellow at The University of Manchester and research fellow at NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University, said in a news release. "The similar effects from any type of dietary improvement suggests that highly-specific or specialized diets are unnecessary for the average individual.”
But the researchers from the University of Leeds mentioned that, despite the health benefits of fruits and vegetables, the data shows the “vast majority of people in the U.K. still consume less than their five-a-day,” aka five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. In the United States, only one in 10 adults eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s because healthy eating looks different for everyone, and not necessarily by choice.
Not everyone has the privilege to drive to the grocery store and pick out fresh fruits and vegetables. In fact, the CDC says many studies have found that the high cost of fresh fruits and vegetables, the limited availability and access to them, and even the lack of time available to prep and cook them are all barriers to eating more fresh fruit and vegetables. That’s why nutrition-related illnesses are common in communities with food deserts that lack access to healthy and affordable foods, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
While eating nutritious food is not a cure for mental illness, the researchers from both studies emphasize that small, simple changes are enough for you to start seeing some mental health benefits. Eating some fresh fruits or vegetables whenever you can is a great way to care for your mind and body, but eating is all about what's good for you. That might not look the same as the person sitting next you, and that's totally OK. As long as you're doing what's right for your body and mind.