Consuming fruits and vegetables in our daily diet are not only healthy because they help reduce the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke, but researchers now say that its psychological benefits can also be tapped into to tackle depression.
Researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand found that young adults who were given extra fruits and vegetables each day for two weeks ate more of the produce and experienced a boost in motivation and vitality.
They enrolled 171 students aged between 18 and 25 and were divided into three groups for the two-week study. One group continued with their normal eating pattern; the second were personally handed two additional servings of fresh fruits and vegetables, including carrots, kiwi fruit, apples, and oranges each day, but the last group were given prepaid produce vouchers and received text reminders to consume more fruits and vegetables.
The participants were subjected to psychological assessments that evaluated mood, vitality, motivation, symptoms of depression and anxiety, and other determinants of mental health and well-being at the beginning and end of the study.
The researchers found that participants who personally received extra fruits and vegetables experienced improvements in psychological well-being. They demonstrated improvements in vitality, motivation, and flourishing.
But the other two groups showed no improvements in psychological well-being over the two-week period. Furthermore, no improvements were seen in symptoms of depression and anxiety in any of the groups.
Still, the researchers say that their findings in the journal PLOS One indicate that increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables through personal delivery may lead to rapid benefits for psychological well-being.
According to them, “providing young adults with high-quality FV [fruits and vegetables], not texting them reminders to eat more FV and giving them a voucher, resulted in improvements to their psychological well-being over a two-week period.”
In recent years, studies have suggested that fruit and vegetable intake may also improve mental health. Dr Kayode Adedapo, a Consultant Chemical Pathologist at the Department of Nuclear Medicine, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan declared that some vitamins had been established to help in adjusting one’s mood, adding that fruits like oranges and banana contain substances that elevates mood.
“By taking whole fruits and vegetables, the body will take out what it actually needed to be in optimal health rather than taking isolated vitamin and mineral supplements,” he added.
Moreover, Dr Victor Makanjuola, a consultant psychiatrist, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State stated that balanced diet is beneficial to good health, including mental health.
According to him, fruits like banana are rich in serotonin, the so-called happiness hormone that is helpful for mental disorders such as depression even though it cannot treat the mental problem.
Although depression is not caused by just one factor, Dr Makanjoula declared that eating a balanced and adequate diet can help prevent deficiencies in some vitamins, minerals, amino and fatty acids that are directly related to emotional wellbeing.
But there’s a wealth of research that suggests that certain types of food actually contain essential components for good mental health, with deficiencies potentially even worsening diagnosable mental disorders such as depression.
Some studies concluded also that a diet high in vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, whole grains and olive oil could stave off depression. Spanish scientists from the Universities of Las Palmas and Navarra found that those who followed a classic Mediterranean diet were 30 per cent less likely to develop depression in a study reported in the journal, Archives of General Psychiatry.
Research has also suggested that omega 3, the essential fatty acids found in fish oils, can improve mood. It was associated with better moods and a higher self-reported mental health, even after adjustment for factors such as income, age and other eating patterns.
Indeed, one of the most compelling studies from Harvard found that omega-3 fatty acids in conjunction with medication worked effectively to manage manic depression.
While it is clear the brain can be greatly influenced by what we eat, researchers think food’s effect on happiness is based on evidence that dietary changes can bring about changes in our brain chemistry – altering the hormones responsible for controlling our mood.
There has also been interesting research to suggest that trying to lose weight on a diet that restricts calories too severely can have a detrimental effect on mood too.
Moreover, research shows that exercising for just 45 minutes, three to four times per week, releases mood-boosting endorphins in the brain which can be as effective at treating mild to moderate depression.