Scientists from Aston University found that people who frequently eat fruit are more likely to have greater positive mental well-being and are less likely to have depression symptoms than those who do not.
There is growing interest in the link between diet and mental health.
For example, depression is a mental health disorder characterized by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing big impairment in daily life.
Studies have suggested that people who consume lots of fast food are more likely to have depression than those who eat mostly fresh produce.
Processed foods, especially those high in sugar and refined carbs, may contribute to a higher risk of depression.
But there is still a surprising lack of studies examining the precise associations between nutrient-rich foods (such as fruit and vegetables) v. nutrient-poor foods (such as energy-dense savory and sweet snacks), and mental health.
Similarly, the psychological processes underpinning the link between dietary intake and mental health remain unclear.
In the current study, researchers aimed to explore the link between diet and mental health, and the role of cognitive processes in the link.
They tested 428 healthy adults, who completed a range of questionnaires about their eating habits and mental health.
The researchers found that eating fruit more often was linked to reduced symptoms of depression and greater positive psychological wellbeing.
Conversely, more frequent savory snacking was linked to increased anxiety.
Psychological well-being is a core feature of mental health, and may be defined as including hedonic (enjoyment, pleasure) and eudaimonic (meaning, fulfillment) happiness, as well as resilience (coping, emotion regulation, healthy problem solving).
The team also found that eating savory snacks more often was linked to more symptoms of depression, stress, anxiety, and reduced psychological wellbeing, via an increase in cognitive failures.
Cognitive failure is a cognitive error occurring during the performance of a task that a person would normally execute successfully in everyday life.
Cognitive failure is characterized by concentration problems, memory loss, and decreased perception.
The team says these findings showed the associations between certain types of food and mental health, and the psychological mechanisms that may mediate these links.
Further work is needed to test whether dietary patterns can directly influence people’s mental health.
The research was published in the British Journal of Nutrition and was conducted by Nicola-Jayne Tuck et al.
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