New psychology findings provide evidence that the food we eat has a direct impact on our mental health. The study published in British Journal of NutritionAnd the found that eating more fruit predicted fewer symptoms of depression and greater psychological well-being while eating more tasty snacks predicted increased anxiety.
In recent years, scientists have begun to consider whether modifying an individual’s diet might provide a pathway to improving mental health. This idea comes on the heels of evidence linking consumption of nutrient-rich foods (such as fruits and vegetables) to fewer mental health issues, and consumption of foods lacking nutrients (such as sweets and savory snacks) with stress and anxiety. and depression.
It’s unclear why diet affects mental health, but study author Nicola Jean-Talk and her team say it may have something to do with the way nutrients affect our cognitive processes. Previous studies have indicated that a diet lacking in nutrients negatively affects cognitive function while a diet rich in nutrients improves it. Cognitive deficits, such as decreased inhibitory control and cognitive failure, have been associated with poor mental health.
Tuck and her colleagues conducted a study to explore whether diet might affect mental health through its effect on cognition, while also investigating the effect of both the frequency and amount of fruit and vegetable consumption.
A nationwide representative sample of 428 UK residents completed an online survey that assessed their eating habits, mental health and cognitive function. Participants were asked to indicate how many times they had eaten fruits and vegetables, sweet snacks (such as cakes and cookies) and savory snacks (such as chips) per day in the past month, and how many servings of fruits and vegetables they had eaten each day. day. They also completed assessments of depression, anxiety, stress, and psychological well-being. To control for potential covariates, participants completed certain health-related measures that included smoking, alcohol, and exercise habits.
Participants additionally completed a self-report questionnaire on cognitive failure that assessed “intended mental lapses, memory, cognition, and action in daily tasks” in the past six months (eg, forgetting appointments and dropping things). The participants then completed the Stop-Signal task as a behavioral measure of cognitive control.
The results showed that after controlling for covariates, the frequency of fruit intake (but not the amount of fruit intake) was positively predictive of mental health and negatively predicted depression. Although additional empirical data is needed, the study authors speculate that “how often we consume fruit may be more important than the total amount we consume.”
Eating savory snacks (but not sweet snacks) positively predicts anxiety. This is in line with previous research suggesting that salty foods and fast food can increase anxiety. Notably, the study was cross-sectional, making the direction of this relationship unclear. It could be that people with high stress and anxiety eat more nutrient-poor foods as a coping strategy.
The results further revealed that the association between delicious snacks and mental health was caused by cognitive failure. In other words, participants who ate delicious snacks reported more cognitive failure, and therefore higher symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and lower well-being. Given that animal studies have indicated that saturated fats can reduce memory function, it may be possible that tasty snack foods high in saturated fats can impair memory and thus mental health.
Interestingly, the frequency of vegetable intake did not affect mental health after controlling for covariates. Researchers say this may be because the vegetables people eat are often canned and cooked, which can limit nutrient absorption. On the other hand, fruit tends to be consumed raw.
Overall, the results suggest that modifying one’s intake of nutrient-poor (processed) and nutrient-dense (unprocessed) foods may help protect mental health. Tok and colleagues say, “More work is needed to establish causation, and to determine whether these may represent modifiable dietary targets that could directly (and indirectly) affect our mental health.”
the study, “Frequent consumption of fruit and tasty snacks is predictive of mental health; Selective mediation through cognitive failure‘, written by Nicola Jeanne Toke, Claire F. Farrow, and Jason Michael Thomas.