Can eating more fruit improve your mood? A study finds a link between munching on fruit and better mental health and well-being. This study, carried out by researchers and published in the British Journal of Nutrition, finds that after surveying over 400 adults, those who snack on fruit were less likely to report symptoms of depression and were more likely to enjoy better mental health.
Could fruit be a key to better mental health? This study shows a correlation between snacking on fruit and better mental health rather than causation, but it suggests that food choices have an impact on mental health and well-being. The study also found that people who munched on less nutritious snacks, like chips, were more likely to experience anxiety and minor memory lapses throughout the day than fruit eaters.
The best approach, based on the study, is to eat fruit throughout the day rather than lower-quality snacks, like packaged chips, cookies, and brownies. So, when you’re rummaging through the kitchen in search of a snack, fruit might be your best bet!
Processed Snacks Cause Larger Blood Sugar Fluctuations
Although you can’t assume cause and effect, there are reasons switching packaged snacks for fruit would be beneficial for mental well-being. When you munch on ultra-processed foods, particularly ones high in sugar, the lack of fiber in these foods creates a surge in blood sugar that negatively affects mental health.
For example, nibbling on a brownie causes a sharp rise in blood sugar followed by a precipitous drop within a few hours. When blood glucose rises and falls quickly, it activates the sympathetic or fight-or-flight nervous system that causes your heart to race faster, mimicking some of the effects of stress and anxiety. The same holds for ultra-processed snacks like a bag of chips and foods made of refined flour.
Unlike ultra-processed snacks, fruit is easier on your blood sugar. The combination of fiber and antioxidants may explain the difference. However, avoid fruit juice since it lacks the fiber you need to subdue the blood sugar rise.
Fatigue and Depressive Symptoms Can Also Be a Problem
Some people avoid fruit because of its natural sugar. Although fruit contains natural sugar, it is also rich in fiber, poorly absorbed carbohydrates that moderate the rise in blood sugar, so you don’t get the spike and drop in glucose that triggers anxiety and other mood disturbances. Rapid fluctuations in blood glucose can also cause depressive symptoms in some people. Some people experience anxiety as their blood sugar drops followed by fatigue and symptoms of depression.
Fatigue can be an issue too When your blood glucose levels change quickly, your energy level drops. This is because your body must adjust to the new level of glucose in your bloodstream. In the meantime, you may feel tired and sluggish. The best situation for your mood and energy level is to keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day.
Fruit and Protein is a Healthy Combination for Mood and Mental Health
Also, combining protein with healthy carbohydrate sources, like fruit, helps prevent blood sugar spikes and drops that can trigger anxiety and mood changes. Examples of ways to combine fruit with protein include:
Low-sugar yogurt with fruit
An apple with peanut butter
Berries with cottage cheese
A fruit smoothie with nut butter
A piece of fruit with nuts
Add fruit to a bowl of steel-cut oats for a healthy, blood-sugar-friendly breakfast
You can also freeze your favorite fruit and enjoy it icy cold. For example, frozen blueberries become tiny Popsicle bites! Also, keep the freezer stocked with frozen fruit, like berries, so you can enjoy fruit as a snack without the concern it will go bad too quickly. Frozen fruit will keep up to 6 months, or even longer, without losing its taste. Plus, frozen fruit is as nutritious, if not more so, than fresh fruit. It’s frozen right after harvest to preserve its nutrients.
Other Health Benefits of Eating Fruit
Fruits are also high in antioxidants, compounds that fight free radicals, and rogue molecules that damage cells and contribute to aging. Varying colors of fruit indicate different nutrients and phytonutrients, chemicals with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. By eating fruits in various colors, you get a more diverse array of phytonutrients that can work together to support mental and physical health. So, choose a variety of purple, yellow, orange, red, yellow, and green fruit for maximal nutrient diversity.
Each color represents different phytonutrients, many of which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. If you’re concerned about the natural sugar in fruit, choose lower-sugar fruits, like berries. Blueberries and other colorful berries top the list of foods with greater nutrients per calorie.
The Bottom Line
Fruit is a great source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants — nutrients important for overall health. Fruit may also help with mental health. Fruits are high in fiber, which can help you feel full longer and reduce cravings. This can help control weight gain and prevent obesity-related health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.
So, skip the packaged snacks and reach for fruit and a source of protein. Substituting fruit for refined carbohydrates and sugar items will stabilize your blood sugar and prevent spikes and crashes that affect your mental outlook and energy level. One of the smartest things you can do for your health is to change the way you eat and snack.
- Frequent Fruit Consumption Associated With Greater Mental Well-Being. Todaysdietitian.com. Published 2022. Accessed August 6, 2022. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/news/072122_news.shtml
- Szalay J. What Are Phytonutrients? livescience.com. Published October 21, 2015. Accessed August 6, 2022. https://www.livescience.com/52541-phytonutrients.html
- “Can Eating More Fruit Reduce Depression? | Psychology Today.” 26 Jul. 2022, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/helping-humanity-thrive/202207/can-eating-more-fruit-reduce-depression.
- “Could Eating Fruit More Often Keep Depression at Bay?.” 15 Jul. 2022, https://neurosciencenews.com/fruit-depression-21040/.
- Tuck NJ, Farrow CV, Thomas JM. Frequency of fruit consumption and savoury snacking predict psychological health; selective mediation via cognitive failures. British Journal of Nutrition. Published online May 26, 2022:1-10. doi:10.1017/s0007114522001660.
- Głąbska D, Guzek D, Groele B, Gutkowska K. Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mental Health in Adults: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2020 Jan 1;12(1):115. doi: 10.3390/nu12010115. PMID: 31906271; PMCID: PMC7019743.