Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

Raw fruit and vegetables provide better mental health outcomes: Otago research

Clocktower clock

Monday, 16 April 2018 2:31pm

Kate Brookie image
Lead author Kate Brookie

Seeking the feel good factor? Go natural.

That is the simple message from University of Otago researchers who have discovered raw fruit and vegetables may be better for your mental health than cooked, canned and processed fruit and vegetables.

Lead author Psychology PhD student Kate Brookie, says public health campaigns have historically focused on aspects of quantity for the consumption of fruit and vegetables (such as 5+ a day).

However, the study, conducted by Ms Brookie and co-authors Psychology Senior Lecturer Dr Tamlin Conner and postgraduate honours student Georgia Best, just published in Frontiers in Psychology, found that for mental health in particular, it may also be important to consider the way in which produce was prepared and consumed.

“Our research has highlighted that the consumption of fruit and vegetables in their ‘unmodified’ state is more strongly associated with better mental health compared to cooked/canned/processed fruit and vegetables,” Ms Brookie says.

Dr Conner believes this could be because the cooking and processing of fruit and vegetables has the potential to diminish nutrient levels.

“This likely limits the delivery of nutrients that are essential for optimal emotional functioning,” she says.

For the study, more than 400 young adults from New Zealand and the United States aged 18 to 25 were surveyed. This age group was chosen as young adults typically have the lowest fruit and vegetable consumption of all age groups and are at high risk for mental health disorders.

The group’s typical consumption of raw versus cooked and processed fruits and vegetables were assessed, alongside their negative and positive mental health, and lifestyle and demographic variables that could affect the association between fruit and vegetable intake and mental health (such as exercise, sleep, unhealthy diet, chronic health conditions, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and gender).

“Controlling for the covariates, raw fruit and vegetable consumption predicted lower levels of mental illness symptomology, such as depression, and improved levels of psychological well-being including positive mood, life satisfaction and flourishing. These mental health benefits were significantly reduced for cooked, canned, and processed fruits and vegetables.

“This research is increasingly vital as lifestyle approaches such as dietary change may provide an accessible, safe, and adjuvant approach to improving mental health,” Dr Conner says.

* The top 10 raw foods related to better mental health were: carrots, bananas, apples, dark leafy greens such as spinach, grapefruit, lettuce, citrus fruits, fresh berries, cucumber, and kiwifruit.

Publication details:

Intake of raw fruits and vegetables is associated with better mental health than intake of processed fruits and vegetables. Kate L. Brookie, Georgia I. Best, and Tamlin S. Conner

For more information, contact:

Dr Tamlin Conner
Department of Psychology
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 7624
Email tconner@psy.otago.ac.nz

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

Electronic addresses (including email accounts, instant messaging services, or telephone accounts) published on this page are for the sole purpose of contact with the individuals concerned, in their capacity as officers, employees or students of the University of Otago, or their respective organisation. Publication of any such electronic address is not to be taken as consent to receive unsolicited commercial electronic messages by the address holder.