New research from the University of Otago in New Zealand has shown that young people who eat more fruit and vegetables feel calmer, happier and more energetic in their daily life.

Researchers from the University’s Department of Psychology wanted to investigate the relationship between day-to-day emotions and food consumption. Their findings were published in the British Journal of Health Psychology.

The researchers recruited 281 young adults (with a mean age of 20 years) and asked them to complete an internet-based daily food diary for 21 days. They were also asked to state the number of servings eaten of vegetables (excluding juice), fruit (excluding juice and dried fruit), along with several categories of unhealthy foods like cookies, crisps, and cakes/muffins. On each of those days the subjects were asked to rate how they felt using nine positive and nine negative adjectives.

The results showed a clear and strong relationship between higher intakes of fruit and vegetables and a better mood. Plant foods are high in vitamins and minerals necessary for good mental health. In particular green leafy vegetables are rich in folate, which helps to reduce the risk of anxiety and depression. Junk food is typically high in sugar and damaged vegetable oil, which both raise inflammation in the body, and particularly the brain.

Most people underestimate how much the food they eat affects their emotional state and mental health. Many patients say to us that they eat cookies and candy because they feel depressed. Well it works the other way as well – you can feel depressed because you ate some cookies today or yesterday.

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