- According to a new study published in the journal Environmental Research and Public Health, not getting enough fruits and vegetables in your everyday diet can increase your risk of anxiety disorders.
- The American Heart Association recommends getting 4 to 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
When it comes to health benefits, it’s tough to beat what the produce section of the grocery store can offer. Previous studies have linked higher fruit and vegetable consumption to a lower cancer and diabetes risk, improved vision, and better cardiovascular health. Now, a new study published in the journal Environmental Research and Public Health adds one more advantage to the list: potentially lower anxiety levels.
Using data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, researchers looked at nearly 27,000 participants, assessing their rate of anxiety disorders and comparing that to income, gender, relationship status, chronic pain prevalence, smoking, alcohol use, fruit and vegetable intake, and even pastry consumption.
They found that even after accounting for many social, economic, health, and nutrition-related factors, there was a significant relationship between a low daily intake of fruits and vegetables and anxiety disorder diagnoses.
Those who consumed fewer than three sources of fruit and veggies a day had a 24 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with anxiety, lead study author Karen Davison, Ph.D., a health science professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Canada, told Runner’s World.
“It’s well established that fruit and vegetable intakes are associated with physical health, and this study adds to increasing evidence that shows there are also links with mental health,” she said.
This may also partly explain findings associated with body composition measure, she added. As body fat levels increased beyond 36 percent, the likelihood of anxiety disorder rose by more than 70 percent.
It’s not fully known exactly why focusing on an “eat the rainbow” strategy might have such profound mental health effects, Davison said, but the specific nutrients that are abundant in fruits and vegetables—like carotenoids, potassium, fiber, vitamins, and polyphenols—have all been associated with good mental health.
“There may also be a reverse mechanism at play here, where lower levels of anxiety may promote a better diet,” she said.
According to the American Heart Association, you should get four to five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. A few examples of one serving of fruit? One medium-sized fruit; half a cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit; or a quarter-cup of dried fruit. One serving of vegetables means one cup of raw, leafy veggies, or half a cup of fresh, frozen, or canned veggies.
In addition to boosting consumption of fruits and vegetables, another well-researched strategy for lowering anxiety is complementing your diet with activity.
Numerous studies have linked exercise and reduced levels of anxiety and depression, both for those with specific chronic illnesses and those who suffer from anxiety in general. For example, a 2019 study in Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences found that the more physical activity participants got, the less anxious they felt.
A particularly large study, published in 2018 in The Lancet, involved 1.2 million people in the U.S, also found that those who exercised more had fewer days of poor mental health than those who didn’t. Those researchers concluded that physical exercise was “significantly and meaningfully associated” with better mental health.
The takeaway may be that in the presence of anxiety, the tried-and-true strategies for better health—eat more plants, get more activity—can benefit both your body and your brain.