Eat More Plant Foods for Better Mental Health – Sharon Palmer, The Plant Powered Dietitian

A recent study found that people who regularly consumed plant foods, like fruits and vegetables, were less likely to experience the negative mental health symptoms associated with depression, stress, and anxiety. Learn more about dietary patterns and the potential psychological effects they can have in this research update.

Sometimes the general stress we experience from interacting with the world around us feels overwhelming. But what if we could help alleviate some of our stress just by making different dietary choices? In a recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, it was found that nutritional benefits associated with fruits and vegetables also had positive effects on mental health. 

The kale in this Mandarin Quinoa and Kale Bowl is a dark-green vegetable which is associated with reducing the symptoms of depression.

The participants in this online study were 428 healthy men and women between 18-60 years old. During the study, participants completed questionnaires about their dietary habits and mental health. The questionnaire also included questions about the general health, weekly alcohol intake, exercise habits, and smoking status of participants. In the study, participants who consumed nutrient-rich, whole plant-foods reported having positive psychological health. Meanwhile, participants who ate nutrient-poor foods, such as highly processed snack foods, reported experiences of negative psychological health in the form of anxiety, depression, and stress.

Frequent consumption of fruit, like the red dragon fruit in this Peach of a Zucchini Carrot Smoothie as shown to be a positive predictor of psychological wellbeing.

We know that diet can affect mental health, but research has yet to fully reveal the relationship between mental health and poor dietary patterns. However, researchers believe that diets high in energy (calories) but low in micronutrients, antioxidants, and fiber can reduce optimal brain function, which can negatively affect psychological health and increase cognitive dysfunction. So, eat more fruits, veggies, whole grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices and feel happier! 

Include a wide array of colorful vegetables in your diet to increase the diversity and amount of phytochemicals—rich in antioxidant activity—for better mental health.

In a prospective study, it was found that snack foods containing trans-unsaturated fatty acids were associated with an increased risk of depression for participants 8-10 years after the initial study. This information, combined with the current study results, shows that psychological health can be positively influenced by nutrient-rich plant foods or negatively influenced by nutrient-poor foods. This is powerful information! What we eat matters, now and in the future. If we feed our bodies the nutrients it needs to survive and excel, then our physical and mental health can improve greatly. On the other hand, if we neglect our nutritional needs, the consequences can negatively affect our quality of life. 

For other plant-based research studies, check out the latest:

Climate Change Leads to Poor Diets for Children
Plant-Based Diets Help Fight Stroke
What Diet is the Worst for the Environment?
Plant-Based Diets and COVID-19

Main Image: Red Quinoa Berry Breakfast Bowl by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN


  1. Sánchez-Villegas, A, Verberne, L, De Irala, J, et al. (2011) Dietary fat intake and the risk of depression: the SUN Project. Plos One 26, 162–168.
  2. Tuck, N., Farrow, C., & Thomas, J. (2022). Frequency of fruit consumption and savoury snacking predict psychological health; selective mediation via cognitive failures. British Journal of Nutrition, 1-10. doi:10.1017/S0007114522001660

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