Feeling extra stressed lately? Or perhaps it’s getting out of bed in the morning that has become a bit more challenging than usual. While ditching the sugary stuff is always a good idea for a physical and mental boost, there’s one sweet food you won’t want to skip out on come snack time – fruit. In fact, new research has found that whole fruit may offer a greater mental boost than its savoury competitors. Here’s why.
As it turns out, the foods we put on our plates have major sway over the stability of our mental health – and while the stress-inducing effects of added sugars on our mental health have been well documented – this new study shows that fruit is an exceptional contender among other snack foods for its mood-boosting abilities. The research, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, showed that those who enjoyed a healthy dose of whole fruit in their diet had fewer symptoms of depression, while those who prioritised snacks of the savoury variety were more likely to experience anxiety. Researchers believe this may come down to the nutritional density of fruit when compared to savoury snacks like crackers, crisps and potato chips.
The study also suggested that the frequency of fruit consumption may be more valuable than the amounts – so eating a little bit of fruit with a meal and as a snack a few times a day may be more beneficial than chowing down on a big bowl of fruit once a day. So, as we always say, moderation is key! But it’s important that you’re eating whole fruit – let’s take a dive into why this matters.
Not all fruit products are made alike
Processed fruit derivatives might seem like an attractive snack, but the reality is that they’re often stripped of fibre and other nutrients, or loaded with excess sugars, making them the anti-mood boosters. Let’s take a look at a couple of the popular processed fruit products:
Juice: Juice is a fruit-derived drink which is a concerningly common brekkie accompaniment, though it’s not the health food we’ve been led to believe it is. This is because of the production process which strips the fruit of its antioxidants and fibre content. This leaves you with a high-sugar drink with none of the benefits that come with whole fruit – plus, the concentration of fructose in juice is through the roof when compared to its whole counterpart. The problem with the fructose content is the effect it has on our liver – because fructose cannot be broken down further by the body, the liver is forced to take on the burden of metabolising it. Now, if we’re consuming it along with fibre, this will slow down the absorption of the sugars, but fruit juice lacks this component.
So, when we drink too much juice too often – and even a glass can be too much – we put our liver under strain and cause the development of visceral fat. This is the bad kind of fat which wraps around the abdominal organs and leads to obesity, diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The former – obesity – is one of the major concerns around fruit juice consumption, with studies drawing a direct link between fructose consumption and the condition. With another study showing we’re throwing back over 4 times the daily limit, it’s little surprise obesity rates have tripled since 1975. But that’s not the only risk – excess sugar intake can cause insulin resistance and put us at risk for type 2 diabetes. This condition affects 8.5% of adults around the globe and is responsible for millions of deaths every year. So, stick to the whole stuff – fibre is one of the key weapons against fructose and weight gain, with studies showing it reduces our hunger frequency and sugar cravings.
Dried fruit: While it’s not all bad news with dried fruit, it’s also not the wholesome snack advertisers describe it as. With some containing more than triple the amount of sugar as whole fruit, this stuff can do a number on your blood sugar levels. Dried dates, for instance, pack a 62 glycaemic index rating, while dried figs come in at 61, and in general, dried fruits are made up of around 38 to 66% sugar. On the plus side, dried fruit has a lot more fibre than juice, but consuming these fruit derivatives on the regular can still have the opposite effect you want for optimal mental health – the sugar crash that follows a dried fruit snacking session can include the following:
- Mood swings
In the long term, anxiety and depression may develop. Studies have shown rates of depression are greater in those who eat a high-sugar diet, while another study shows higher rates of anxiety among those with this same highly-processed, high-fructose diet. That’s why it’s important to choose whole, fresh fruit if you’re looking for that mental – and physical – boost.
Balanced fruit snack ideas
If you’re keen to get the most out of your fruit, pair it with some healthy fats, proteins and calcium-rich foods. These will not only provide mental benefits, but physical ones too – they’ll help you reduce your sugar cravings and keep you fuller for longer.
- Apple slices with peanut butter
- Cheddar cheese and strawberries
- Frozen blueberries dipped in Greek yoghurt
- Waldorf salad
- Banana and oatmeal
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