Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

The Top 10 (Raw) Foods to Improve Mental Health

New research adds credibility to the "raw foodism" movement.

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Haters of cooked peas and carrots rejoice: It may be time to update Mom's wisdom about always eating your fruits and veggies.

According to new research published in the April issue of Frontiers in Psychology, how you prepare your fruits and vegetables can matter a great deal to your mental health.

Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand found that people who eat more raw fruits and vegetables experience less depressive symptoms, a higher positive mood, and greater life satisfaction. The key word here is raw; the researchers found that people who eat more processed fruits and vegetables (cooked or canned) than is typical showed some improvement in positive mood, but did not experience less depression or greater life satisfaction.

Here's how they arrived at this conclusion. First, they surveyed 422 adults living in the United States and New Zealand. The researchers asked participants to assess their consumption of raw and processed fruits and vegetables, as well as to fill out scales that measured their positive and negative mental health. They also asked participants to report lifestyle and demographic information such as socio-economic status, sleep, physical activity, smoking, body mass index, and alcohol use.

Using advanced statistical models that factored out lifestyle and demographic differences between respondents, the researchers were able to isolate the effect of fruit and vegetable consumption on mental health. Interestingly, they found that "raw fruit and vegetable intake (FVI) predicted reduced depressive symptoms and higher positive mood, life satisfaction, and flourishing" while "processed FVI only predicted higher positive mood."

So, the takeaway is not that eating cooked or canned fruits and vegetables will harm you, it just won't help your mental health as much as eating their raw counterparts.

The researchers also looked at the specific raw foods that were most associated with mental well-being. The top 10 raw foods related to better mental health were:

  1. Carrots
  2. Bananas
  3. Apples
  4. Dark leafy greens like spinach
  5. Grapefruit
  6. Lettuce
  7. Citrus fruits
  8. Fresh berries
  9. Cucumber
  10. Kiwifruit

Food for thought as you plan your next grocery basket.

Follow Dr. Travers on Facebook and Twitter.


Brookie, K. L., Best, G. I., & Conner, T. S. (2018). Intake of raw fruits and vegetables is associated with better mental health than intake of processed fruits and vegetables. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 487.