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I want to focus on something that can elevate your mood: enjoying vegetables and fruits.

This was the headline that caught my attention: “Fruits, vegetables linked to better mental health in children of all ages, study finds.”

That headline was based on the study,“Cross-sectional associations of schoolchildren’s fruit and vegetable consumption, and meal choices, with their mental well-being: a cross-sectional study” (Hayhoe R, Rechel B, Clark AB, et al., BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, 2021).

The story read: ”Teens who eat lots of fruits and vegetables are likely to enjoy better mental health. That’s the key takeaway from a new study that also tied a nutritious breakfast and lunch to emotional well-being in kids of all ages.”

The study comes as “poor mental health is a growing concern for all young people because problems often persist into adulthood, leading to underachievement and a poorer quality of life,” according to the study’s authors.

And to continue quoting from the BMJ: “... Nutrition is important for childhood growth and development, but little research has investigated nutrition in relation to mental well-being, therefore, the relationship between nutrition and well-being in children of school age is not known.”

What does this study add? In the research, nutritional intake was associated with mental well-being scores in both primary- and secondary-school children. Higher fruit and vegetable consumption was significantly positively associated with better mental well-being in secondary pupils. Also, the type of breakfast and lunch consumed, by both primary and secondary pupils, was significantly associated with well-being.

And, the difference in mental well-being between children who consumed the most fruits and vegetables, compared with the lowest, was of a similar scale to those children experiencing daily, or almost daily, arguing or violence at home.

“The associations found between nutrition and mental well-being in our study mean that strategies to improve nutrition in schoolchildren need to be investigated and implemented,” the authors wrote.

As soon as I read that article, I went back into my file on mood and food choices that we examined in the book “What to Eat When.”

Turns out, food actually plays a big role in triggering – and sustaining – your moods, both happy and blue. An emerging field of research, nutritional psychiatry, is uncovering strong connections between what you eat and your state of mind. It’s based on the fact that your gut micobiome depends on a healthy mix of phytochemicals and nutrients to appropriately produce mood-regulating neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine.

According to a study in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, “in recent years, it has become clear that the gut microbiome is in communication with the brain … (and) that the gut microbiome plays a shaping role in a variety of psychiatric disorders, including major depressive disorder.”

Another seven-year study found participants who increased their consumption of fruits and veggies rated themselves much happier than those who didn’t. And, the “SMILES” trial found almost 33% of participants with diagnosed depression who switched to eating a plant-based diet reported their depression was gone.

Some of the best mood-enhancing foods are beans and lentils; salmon (canned and fresh), herring, anchovies and sardines; and frozen and fresh produce. Jim Perko, executive chef and culinary medicine master at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, has shown me how to make these foods, especially vegetables, tasty and fun even for kids.

So ditch disease-promoting, brain-dulling added sugars, added syrups, red meats and ultra-processed foods. Raise your spirits with good-mood foods.


Dr. Michael Roizen writes about wellness for the Cleveland and Columbus Jewish News. He is emeritus chief wellness officer of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.

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