Diet: Too little fruit and vegetables promotes mental health problems

Diet: Too little fruit and vegetables promotes mental health problems

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Fruit and vegetable intake is associated with risk of anxiety disorders

New research from a longitudinal study on aging shows that low consumption of fruits and vegetables increases the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. A high percentage of body fat, gender, poverty, chronic pain and the relationship status could also be identified as further risk factors.

As part of a long-term study, researchers from the University of Toronto in Canada investigated the risk factors that increase the likelihood of an existing anxiety disorder. One of the strongest factors is the type of diet. People who eat little fruit and vegetables were 24 percent more likely to be affected by anxiety disorder. The results were recently presented in the Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

One in ten suffers from an anxiety disorder

"It is estimated that 10 percent of the world's population suffers from anxiety disorders," says study director Karen Davison. The study team analyzed data from the Canadian longitudinal study on aging, in which 26,991 men and women between the ages of 45 and 85 participated.

Fruit and vegetables three times a day seem to protect against fear

"Those who ate fewer than three sources of fruit and vegetables daily were at least 24 percent more likely to diagnose an anxiety disorder," says nutritionist Davison.

A high percentage of body fat further increases the risk

"This could partly explain the results associated with body composition measurements," added co-author Jose Mora-Almanza. Because for those whose total body fat percentage rose over 36 percent, the likelihood of an existing anxiety disorder increased by more than 70 percent.

Why does body fat increase the risk of anxiety?

"Increased body fat levels can be associated with greater inflammation," explains Davison. Other studies have suggested that some anxiety disorders are related to inflammation in the body.

Women are more likely to have anxiety disorders

Another influencing factor, according to the study, is gender. In the Canadian population, one in nine women has an anxiety disorder compared to one in fifteen men. "Our results are consistent with previous research, which also showed that women are more prone to anxiety disorders than men," added sociology professor Karen Kobayashi from the study team.

Singles more often affected by anxiety disorders

According to the study, the spread of anxiety disorders is much higher among long-term singles than among people who live in partnerships. 13.9 percent of permanent singles suffered from anxiety disorders, but only 7.8 percent of those living in partnerships have psychological anxiety problems.

Poverty promotes anxiety disorders

The researchers also found a link between income and the presence of an anxiety disorder. Around one in five respondents with a household income below $ 20,000 a year had an anxiety disorder. This cut is twice as high as that of richer people of the same age. "We are not surprised that the prevalence of anxiety disorders is so high among people in poverty," emphasizes Assistant Professor Hongmei Tong. The struggle to fund basic needs such as food and housing creates relentless stress and is inherently frightening.

Chronic diseases increase the risk of fear

The researchers also found that people with chronic pain or other underlying conditions are more likely to experience anxiety disorders. Those who suffered from chronic pain had anxiety disorders twice as often as those without pain. "Chronic pain and restrictive health make life very unpredictable and can create fear," said co-author Shen (Lamson) Lin. (vb)

You can find more information about anxiety in the articles "Anxiety (Anxiety Disorder)" and "Generalized Anxiety Disorder - Symptoms, Causes and Therapy".

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Karen M. Davison, Shen (Lamson) Lin, Hongmei Tong, including: Nutritional Factors, Physical Health and Immigrant Status Are Associated with Anxiety Disorders among Middle-Aged and Older Adults: Findings from Baseline Data of The Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA ); in: Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,
  • University of Toronto: Low fruit and vegetable intakes and higher body fat linked to anxiety disorders (published: February 27th, 2020),

Video: The surprisingly dramatic role of nutrition in mental health. Julia Rucklidge. TEDxChristchurch (July 2022).


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