We’ve all heard it — from our mothers, from our friends, from our doctors and dietitians — a healthy diet needs lots of fruits and vegetables. Here’s a just-released study to back it up.

The new study, released this week in the BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health journal, found teens who eat lots of fruits and vegetables are likely to enjoy better mental health.

And while we’re talking about foods that can help the emotional well-being of kids of all ages, adding a nutritious breakfast and lunch is a great idea, too, according to a news release on the study.

For the record, it’s a good assumption that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will help adults enjoy better mental health as well.

There’s even a fairly new Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet that has been shown to help reduce the risk of dementia. The MIND diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables.

“This study provides the first insights into how fruit and vegetable intake affects children’s mental health and contributes to the emerging evidence around ‘food and mood,’” said Sumantra Ray, executive director of the Need For Nutrition Education/Innovation Programme (NNEdPro) Global Centre for Nutrition and Health in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Poor mental health is a growing concern for all young people. Associated problems often persist into adulthood, leading to underachievement and poorer quality of life, according to the study authors.

For the study, researchers at the University of East Anglia collected data on more than 10,800 U.K. students who participated in a 2017 survey focused on well-being.

The survey found that:

» About 25% of secondary school students and 29% of primary schoolers ate the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, while 10% and 9%, respectively, ate none.

» Around 21% of older students and 12% of younger kids had a nonenergy drink or nothing at all for breakfast, and about 12% of secondary schoolers skipped lunch.

» Higher amounts of fruit and vegetables were significantly tied with better mental health scores — the higher the intake, the higher the score.

» Eating a full breakfast, and not just a snack, breakfast bar or energy drink, was also tied to better mental well-being. Having just an energy drink for breakfast was linked to lower mental health scores.

» Skipping lunch was associated with lower mental health scores than was bringing a lunch from home.

» Younger kids who had a snack or nonenergy drink to start the day also had lower mental health scores, as did those who skipped breakfast.


Q: Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? If I’m not hungry, is it OK to skip it?

A: Some people just don’t feel hungry when they wake up, or they don’t have time to sit down and eat. However, it’s a good idea to eat something, even if it’s small, to help keep your blood sugar from crashing and to stimulate your metabolism. Even a light breakfast can prepare you for the day.

Research shows that skipping breakfast is associated with an increase in total cholesterol levels and a decrease in diet quality. The best breakfasts provide a balance of fiber, protein and healthy fats. Lighter options include an apple with peanut butter; plain Greek yogurt with low-sugar, low-fat granola; and oatmeal.

Apple Oatmeal Muffins

Breakfast doesn’t have to be bacon and eggs. Here’s a make-ahead, quick breakfast that includes protein, fiber and fall’s best flavors. These muffins, adapted from Good Housekeeping magazine, are a great substitute for a bowl of oatmeal.


» 2½ cups old-fashioned oats, divided

» ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

» ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

» ½ teaspoon baking powder

» ½ teaspoon kosher salt

» 1 cup pecans, roughly chopped, divided

» ¼ cup olive oil

» ⅓ cup honey, warmed

» 2 large eggs

» 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

» ¾ cup unsweetened almond milk (or skim milk)

» 2 Granny Smith apples, finely diced (2 cups total)


Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with liners and lightly coat with cooking spray. In food processor, pulse 1 cup oats until very finely ground (to resemble coarsely milled flour) and place in a large bowl. Whisk in nutmeg, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Stir in half of the pecans.

In medium bowl, whisk together oil and honey, then whisk in eggs, vanilla and milk. Add egg mixture to oat mixture and mix to combine. Fold in apples and remaining 1½ cup oats. Divide batter among muffin pan cups (about ⅓ cup in each) and top with remaining pecans.

Bake until tops no longer look shiny, 20 to 25 minutes.


Servings: 12

Per muffin: 225 calories; 4 grams protein; 24 grams carbohydrate; 13.5 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated); 3 grams fiber; 125 milligrams sodium

— Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois. Contact her at charfarg@aol.com, or follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd, or click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois, and the current president of the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Contact her at charfarg@aol.com, and follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd. The opinions expressed are her own.