( The Packer staff )

Fresh is best.

That can be the only conclusion from research published by Frontiers in Psychology headlined “Intake of Raw Fruits and Vegetables Is Associated With Better Mental Health Than Intake of Processed Fruits and Vegetables.”

The research authors, Kate Brookie, Georgia Best and Tamlin Conner from the University of Otago in New Zealand investigated the differential associations between intake of raw fruits and vegetables, compared to processed. 

The researchers conducted an online survey with 422 young adults age 18-25 (two-thirds of them female) living in New Zealand and the U.S. that assessed typical consumption of raw versus cooked/canned/processed fruits and vegetables; negative and positive mental health (depressive symptoms, anxiety, negative mood, positive mood, life satisfaction and flourishing); and covariates (including socio-economic status, body mass index, sleep, physical activity, smoking and alcohol use).

Controlling for covariates, the study said raw fruit and vegetable intake “predicted reduced depressive symptoms and higher positive mood, life satisfaction and flourishing.” 

On the other hand, processed fruit and vegetable intake only predicted higher positive mood. The top 10 raw foods related to better mental health were carrots, bananas, apples, dark leafy greens like spinach, grapefruit, lettuce, citrus fruits, fresh berries, cucumber and kiwifruit, according to the study.

I love the simplicity of the research, as the conclusion from the abstract reads: “Raw fruit and vegetable intake, but not processed fruit and vegetable intake, significantly predicted higher mental health outcomes when controlling for the covariates. Applications include recommending the consumption of raw fruits and vegetables to maximize mental health benefits.”

Boom for fresh produce marketers! Drop the mic and walk off the stage, right?

Well, perhaps not. I received a fairly quick response to the above blog post touting fresh versus processed.

John Sauve, with the Portland, Maine-based Food and Wellness Group/The Colors of Health strongly disagreed what he felt was a too-eager conclusion. He wrote: 

“I don’t think you’re on the right track here, Tom ... for winning the total daily per-capita consumption battle. It’s one thing to report the research and the findings. It’s another thing to then try and use the research to embellish the fresh sector of the produce industry versus the other pieces of the fruits and veggies picture. Some players in the other pieces of the picture — frozen, canned, dried, juice — could ‘easily’ discover and uncover the many perceived negative and inferior performance aspects of fresh versus ‘all other.’ As an example, food waste was apparently an energizing topic at the PBH conference. How’s fresh doing on that dimension versus ‘all others’ combined?”

Sauve has a point there, and he also reminded me that many foodborne illness outbreaks are more often associated with fresh produce rather than frozen or canned forms of produce.

The challenge of doubling consumption, he continued, will take a total team effort and all forms of fruits and vegetables.

I’ll grant that all forms may be needed to double consumption, but the inherent benefits and appeal of fresh produce should not be undersold by industry marketers.

Tom Karst is The Packer’s national editor. E-mail him at [email protected].