After switching to raw food diet in 2005, that noise pretty much summed up my mood for months. I felt great, and because I’d felt horrible for so long, the contrast was huge.
Granted, I’m a bit of an oddity in that I previously suffered from a serious intestinal disease called colitis that disappeared after a few months of eating raw.
But even beyond the disappearance of my colitis symptoms and other health problems, I just felt buzzed with happiness and energy.
I’m hardly alone. Many people who try raw food diets – or other diets that use raw fruits and veggies as the main calorie source – report feeling inexplicably happier.
But why? Most lack the horrible health concerns I was saddled with at the outset, so what change catalyzed their happiness?
In this article we’re going to dive into a few of the likely answers to that question.
The Power Of What You Don’t Eat
People eating raw food diets are interesting to study because they cut whole categories of food average people consume right out of their diet.
If it’s not a raw fruit, a raw veggie, or a raw nut or seed, most raw foodists won’t touch it.
Hundreds of individual foods and spices regularly consumed around the world never enter their systems. Some of these exclusions may lead to significant differences in happiness levels.
Grains And Depression
Where do you get your carbohydrates from? For most people, the answer will involve some grain products, many of which contain gluten.
The gluten found in grains has been a controversial topic during the last 30 years or so, with a limited body of research and sensational media reports demonizing it as a cause of intestinal distress and other health problems.
Currently, however, the best research available has failed to link gluten to intestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome and bloating, except for the small part of the population with celiac disease1 .
However gluten affects our intestins, though, it may have a bigger impact on our mood. In one study, patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome who did not have celiac disease were told by researchers that lab tests ruled out the possibility that their intestinal issues were caused by gluten2.
But the patients – who had avoided gluten before the study – decided to continue doing so despite the assurance of the researchers because they said that they just felt better.
So the researchers set out to find out if gluten might have an impact on mood, and it turns out that it does.
Twenty two people with irritable bowel syndrome (but no celiac disease) were put on a double-blind crossover trial in which they rotated between three diets, with a three-day gluten-free break in between each3. After an initial gluten-free period, they were given gluten free meals supplemented with one of the following: whey (derived from dairy), gluten, or nothing (the placebo).
Their rate of depression went from what the researchers described as, “neutral depressive,” for the placebo meals to “mild depressive,” for the gluten-containing meals, leading them to surmise that, “Such findings might explain why patients with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity feel better on a gluten-free diet despite the continuation of gastrointestinal symptoms.”
Given that most people on raw food diets avoid all grain products, unlike the vast majority of the population, part of their happiness advantage may stem from this absence.
Meat, Eggs, And Happiness
When researchers looked at members of the Seventh-day Adventist church, which suggests but does not demand a vegan diet, they found that those who eschewed meat were far happier than those that didn’t4.
That’s interesting, but maybe happy people are just more likely to go vegetarian. The really interesting question is if giving up various animal products will lead omnivores to feel happier.
So researchers enrolled 39 omnivores and divided them up into three diet groups to see what would happen56. The first (control) didn’t change their diet. The second ate only one type of meat: fish; they also continued to eat eggs and dairy. The third group ate no meat or eggs, but did eat dairy.
The difference was profound. The fish eaters were not statistically happier than the omnivores, but the vegetarians got a lot happier, leading the researchers to write that “…consuming a diet high in meat, fish, and poultry may negatively impact mental state”.
Researchers believe that the high levels of arachidonic acid in animal products may be the contributing factor.
The Power Of What You Do Eat
Whatever you think of a raw diet, you have to admit that most iterations will provide more servings of fruits and leafy greens than almost any other dietary style out there, and this difference can be profound.
The average American is eating a pretty pathetic diet, with only 0.9% of adolescents, 2.2% of adult men, and 3.5% of adult women meeting their recommended servings of fruits and vegetables per day. This is even sadder because the recommendations are already pretty low, only asking an adult to eat four servings of fruit and 5.8 servings of vegetables per day7.
But we have good evidence that a far greater intake will make you happier.
For instance, when 281 young adults logged their fruit & veggie consumption as well as their mood states for 21 consecutive days, researchers found that on days when they ate at least 7-8 servings of fruit or vegetables, “they reported feeling calmer, happier and more energetic than they normally do. They also felt more positive the next day.8.”
However, since we don’t have much data on people eating the far larger intakes of fruit and vegetables we see among raw foodists, we don’t know if eating more will further add to happiness. In my experience, however, the answer seems to be yes.
I ate a cooked vegan containing more than the reccomended intake of produce for some years before going totally raw, and my mood still improved with the change. That doesn’t mean that another factor could be the cause, but it would be a nice thing to study.
Giving A Raw Food Diet A Shot
If you want to see if a raw food diet will give you the kind of happiness boost so many describe, you can get started with Raw Food Weight Loss & Vitality.
A, Carroccio. Et al. Non-celiac wheat sensitivity diagnosed by double-blind placebo-controlled challenge: Exploring a new clinical entity. Am. J. Gastroenterol. 2012 107(12):1898 – 906 – quiz – 1907.↩
Biesiekierski J, Peters S, Newnham E, Rosella O, Muir J, Gibson P. No effects of gluten in patients with self-reported non-celiac gluten sensitivity following dietary reduction of low-fermentable, poorly-absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates. Gastroenterology 2013; 145: 320–8.↩
S L Peters, J R Biesiekierski, G W Yelland, J G Muir, P R Gibson. Randomised clinical trial: Gluten may cause depression in subjects with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity – an exploratory clinical study. Aliment. Pharmacol. Ther. 2014 39(10):1104 – 1112.↩
Beezhold, Bonnie. Et al. Vegetarian diets are associated with healthy mood states: a cross-sectional study in Seventh Day Adventist adults. Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:26 doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-26↩
Beezhold BL, Johnston CS, Daigle DR. Preliminary evidence that vegetarian diet improves mood. American Public Health Association annual conference, November 7-11, 2009. Philadelphia, PA.↩
Beezhold, BL. Et al. Restriction of meat, fish, and poultry in omnivores improves mood: A pilot randomized controlled trial. Nutr J. 2012; 11: 9.↩
Kimmons, Joel. Et al. “Fruit and Vegetable Intake Among Adolescents and Adults in the United States: Percentage Meeting Individualized Recommendations.” Medscape Journal of Medicine 2009; 11(1).↩
White, Ba. Et al. Many Apples A Day Ke Many apples a day keep the blues away–daily experiences of negative and positive affect and food consumption in young adults. Br J Health Psychol. 2013 Nov;18(4):782-98.↩