Fruits and vegetables are often touted for cancer prevention, blood pressure reduction and lowering the risk of obesity. There are plenty of studies to support eating more produce. Now new research also indicates that these colorful gems may improve your mood.
Dr. Neel Ocean and Dr. Peter Howley from the University of Leeds and Dr. Jonathan Ensor from the University of York performed this research. The three evaluated data from over 40,000 people in the United Kingdom (UK) and discovered that increased intake of fruit and vegetables was linked to changes in mental health.
In this study, confounding factors that may impact psychological well-being were controlled for, including age, education, income, marital status, job status, lifestyle, and health in addition to intake of other foods like bread and dairy products. The researchers tracked the same individuals over time.
Data from the study showed a positive association between the amount of fruit and vegetables eaten and the subject’s self-reported mental health. What the researchers found was that consuming just one extra serving of fruit and vegetables daily could have the same effect on mental health as walking 8 extra days per month (for a minimum of 10 minutes each time). The research adds to work previously done in Australia and New Zealand.
The authors caution that more work is needed in this area, and the results indicate that those who consume more produce indicate a higher level of psychological well-being and satisfaction with life than those who consume less. Dr Howley noted, "There appears to be accumulating evidence for the psychological benefits of fruits and vegetables. Despite this, the data show that the vast majority of people in the UK still consume less than their five-a-day."
Advising better nutritional habits are not only beneficial to physical health in the long run but may also enhance mental health in the short term. The study was part of a bigger project between the universities in the UK known as “IKnowFood.” In addition to studying consumer behavior and well-being, IKnowFood is also examining how farmers in the UK and businesses across the world food supply chain can remain strong in the face of growing market uncertainty, regulation, and the natural environment.
Dietitians know the benefits of fruits and vegetables and can be the voice of health for their clients. Here are a few simple tips to boost fruit and veggie intake:
- Keep a bag of fresh spinach in the refrigerator and add a handful to eggs, salads, and leftovers.
- Have a serving of fruit after each meal as “dessert.” Add cinnamon to pears or apples to make them a wee bit fancy.
- Have a variety of frozen vegetables on hand to save time on meal prep.
- Add frozen berries to oatmeal, yogurt, and smoothies. They add color, flavor, and antioxidants to simple foods.
- Toss garlic, onions, celery, peppers, and other vegetables into whole grains. They make side dishes pop with color and flavor.
By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
- Neel Ocean, Peter Howley, Jonathan Ensor. Lettuce be happy: A longitudinal UK study on the relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and well-being. Social Science & Medicine, 2019; DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.12.017
Printable PDF: Fruits and Veggies for a Better Mood
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.