By Dr Tim Crowe
Eating fruits and vegetables is good for your health in so many different ways. But did you know that eating more of these powerhouse foods has been linked to substantial increases in people’s happiness levels?
Fruits and vegetables have an abundance of health benefits and this has been well documented. In the search for perhaps a different angle to promote the health benefits of fruits and vegetables, researchers are now looking at their benefits on mental health.
What the science says
Using a large group of more than 12,000 randomly selected people, researchers tracked each person’s diet, health, happiness, life satisfaction, and well-being over 4 years.
So, what did they find? Happiness, life satisfaction, and well-being all went up for every extra daily serve of fruits and vegetables eaten. And this was after making allowance for people’s changing incomes and personal circumstances. The happiness health links reached a peak at eight servings of fruits and vegetables.
The research team took things one step further and compared the mental health improvements to what happens from life-changing situations. For someone going from eating no fruits and vegetables to eating eight serves a day, they could expect to experience an increase in life satisfaction equivalent to that seen when someone goes from unemployment to employment.
There are likely many reasons to explain a link between eating more fruits and vegetables and well-being. Higher levels of antioxidants are one possibility. Then there is the role of fiber in supporting a healthy population of gut bacteria. Gut fermentation products can act directly on the brain, potentially altering mood and behavior.
The correlation between diet and mental health is a rapidly growing research field. We can expect more research to come to light linking the benefits of plant-based foods with improved mental health. With an improvement in happiness levels, this will only reinforce the positive dietary change, making it easier to sustain the healthy eating habit. If just the simple act of eating healthier can make you happier, then who would not want to sign up for that?
Reference: Mujcic R et al. Evolution of well-being and happiness after increases in the consumption of fruit and vegetables. American Journal of Public Health 2016;106:1504-1510 https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/full/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303260