Brain and Body

Eating Up to 8 Daily Servings of Fruits and Veggies Can Boost Happiness, Study Suggests

July 12, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Young girl eating watermelon on a summer day
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“An increase in life satisfaction equivalent to moving from unemployment to employment.”

Plenty of research has looked into the benefits of a fruit-and-veggie-rich diet, but most studies focus on the way physical health risks, like cancer and heart attacks, are influenced by a higher fruit and veggie intake.

Researchers at the University of Warwick in England decided to investigate how fruits and vegetables influence an individual’s mental well-being, finding that eating more fruits and veggies can substantially increase a person’s happiness levels over time.

They say their study is “one of the first major scientific attempts to explore psychological well-being beyond the traditional finding that fruit and vegetables can reduce risk of cancer and heart attacks,” according to the press release.

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The researchers followed 12,385 people who were selected and random, and the participants were asked to keep food diaries and also had their psychological well-being measured. According to the findings, which are published in the American Journal of Public Health, there were significant psychological benefits of a fruit-and-veggie-rich diet within just two years.

According to the researchers, study participants who switched their diets from eating almost no fruits and vegetables to eight portions a day experienced an increase in life satisfaction equivalent to the happiness of going from unemployed to landing a job.

Interestingly, the boosts in happiness increased incrementally for each extra portion of fruit and vegetables eaten per day, for up to eight portions. Plus, the authors adjusted for the effects of changes in life satisfaction based on other life events, like changes in income or personal circumstances.

"Eating fruit and vegetables apparently boosts our happiness far more quickly than it improves human health,” one of the researchers, Professor Andrew Oswald, said in a press release.

“People's motivation to eat healthy food is weakened by the fact that physical-health benefits, such as protecting against cancer, accrue decades later. However, well-being improvements from increased consumption of fruit and vegetables are closer to immediate."

The scientists think that the psychological boost may have something to do with antioxidants — research has suggested a link between optimism and carotenoids (the plant “chemicals” responsible for the bright hues in many fruits and vegetables) in the blood. However, further research is needed to confirm.

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