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Can you improve your mental well-being with diet?

by | Mar 11, 2019 | Articles

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Over the years, research has shown that eating fruits and vegetables has a positive effect on physical health (as opposed to eating processed or junk foods). A new study shows that consuming fruits and vegetables also has a positive affect on mental well-being. That shouldn’t be such a big surprise since all of our body is connected as one big organ system, but let’s look a little further. 

An earlier study by (Blanchflower et al. 2013), researchers found a link between fruit and vegetable consumption and psychological well-being. “Happiness and mental health rise in an approximately dose-response way with the number of daily portions of fruit and vegetables.” Apparently, the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the better you feel. Not only physically, but mentally too. 

It seems well-being tops out at about seven portions per day (Blanchflower et al. 2013) and it matters whether they are raw, cooked, or canned, with raw being more strongly associated with mental well-being (Brookie et al. 2018). Furthermore, another study showed that eating more fruits and vegetables created a stronger sense of well-being, but not the other way around (White et al. 2013). 

In addition to improving physical well-being and mental well-being, eating more fruits and vegetables was found to positively effect eudaimonic well-being – a sense of engagement, purpose, and meaning (Conner et al 2015). 

“Happiness and mental health rise in an approximately dose-response way with the number of daily portions of fruit and vegetables.”

A further study by Mujcic and Oswald (2016) found a positive and significantly relative impact on life satisfaction based on the number of fruit and vegetable portions consumed in one day. They also found no decrease in benefits from eating more that the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day as recommended by many developed countries like the US, UK, and Japan. In this case, you could say more isbetter. 

The measures of well-being seemed to hold true regardless of age, sexual orientation, sociodemographic factors, or marital status (whether one is actually married or not). However, the presence of a long-standing health condition can decrease life satisfaction by the equivalent of 5.3 less servings of fruits and vegetables consumed per day and increasing one serving of fruit or vegetable per day increases life satisfaction by the equivalent of having walked 10 minutes for 5.4 days extra per month. Frequency of consumption is important too, as “increasing the frequency of vegetable consumption from zero to 4-6 days per week generates approximately the same estimated increase in life satisfaction as being married, whereas… reducing consumption from 4-6 days per week to never generates approximately the same estimated loss in life satisfaction as being widowed (Ocean et al 2019).”

Bottom line, eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and above all, be consistent!

Ocean N, Howley P, Ensor J. Lettuce be happy: A longitudinal UK study on the relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and well-being. Soc Sci Med. 2019;222:335-345.


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