Fruits and vegetables have numerous health benefits. In Australia, however, just six percent of people eat the recommended amount of vegetables each day and only half get the recommended serving of fruit. In the search for a different angle to promote the health benefits of fruits and vegetables, researchers are looking at their link to psychological health.
Previous research has found some interesting associations between fruit and vegetable consumption and improved psychological health, but no large-scale follow-up studies have been conducted to substantiate this link.
Over 12,000 people in Australia were involved in this study. Researchers analysed their diet, health, happiness, life satisfaction measures and wellbeing over three years. After allowing for people’s changing incomes and personal circumstances, the researchers found that happiness, life satisfaction and wellbeing all increased for each extra daily portion of fruits and vegetables consumed.
This association reached a peak at eight servings of fruits and vegetables per day. The improvements in mental health were seen within 24 months of increasing the amount eaten.
From the results, it was estimated that someone going from eating no fruits and vegetables to eating eight portions a day could experience an increase in life satisfaction equivalent to moving from unemployment to employment.
To add to the findings, the researchers also looked at the effect of a proactive fruit and vegetable consumption campaign on dietary habits. Here they found a link between the intensity of the campaign, its outcomes in people eating more fruit and veg, and positive mental health benefits.
A person’s motivation to eat healthy food is minimised by the fact that many health benefits, such as reducing the risk of cancer, take decades to reap a benefit. On that time-scale, the mental health benefits linked to eating more fruits and vegetables are closer to immediate.
There are a number of reasons to explain a possible association between eating more fruits and vegetables and wellbeing. These include the benefits of antioxidants and the role of fibre in supporting a good gut bacteria population (which can indirectly act upon the brain).
As more research linking the benefits of plant-based foods with improved mental health comes to light, future health campaigns may have a new angle to focus on with the more immediate health benefits, rather than the less motivating long-term ones.