Eat your veg for happiness-sake
If the bountiful physical health benefits aren’t enough to encourage you to eat your fruit and veg, perhaps the psychological pick-me-up might.
A new study of more than 12,000 sought to explore the psychological impact of eating fruit and vegetables.
The participants kept food diaries and had their psychological wellbeing tracked.
The researchers – from the UK’s University of Warwick and the University of Queensland – found that happiness increased with each extra portion of fruit and vegetables, up to eight portions per day.
Over the course of two years, it was also found that people who went from a diet that included barely any fruit or vegetables to one that included eight portions per day had the same increase in life satisfaction as someone who went from unemployed to employed.
“Eating fruit and vegetables apparently boosts our happiness far more quickly than it improves human health,” said Professor Andrew Oswald in a statement.
“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, wellbeing improvements from increased consumption of fruit and vegetables are closer to immediate.”
The results of the study took into account other influencing factors, including changes in people’s incomes and life circumstances.
“Perhaps our results will be more effective than traditional messages in convincing people to have a healthy diet,” said Dr Redzo Mujcic, a research fellow at the University of Queensland. “There is a psychological payoff now from fruit and vegetables – not just a lower health risk decades later.”
While the link between physical and psychological health are well recognised, why does our vegetable intake impact our sense of wellbeing so much?
Previous research has found that there is a relationship between optimism and the levels of antioxidants in the blood. In fact, one study found that people who were more optimistic had up to a 13 per cent increase in carotenoid concentrations (a type of antioxidant) in their blood compared with people who were less optimistic. Those who ate fewer than three serves of fruit and vegetables a day were considerably less optimistic.
The question, however, was whether optimistic people tended to engage in healthier behaviours – like eating more fruit and veg – or whether it was the engaging in healthier behaviours that made them happier.
Understanding this, as well as further exploring the relationship between antioxidants and optimism is an area where further research is needed.
What’s in a serve?
A standard serve of vegetables is 75 grams or:
- ½ cup cooked green or orange vegetables (for example, broccoli, spinach, carrots or pumpkin)
- ½ cup cooked dried or canned beans, peas or lentils
- 1 cup leafy or raw salad vegetables
- ½ cup sweet corn
- ½ medium potato or other starchy vegetables (sweet potato, taro or cassava)
- 1 medium tomato
A standard serve of fruit is 150 grams of fresh fruit or:
- 1 medium apple, banana, orange or pear
- 2 small apricots, kiwi fruits or plums
- 1 cup diced or canned fruit (with no added sugar)
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