Fruit and vegetables may be important for mental as well as physical well-being

Fruit and vegetables on a market stall

Consuming more fruit and vegetables can improve your mental well-being, according to a new study.

Researchers at the universities of Leeds and York analysed data from more than 40,000 people in the UK, and found that changes in fruit and vegetable consumption are correlated with changes in mental well-being.

A key feature of this work is that the study was able to follow the same individuals over time. The study also controlled for alternative factors that may affect mental well-being, such as age, education, income, marital status, employment status, lifestyle and health, as well as consumption of other foods such as bread or dairy products. 

The research showed a positive association between the quantity of fruit and vegetables consumed and people’s self-reported mental well-being. Specifically, the findings indicate that eating just one extra portion of fruits and vegetables a day could have an equivalent effect on mental well-being as around eight extra days of walking a month (for at least 10 minutes at a time).

Dr Neel Ocean of the University of Leeds, who authored the study with Dr Peter Howley (University of Leeds) and Dr Jonathan Ensor (University of York), said: “It’s well-established that eating fruit and vegetables can benefit physical health. Recently, newer studies have suggested that it may also benefit psychological well-being. Our research builds on previous work in Australia and New Zealand by verifying this relationship using a much bigger UK sample.

“While further work is needed to demonstrate cause and effect, the results are clear: people who do eat more fruit and vegetables report a higher level of mental well-being and life satisfaction than those who eat less.”

Dr Howley said: “There appears to be accumulating evidence for the psychological benefits of fruits and vegetables. Despite this, the data show that the vast majority of people in the UK still consume less than their five-a-day. Encouraging better dietary habits may not just be beneficial to physical health in the long run but may also improve mental well-being in the shorter term.”

Dr Ensor added: “This work is part of a broader project between our universities known as “IKnowFood”. As well as investigating consumer behaviour and wellbeing, IKnowFood is exploring how farmers in the UK, and businesses across the global food supply chain, can become more resilient in the face of growing uncertainty in markets, regulation and the natural environment."

Lettuce be happy:The longitudinal relationship between the consumption of fruits and vegetables and well-being in the UK’ is currently in press at the journal Social Science and Medicine, and is available online (open-access) at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.12.017

IKnowFood is funded through the Global Food Security's “Resilience of the UK Food System Programme” with support from BBSRC, ESRC, NERC and Scottish Government.

Ends

Dr Ocean and Dr Howley are available for interview.

Contact Guy Dixon, University of Leeds on: 0113 343 1028 or g.dixon@leeds.ac.uk

Or pressoffice@adm.leeds.ac.uk or 0113 343 4031.

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