A new large-scale study suggests that eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can boost your happiness as well as your health.
Carried out by researchers at the University of Warwick, England and the University of Queensland, Australia, the new study is one of the first of its kind to scientifically explore the psychological — and not just physical — effects of eating fruit and vegetables.
The team followed 12,385 randomly selected Australian adults and asked each subject to keep a food diary. Participants also had their psychological well-being measured, with the team looking at the happiness benefits for each extra daily portion of fruit and vegetables consumed for up to eight portions per day.
After taking into account the effect that people's changing incomes and personal circumstances can have on happiness and life satisfaction, the results led the researchers to conclude that increasing fruit and veg intake from none at all to eight portions a day has an effect on happiness and life satisfaction equivalent to moving from unemployment to employment.
The team also found that happiness increased incrementally for each extra daily portion of fruit and vegetables eaten up to eight portions per day, and that the positive psychological effects occurred within two years of the improved diet.
Commenting on the findings, which are to be published shortly in the American Journal of Public Health, Professor Andrew Oswald said, "Eating fruit and vegetables apparently boosts our happiness far more quickly than it improves human health. 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."
Co-author Dr Redzo Mujcic also added, "Perhaps our results will be more effective than traditional messages in convincing people to have a healthy diet. There is a psychological payoff now from fruit and vegetables — not just a lower health risk decades later."
The team believe that the findings could be used by health professionals to persuade people to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables, helping to improve the typically unhealthy Western diet and particularly important with the current rising levels of obesity and the associated health risks.