Eating these foods is associated with greater optimism, happiness, higher self-esteem and better relationships.
Consuming fruit and vegetables could be just as good for your mental well-being as it is for your physical health, a new study finds.
The study of 14,000 people in the UK found that the more fruit and vegetables they consumed, the higher their mental well-being (Stranges et al., 2014).
Mental well-being is about more than just not being depressed: it means positively feeling good.
People with higher mental wellbeing are more optimistic, happier, have higher self-esteem and better relationships with others.
Dr Saverio Stranges, the study’s first author, said:
“Along with [not] smoking, fruit and vegetable consumption was the health-related behaviour most consistently associated with both low and high mental well-being.
These novel findings suggest that fruit and vegetable intake may play a potential role as a driver, not just of physical, but also of mental wellbeing in the general population.”
The results showed that amongst those who ate five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day, 33.5% had high mental well-being.
Amongst those who only ate one portion per day, this figure dropped to just 6.8%.
Other lifestyle factors were also important, but only not smoking was as consistently associated with higher well-being as fruit and vegetable consumption.
Although this study only tells us that fruit and vegetable consumption and higher mental well-being are associated, other studies have shown a stronger connection.
One asked participants to log how much fruit and vegetables they ate over a 21-day period, as well as their mood (White et al., 2013).
The researchers found that eating more fruit and vegetables one day predicted better mood the next day.
There is also much evidence linking fruit and vegetable consumption with better physical well-being, so increased mental well-being is not a stretch.
Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown, one of the study’s co-authors, concluded:
“Mental illness is hugely costly to both the individual and society, and mental well-being underpins many physical diseases, unhealthy lifestyles and social inequalities in health.
… [high] fruit and vegetable intake could [enable] people to enhance their mental wellbeing at the same time as preventing heart disease and cancer.”