Are You What You Eat?

Eating more fruits and vegetables linked to higher life satisfaction and mental well being

(RxWiki News) Most people aren't surprised if pigging out at the all-you-can-eat buffet leaves them feeling a bit queasy. But what if it had been an all-you-can-eat fruit-and-vegetable bar?

There is not evidence currently to state that eating fruits and vegetables will make you happier. However, one recent study did find that happier people happen to eat more fruits and vegetables.

"Eat more fruits and vegetables."

The study, led by Sarah Stewart-Brown, a professor of public health at Warwick Medical School in the United Kingdom, looked at the correlation between fruit and vegetable intake and people's happiness and well-being.

The analysis included three sets of data from the United Kingdom: 50,000 people from the Welsh Health Survey of 2007-2010, 14,000 people from the Scottish Health Survey of 2008 and 14,000 from the Health Survey of England in 2008.

This included a total of approximately 78,000 randomly selected individuals.

The researchers analyzed the responses of the individuals regarding their mental health, happiness and life satisfaction as well as the number of servings of fruits and vegetables they said they had daily.

They found that the people with the most life satisfaction and the highest mental well-being also happened to be big eaters of fruits and veggies.

More specifically, those with the highest well-being ate seven servings of fruits and vegetables everyday. A portion was defined as approximately 80 grams, which is about 2.8 ounces.

The study's results do not necessarily mean that eating more fruits and vegetables will cause a person to be happier. The study could not establish that one thing caused the other.

The research only found a link between mental health and fruit and vegetable intake. It is possible that people who are mentally healthy and satisfied with life may simply be more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Regardless, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that people eat at least two servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables every day.

If you're not getting this much, it can't hurt you to eat more fruits and vegetables, and you may end up feeling better if it turns out that diet does somehow cause a bit more happiness.

"I'm ecstatic to hear that there's a link between eating more fruits and vegetables and people being happier," said Eve Pearson, a registered dietician and owner of Nutriworks CNC in Fort Worth, Texas. "Increased fruit and vegetable intake reduces the risk of many chronic diseases, so one could speculate that maybe these people are healthier overall."

Either way, she said Americans still have a ways to go in getting enough fruits and vegetables into their diets.

"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 32.5 percent of American adults eat fruits two or more times per day and only 26.3 percent eat vegetables three or more times per day," she said. "Sadly, high school students reported only eating fruits AND vegetables a mere 1.2 times per day!"

In this study, eating eight or more portions of fruits and vegetables a day translated to a higher bump in life satisfaction than being a non-smoker and was almost as high as the life satisfaction increase from being married.

The researchers adjusted their findings to account for a wide range of factors, including whether a person was disabled, married, unemployed or sexually active.

They also accounted for whether the respondents had children, had a major illness, smoked or exercised regularly.

Finally, the researchers also accounted for the respondents' demographics: weight (body mass index), religion, income, social class, education and geographical region.

The researchers were not able to account for other dietary patterns, such as eating less meat or drinking less alcohol, across all the data.

However, the researchers did have other dietary information about one of their data sets including about 14,000 people.

Within this data, they were able to make adjustments for people's meat, fish and alcohol intake. They found that the correlation between more servings of fruits and vegetables and positive mental health remained present.

"In each of three data sets, and for seven different measures of mental well-being, we find evidence for the existence of a positive association between well-being and fruit-and-vegetable consumption," the authors wrote. "This relationship holds both before and after correction for a large number of possible confounders."

"Confounders" are other characteristics that could play a part in the results. The authors could not account for every single difference between the individuals surveyed, but they did take into account a large number of factors.

The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Social Indicators Research. Information regarding funding and disclosures was unavailable.

Review Date: 
October 10, 2012