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Fruit and vegetables important for mental well-being

Posted on 6 February 2019

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

Data from more than 40,000 people in the UK was collected

Researchers at the universities of York and Leeds 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.

The study, part of the IKnowFood project, followed the same individuals over time and 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.

Dr Jonathan Ensor, from the University of York's Stockholm Environment Institute, said: “As well as investigating consumer behaviour and wellbeing, the IKnowFood project is also 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."

Life satisfaction

The research showed a positive association between the quantity of fruit and vegetables consumed and people’s self-reported mental well-being. Specifically, 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.

Dr Neel Ocean, from the University of Leeds, said: “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.”

The research builds on previous work in Australia and New Zealand by verifying the relationship between food and mental well-being using a much bigger UK sample size.

Dietary habits

“Dr Peter Howley, from the University of Leeds, 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.”

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About this research

Lettuce be happy: The longitudinal relationship between the consumption of fruits and vegetables and well-being in the UK’ is published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

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.

Explore our research here.