Eating more fruit and veg makes people happier What impact does diet have on mental health?

Researchers from York and Leeds have found that eating more fruit and vegetables daily, and more times a week, improves your mental wellbeing as well as your physical health.

The researchers used questions on fruit and vegetable consumption from Understanding Society to measure how many portions of these people were eating, and how often. They then used data on wellbeing from the Study to explore the influence of diet on people's mental health over time.

The research found that there are differences in who eats more fruit and vegetables.  People earning higher incomes generally eat more daily portions, more times per week, but most people still do not eat the recommended five portions a day. People eat more fruit and vegetables as they get older, but only up until around pension age when it begins to fall again. This could be because retired people consume fewer overall calories once they are no longer working. Women are also more likely to eat more fruit and vegetables than men.

While 78% of people in the UK do not eat the recommended five portions a day of fruit and vegetables, the research found that eating even slightly more, or less, could have comparable wellbeing effects to that of many significant life events. For example, if an individual who ate vegetables every day stopped eating them altogether, they would suffer a greater loss in subjective wellbeing than if they had become widowed, or around one third of the impact of going from being employed to being unemployed. Increasing daily consumption by just one portion provides the same increase in subjective wellbeing as ten extra days of walking every month.

The same is true of an increase in how often people eat fruit and vegetables. The more often fruits and vegetables are eaten in a week, the higher a person’s wellbeing is likely to be. Interestingly, eating vegetables more often has a larger effect than eating fruit more often.

The findings show that eating more fruits and vegetables may not only benefit physical health in the long run, but also mental wellbeing in the short-term.

How was Understanding Society used?

The researchers used data on fruit and vegetable consumption and measures of subjective wellbeing from the General Health Questionnaire of Waves 1-7 (collected from 45,000 people in 2009-2017) of Understanding Society.

You can read the full report here: Lettuce Be Happy: The Effects of Fruit and Vegetable Consumption on Subjective Well-Being in the UK

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