A study of the long term effect of fruit and vegetable consumption on happiness and the sense of well-being was released in this month's American Journal of Public Health. The researchers studied over 12,000 people and found that consuming 8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day had a statistically significant effect on the participants' happiness and sense of well-being. The result of consuming 8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day had the same impact on the level of happiness as when a person goes from being unemployed to employed. That's huge!
The researchers, Mujcic and Oswald, looked at data from an Australian Survey called the Household, Income, and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. They looked at 12,389 individuals, ranging in age from 15 to 93 years. The researchers looked at the questions which specifically asked about fruit and vegetable consumption, and amount, as well as the questions related to life satisfaction.
This study was done well. The researchers verified the participants' level of happiness with a second method. They also account for and adjusted the results to exclude the effects of other variables on happiness, such as age, income, employment status, education, marital status, children, family, long term health conditions, alcohol and tobacco use, BMI, and exercise. They were cognizant of the impact that all these variables can have on happiness. There are many studies that show the effect that socioeconomic and lifestyle factors have on happiness and well-being.
What Mujcic and Oswald wanted to answer was the question of if specifically eating fruits and vegetables has an impact on happiness. They also checked if their results could be reproduced and found that their results were indeed replicable.
This study checked off 3 key features that I always consider when reading a study. One, how large is the study? Two, do the researchers account for variables? And three, are the results able to be replicated? This study meets all these requirements.
The research showed that fruit and vegetable consumption is predictive of future happiness. Meaning that how many, or how few, fruits and vegetables you eat today will impact your sense of well-being within the next 2 years. Aside from the long-term physical advantages from eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, such as the effect on cardiovascular disease, eating in this way will improve our happiness and well-being in the future. I'm sure that increasing one's intake of fruits and vegetables would impact the present in a positive way as well. You really have nothing to lose and only happiness to gain by increasing your fruit and vegetable consumption.
As to the why behind fruit and vegetable consumption increasing happiness, that part is not well understood yet. More research needs to be done. Some possible reasons are the influence of the diet on folate deficiency or on Vitamin B12, which leads to serotonin production. Another thought is that it may be due to the increase in antioxidants. There is some research that suggests that carotenoid, the plant pigment that makes the bright reds, yellows, and oranges and has antioxidant properties, is linked to optimism. The last possibility is related to the connection between the microbiota, the microbes that reside in our bodies, and how they regulating our brain chemicals.
Regardless of the reason, it is clear that we can take action to significantly increase our happiness and sense of well-being by increasing our fruit and vegetable consumption.
We can't always control all the things that affect our happiness but we can control what we put into our mouths. We can make ourselves happier just by what we eat! We owe it to ourselves, to our families, and to our children to take steps today to increase all of our fruit and vegetable consumption, and thereby increasing our happiness. It is worth noting here that the study did not reveal that happiness hinged on eating only organic, locally grown, "super" fruits and vegetables. Nope! In fact, they only asked if fruits and vegetables were consumed and how many servings. Canned, frozen, dried, freshed; they were all lumped together. Don't let access to fresh varieties or cost of high quality fruits and vegetables discourage you. Sure, fresh, organic, locally grown, and in season produce is an ideal way to eat; but it is not the only way.
DO WHAT YOU CAN NOW WITH WHAT YOU HAVE
Make the choice to start today increasing your fruit and vegetable consumption. Track how many fruits and vegetable you eat every day for the next week. Then increase that number by 2. If you average 2 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, increase your consumption to 4 fruit and vegetable servings per day. Keep eating 4 servings per day until you no longer have to remember to eat 4 servings per day. Then increase your servings by 2 more and repeat the process again.
Remember, slow and steady wins the race. If you go from eating 2 servings of fruits and vegetables a day up to 8 servings a day, first of all, your belly will not be too happy with you! Second of all, odds are not in your favor that you will be able to keep that up every day and make it a permanent habit.
Start slow and build on your progress with the end goal of eating 8 servings of fruits and vegetables every day for the rest of your life. Why not make the rest of your life your best life?
(Written July 15, 2016)