Fruits and vegetables are good for you. That's not exactly breaking news. But the full extent of Earth's bounty on our health goes way beyond gut bacteria or heart disease, and right to our brains.
Earlier research has already shown that eating a diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and low in processed meat can prevent the onset of clinical depression. But now, even more light is being shed on the impact of fruits and vegetables on our mental health.
A team of researchers working in England and Australia has found that eating fruits and vegetables can significantly increase one's level of happiness. What's more, their results suggest that going from zero servings a day to eight portions of fruit and veg a day would create an increase in life satisfaction "equivalent to moving from unemployment to employment."
The study, to be published in the upcoming volume of American Journal of Public Health, followed more than 12,000 subjects who kept a food diary and had their psychological well-being monitored over 2007, 2009, and 2013. What they found were large positive psychological benefits within two years of an improved diet. In addition, the researchers found that happiness increased "incrementally" for every extra daily portion of fruit and vegetables. Basically, good produce is good vibes.
That improvement is something that could have very practical implications for the men and women who work in public health and are confronted with staggering rates of diabetes and obesity.
"Eating fruit and vegetables apparently boosts our happiness far more quickly than it improves human health," author Professor Andrew Oswald said in a press release. "People's motivation to eat healthy food is weakened by the fact that physical-health benefits, such as protecting against cancer, accrue decades later. However, well-being improvements from increased consumption of fruit and vegetables are closer to immediate."
In other words, we tend to put off activities that will only benefit us in the longer term. However, the more immediate mood advantages of eating fruits and vegetables mean that public health officials could get more people to eat healthy by playing up their psychological impact.
"Perhaps our results will be more effective than traditional messages in convincing people to have a healthy diet," researcher Redzo Mujcic added. "There is a psychological payoff now from fruit and vegetables—not just a lower health risk decades later."
With doctors prescribing fruits and vegetables to the malnourished people living in food desert, who knows? Maybe psychiatrists will be prescribing bananas and mangoes in lieu of antidepressants.