London-Based on national surveys in Australia, a study team linked increases in fruit and vegetable servings per day to rising happiness over two years.
With the addition of eight portions of fruit and veg daily, the change in wellbeing was about equivalent to going from unemployment to a job, researchers report in American Journal of Public Health.
“I found the apparent power of fruits and vegetables extremely surprising,” said co-author Andrew Oswald, who studies economics and behavioral sciences at the University of Warwick in Coventry, UK.
Since working on the study, he’s added about three extra portions of produce a day to his own diet.
“I’m up to about 7 portions now,” he told Reuters Health by email.
He and his colleagues speculate that people might be motivated to eat more plants if they believe there’s a short-term reward, in addition to the long-term benefits.
To explore the relationship between eating fruits and vegetables and overall wellbeing, the researchers analyzed data on more than 12,000 adult survey participants from Australian households.
Participants had kept food diaries between 2007 and 2013 and answered survey questions about their lives and their mental and emotional health.
Within a two year period, the study team found, participants who changed from eating almost no fruits and vegetables a day to eight portions a day reported feeling happier and more satisfied than those who didn’t add more portions.
Those who increased their fruit and vegetable portions from zero per day to eight scored an increase on a complex point scale in “life-satisfaction” that was the emotional equivalent to finding a new job. While those who didn’t increase their fruit and vegetable portions experienced a drop in happiness score over the same period that was about equivalent to losing a job.
“Of course, very few people would ever go from eating zero fruits and vegetables to 8 portions a day,” Oswald said.
However, adding even two portions a day would give you a quarter of the happiness effect, so that would still be a large gain in happiness, he added.