The Challenge: We struggle to eat healthy food – the rest is just so much tastier to us!
The Science: Consuming more daily portions of fruits and veggies greatly improves our mood.
The Solution: The more you raise your portions of fruit and vegetables, the happier you become!
We’re all familiar with the adage as old as nutritional science itself – eating more fruits and vegetables betters our health in the long run. Indeed, vigilant mothers have impressed this fact’s importance on growing children long before medical research provided any scientific corroboration. While it feels redundant, then, to repeat an axiom that most of us have known since darn-near infancy – namely, that incorporating more fruits and veggies in our diet will, over time, improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of cancer – the underlying issue remains: why do so many of us still struggle to actually take the advice?
Professor Andrew Oswald at the University of Warwick proposes that our “motivation to eat healthy foods is weakened by the fact that physical-health benefits, such as protecting against cancer, accrue decades later.” Without immediately tangible gains, it is understandably difficult to justify eating more fruits and vegetables when tastier, unhealthier options abound. Why should I sacrifice current pleasure for the mere possibility of health benefits years down the line, knowing that I may or may not even be alive to reap said benefits? To the frustration of mothers worldwide, this notion of carpe diem or YOLO remains an obstacle to us all.
But what if the advantages of healthier eating weren’t just relegated to the unforeseeable future, and were, in fact, immediately tangible? Researchers at the University of Warwick, in a study that tracked more than 12,000 randomly chosen individuals, discovered that those who went from a diet containing no portions of fruits and veggies to incorporating up to eight portions experienced an improvement in mood and life satisfaction “equivalent to moving from unemployment to employment” – all in under 24 months (that’s a mere 2 years, far more palatable than the 10 or more it usually takes for physical health benefits to manifest). Oswald, head researcher of the Warwick team, concludes that eating more fruits and vegetables “boosts our happiness far more quickly than it improves human health.” The scientists, even after adjusting for the mood-enhancing effects of other circumstantial changes in people’s lives, such as income increases or new romantic partnerships, discovered that happiness continued to increase incrementally for each additional daily portion of fruits and veggies, up to a maximum of eight.
And if that weren’t motivating enough, the psychological rewards of healthier consumption actually go even further. Drs. Tamlin Conner and Caroline Horwath of the University of Otago recently uncovered a causal relationship between diet composition and day-to-day emotions. In a study that required 281 young adults to keep a daily food diary for 21 straight days, as well as to regularly rate how they felt each evening, the researchers discovered a significant day-to-day relationship between positive mood and higher consumption of fruits and vegetables. That is, when individuals ate more fruits and veggies, they consistently “reported feeling calmer, happier and more energetic” than normal, regardless of BMI. Additional analysis revealed that improvements in mood continued into the following day, suggesting a causal link between healthy eating and positive psychological states. Importantly, this relationship did not hold true for any other food type!
To concerned mothers everywhere: you can now encourage eating more fruits and veggies with added gusto. The benefits not only include long-term improvement of cardiovascular health and decreased risk of cancer but also much more immediate gains in happiness, energy, and overall mood. Feeling better at the moment is quite possibly as simple as opting for a fresh apple over a bag of salt-laden fried chips.