Previous research has suggested a positive relationship between the consumption of fruits and vegetables and well-being. Until recently, this data focused on overall consumption and its effects on well-being. Researchers in the United Kingdom (UK) took this data and further investigated the connection between fruits and vegetables and well being by looking to determine if the quantity of consumption made a difference.
Using data, scientists determined if fruits and vegetables influenced emotional well-being
Researches used data from the UK Household Longitudinal Survey (UKHLS) to examine how the consumption of fruits and vegetables varies along sociodemographic lines1. These sociodemographic variables include age, household income, gender, relationship status, number of children, and level of education. The UKHLS contains information from approximately 50,000 individuals with this study focusing on data obtained between 2009 and 2017. The General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) was also used to measure individuals well-being1.
The study revealed that physical and emotional well-being increased in correlation to the number of fruits and vegetables consumed as well as the frequency of consumption. Households that participated in this study were visited annually and responded to a survey either online or in person. This strategy was used to increase response rates from participants. It’s important to note that all individuals surveyed were age 15 or older.
What questions did these surveys ask?
In order to estimate the full impact of both quantity and frequency of fruit and vegetable consumption, researchers relied on three specific questions. These questions are:
- On a day when you eat fruit or vegetables, how many portions of fruit and vegetables in total do you usually eat?
- How often do you consume fruit in a usual week?
- How often do you consume vegetables in a usual week?
Data obtained on frequency and quantity remained separate throughout the study in order to determine their effects on well-being.
Have researchers discovered the optimal number of fruits and vegetables to eat?
The World Health Organization has recommended a minimum of 400g of fruits and vegetables per day to prevent chronic disease and micronutrient deficiencies1. This equates to approximately five portions every day. While 50% of participants consumed at least one portion of vegetables per day, the number of participants that consume at least one portion of fruit drops to 46%. Surprising to researchers, a large portion of the participants go more than a day without consuming a fruit or vegetable. Furthermore, 7% of individuals never consume fruit and 2% never consume a vegetable in a normal week1.
Regardless of household income, the lack of consumption of fruits and vegetables is high across all demographics although females tend to eat more portions than men both daily and weekly. As the number of consumption increases, the data showed that well-being also increased. By increasing fruit and vegetable consumption by one portion, mental well-being was found to increase by 0.133 units1. This correlation is further enforced when researchers found that a five-portion increase in fruit and vegetable consumption was equivocal to a 0.67 unit increase in mental well-being1.
Education improves food choices
As society advances, the importance of fresh and plant-based foods is being lost. Mental health and physical health is directly related to the foods we ingest. While the production of high fat and high carb has been increasing, over-all well-being has been in decline. In order to combat illness and ensure the health of the world’s populations, emphasis needs to be placed on educating individuals on the importance of food choices. Furthermore, access to foods such as fruits and vegetables can be increased through more community-based food production. When individuals have access to healthy food choices, they tend to choose those options. In a world where mental health has become a concern, we should look at how food systems contribute to mental well-being.
1. Ocean, N., Howley, P., & Ensor, J. (2019, February). Lettuce be happy: A longitudinal UK study on the relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and well-being. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953618306907?via%3Dihub