Feeling blue? Here’s a prescription for you: eat servings of an apple, an orange, carrots, a tomato, spinach, eggplant and a bell pepper. Oh, and be sure to do that amount of produce every day! That’s because a new study published in Social Indicators Research suggests that people who consume a large quantity of produce daily are the happiest and have higher levels of mental health.
Economists and public health researchers from the University of Warwick and Dartmouth University reviewed the eating habits of approximately 80,000 people in England using data collected from the Welsh Health Survey of 2007-2010, the Scottish Health Survey of 2008 and the Health Survey of England in 2008. Their analysis found positive association between eating produce and an individual’s well-being. In fact, they found that well-being actually peaked when individuals consumed seven portions each day. The study does not distinguish among the types of fruits and vegetables eaten, but it does define a portion as approximately 80 grams (slightly less than ½ a cup).
These findings took the researchers by surprise. “The statistical power of fruit and vegetables was a surprise. Diet has traditionally been ignored by well-being researchers,” said Dr. Sarah Stewart-Brown, a professor of public health at Warwick Medical School and a co-author of the study. The researchers believed that randomized trials should be conducted to determine if there’s a cause-and-effect relationship.
This research could have big implications for suggesting how we should eat, but increasing the amount of produce we consume could be challenging for many. That's because a large number of citizens in many countries do not currently consume an adequate amount of fruits or vegetables on a daily basis. For instance, the University of Warwick press release about the study noted that approximately 25 percent of the British population eats only one portion or less of fruit and vegetables each day. Furthermore, only one in 10 consumes seven or more daily portions. And a 2011 story by UPI pointed to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found that U.S. teenagers consumed, on average, 1.2 servings per day for both fruits and vegetables in 2010. The CDC researchers, which used the 2010 National Youth Physical Activity and Nutrition Study’s data, noted that 28.5 percent of U.S. high school students ate less than one serving of fruit a day while 33.2 percent of these teenagers ate less than one serving of vegetables a day.
Hopefully, policymakers will begin to explore ways to encourage their nation’s citizens to eat more produce. For instance, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services already has begun planning for the next round of dietary guidelines that will be released in 2015. These guidelines are intended for Americans from the age of 2 and older, including people at increased risk of chronic disease. These recommendations serve as the basis for the nation’s federal food and nutrition policy and education initiatives.
Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is recommending that Americans fill half their eating plates with fruits and vegetables. The USDA points out that any fruit or 100 percent fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group; additionally fruits can be fresh, canned, frozen or dried. Fruit also can be eaten whole, cut-up or pureed. The USDA recommendations range from 1 cup of fruit daily for young children, 1-1/2 to 2 cups for boys and girls, 1-1/2-2 cups for women and 2 cups for men.
Vegetables as well as 100 percent vegetable juice are considered a member of the vegetable group by the USDA. They can be raw or cooked and may be whole, cut-up or mashed. In addition, vegetables can be fresh, frozen, canned or dried/dehydrated. The USDA recommends 1 cup of fruit daily for young children and 1-1/2 cups for children between the ages of 4-8. Girls should eat between 2 and 2-1/2 cups daily while boys should consume between 2-1/2 and 3 cups. Women should aim for 2/1-2 cups daily until they are 51 years old, when they should drop back to 2 cups. Men should eat 3 cups daily until they are 51, and then decrease their intake to 2-1/2 cups.
So forget the adage that money can buy happiness, especially in this economy. Maybe it's time to see whether eating more produce equals greater happiness.
Primary Sources for this Sharepost:
Health.gov. (nd). Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2015. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Preidt, R. (2012). 7 daily servings of fruits, veggies best for happiness, study finds.
UPI. (2011). U.S. teens hardly eating any produce.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Warwick University. (2012). 7-a-day for happiness and mental health. Press release.
Published On: October 15, 2012