This is my very favorite kind of good news: Beyond supercharging your physical health, fruits and veggies may improve mental health, too. That’s right, from kale and cauliflower to peaches and pears, a recent study has found that what you put on your plate may have the power to boost mood, well-being, curiosity, and creativity.
Specifically, researchers asked 400+ young adults to track their intake of fruits and veggies daily (as well as unhealthy foods) for about 2 weeks. Subjects were also asked to record how much they experienced a type of well-being that can best be described as “flourishing,” i.e. feeling purposeful and engaged in life, as well as related behaviors. Overall mood was also recorded.
Carrots + kiwi = curiosity + creativity?
After collecting their data, researchers scored a trifecta: Increased fruit and veggie intake was linked to “flourishing” well-being and the related behaviors of curiosity and creativity. Fruits and vegetables were also associated with positive moods like contentedness, happiness, and enthusiasm. This held true regardless of whether researchers looked at each subject individually or the group as a whole. Unhealthy foods, on the other hand, were not linked to well-being (with one exception addressed below).
Kind of makes you want to grab a carrot stick, doesn’t it?
Fuel for flourishing
As for how exactly produce might boost well-being, researchers had a number of suggestions, including:
Vitamins and antioxidants: Many fruits and vegetables are rich in B vitamins, vitamin C, and antioxidants, which can boost production of “feel-good” brain chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.
Carbohydrate content: The carbohydrates in fruits and vegetables may increase brain levels of the “building blocks” of dopamine and serotonin. While refined sugars may temporarily enhance mood, the complex types of carbohydrates in fruits and vegetables can have a longer-lasting impact on the brain. (Indeed, the current study found that consumption of sweets was associated with positive mood and curiosity, but only when looking at individual subjects, not the group as a whole.)
Enhanced energy and vitality: Nutrients in fruits and vegetables could boost energy and vitality levels generally, making people more likely to behave in ways associated with well-being.
Better mood, better food: Feelings of well-being could lead to better food choices. Since researchers looked only at what people ate and how they were feeling on any given day, they couldn’t say for sure that fruit and vegetable intake caused improvements in well-being, curiosity, creativity, and mood. Perhaps when people feel better—more engaged with the world—they eat more fruits and vegetables. (Indeed, some research seems to support this.)
Given the research linking fruit and vegetable intake to physical and mental health, as well as the ways in which the nutrients in produce could boost mood, it seems likely to me that eating fruits and veggies actively boosts well-being. (Although feeling good no doubt helps people eat better, too!) Indeed, the researchers themselves noted that one theory suggests that well-being could promote healthier food choices, which could lead to enhanced well-being, and so forth, effectively creating an “’upward spiral’ of well-being.”
Now I don’t know about you, but an upward spiral of well-being sounds like a ride I’d like to be on! Won’t someone pass the peas, please?
4 Fruit-and-veggie recipes to boost well-being
Ready to feel better than ever? Try one of these easy fruit-‘n-veggie recipes:
- Easy Kale, Mango, and Ginger Salad
- Jicama, Pineapple and Fresh Mint Salad
- Blueberry Muffin Protein Smoothie
- Delicata squash rings with cinnamon apples
Conner TS, Brookie KL, Richardson AC, Polak MA. On carrots and curiosity: Eating fruit and vegetables is associated with greater flourishing in daily life. Br J Health Psychol. 2014 Jul 30. [Epub ahead of print]