One of the more frustrating things about being a health professional is realizing that being physically healthy is not necessarily motivating to everyone. We are often barking up the wrong tree when we advise people to eat more fruits and vegetables because eating these foods has been associated with a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, obesity, dementia, and macular degeneration. So don’t only advise others to load up on leafy greens for their physical well-being. Instead, tell them to do it to be happier.
In a study conducted at the University of Warwick on 12,000+ people, participants’ happiness increased for each additional daily portion of fruit and vegetables, up to eight servings per day. Among people who ate almost no fruits or vegetables at the beginning of the study, increasing their intake to eight servings daily during the study increased life satisfaction by an amount equivalent to moving from unemployment to employment. The improvements in well-being occurred within 24 months. Why would this be? Well, previous research found that people with higher levels of a type of antioxidant (carotenoids) in their blood were more likely to be optimistic about the future. In case you’re considering loading up on carotenoids – they are found in pumpkin, winter squash, carrots, cantaloupe, sweet potato, spinach, collard greens, and kale. Here’s a recipe for a super-easy Kale and Sweet Potato Saute from the Real Food Dietitians.
Telling a 25-year old that they will reap health benefits from their fruit and vegetable intake in, oh, about 40 years isn’t likely to hold their interest for very long. But tell them that they might be happier within two years? That might provide some motivation.
Is it possible that the research is skewed because happier people tend to eat more fruits and vegetables? Yes, it’s possible. Could it be something other than fruits and vegetables, causing changes in satisfaction and happiness? Yes, it could be. For example, the link could be due to the people who eat the most fruits and vegetables also consume less refined starches, simple sugars, and additive-laden food. However, the simple fact is this: eating more fruits and vegetables certainly won’t lessen your happiness level and might increase it. So why wouldn’t we promote this as yet another reason to reach for whole foods?