Association between eating fruits and vegetables and good physical health is an already known fact. Recently, researchers from the University of Leeds and the University of York provided further evidence that encouraging people to consume more fruits and vegetables may not only benefit their physical health but also their mental well-being. This study funded by Global Food Security's “Resilience of the UK Food System Programme” was published in the journal, Social Science & Medicine.
Researchers used data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study involving almost 50,000 individuals. Participants answered questionnaires on fruit and vegetable consumption. Additionally, they also filled out a General Health Questionnaire-12, as a general measure of mental well-being, with a score ranging from 0 (worst) to 36 (best). Questionnaires related to health, income, family situation and lifestyle were also included.
An interesting observation was that 78% of participants consumed fewer than recommended 5 portions of fruits and vegetables on a day; and 50% and 46% of participants consumed at least one portion of vegetables and fruits daily, respectively. Never consuming fruits or vegetables in a usual week were reported by 7% and 2% of participants, respectively. Participants in higher salary bands, women and people in middle age ate slightly more fruits and vegetables. However, even those in the highest salary bands tended not to eat 5 portions a day suggesting limited affordability perhaps not being main reason for consumption levels below recommended guidelines. Scarcity of time could be a factor too.
Researchers further suggest association between increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and better mental well-being. Mental well-being increased in dose-response fashion with both the quantity and the frequency of fruits and vegetables consumed.
Given the low rates of adherence to the national ‘five-a-day’ guidelines, these findings could have important implications. Communicating potential mental well-being benefits in addition to physical health benefits could encourage higher consumption of fruits and vegetables. Researchers commented, “Even modest changes in the consumption patterns of individuals could lead to substantive positive effects for the well-being of large cohorts of the population".