We’re all aware that eating a healthy, balanced diet filled with fruits and veggies benefits our physical wellbeing. Did you know that a healthy diet (or unhealthy diet, for that matter!) can impact your psychological health as well?
To explore the connection between daily dietary habits and overall life satisfaction, researchers used data from the 2007, 2009, and 2013 in the Household, Income, and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey. Over 12,300 randomly selected adults (ages 15-93 years) from across Australia participated. Information on each individual was collected each year by face-to-face interviews as well as self-completed questionnaires. The interviews mainly collected information on demographics and socioeconomic status, and the questionnaires asked questions to measure health and lifestyle choices.
The two questions regarding fruit and veggie intake were simple: “Including tinned, frozen, dried and fresh fruit, on how many days in a usual week do you eat fruit?” and “Including tinned, frozen and fresh vegetables, on how many days in a usual week do you eat vegetables?” Responses could range from 0-7, with a response of zero indicating “I do not eat any fruit or vegetables in a usual week” and a response of seven indicating the individual consumes produce daily. If an individual’s response was positive for fruit and veggie intake, the researchers then followed-up with, “On a day when you eat fruit, how many servings of fruit do you usually eat?” and “On a day when you eat vegetables, how many servings of vegetables do you usually eat?” Serving sizes of fruits and veggies were shown to participants to visually demonstrate a proper portion size.
Responses to the first questions on frequency and quantity were multiplied and then divided by seven (7) to yield a daily average intake. Overall, the average study participant consumed 3.84 servings of fruits and veggies daily. Some individuals responded that they consume no fruits or veggies throughout typical week (yikes!). Overall, approximately 85% of participants had fewer than three (3) daily servings of fruit and 60% consumed fewer than three (3) daily servings of vegetables. A very small percentage consumed more than five (5) servings of either (1.83%) or veggies (7.75%) daily.
Following the questions on diet, individuals were asked to rate their self-reported life satisfaction (“All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life?”) and responded on a scale of 0-10. The averaged overall life satisfaction score for the study participants was 7.91. Nearly two thirds of participants rated their life satisfaction as higher than a 7/10. Participants were also asked to state how often in the past month they had experienced feelings or symptoms of “being a happy person.” Scores for this question ranged from 1 (meaning “happy none of the time”) to 6 (meaning happy “all of the time”). Overall, half of the participants experienced happiness “most of the time” and the average was 4.43 out of 6.
RESULTS FROM THE STUDY
Results from the study show promise of a correlation between fruit and veggie intake and overall life satisfaction. Individuals who consumed eight (8) or more servings of fruits and vegetables also had higher life satisfaction of approximately 0.24 life satisfaction points. Now, this may not sound significant when comparing happiness levels with numbers, but this type of rise in life satisfaction is equal in size to the psychological gain of moving from unemployment to employment. In other words, eating lots of fruits and veggies is correlated with a substantial gain in mental wellbeing, happiness and overall life satisfaction. If that isn’t good enough, these meaningful mental wellbeing gains occurred over the course of a mere 24-month timeframe.
WHY THIS MATTERS
The results of this study matter from a public health standpoint for several reasons. Firstly, fruits and vegetables make your life better. No other foods pack the nutritional punch that fruits and veggies do and none rival their health effects. These antioxidant-rich, fiber-full, nutritional powerhouses fight infection, illness and disease while improving you overall health and wellbeing in the process. Secondly, fruits and veggies may benefit mental wellbeing, happiness and life satisfaction in a very short amount of time. Often, it’s hard for people be excited to reap the benefits of a nutritious diet because some of the biggest, most life-impacting results are the mitigation of disease and illness in the future (avoiding diabetes, dodging heart disease, etc.). This study suggests that it might not take years to reap the benefits of a good diet on your happiness and mental wellbeing. In fact, individuals in this study were reporting improvements in life satisfaction and mental health in just 24 short months.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This study found that a small, inexpensive lifestyle choice could have a significant impact on your life satisfaction. In our very materialistic culture, we often look to books, yoga classes, expensive gym memberships, exotic vacations, and other material possessions to help ease our stress and nudge us towards happiness. This study shows that while those things may help, there is a direct correlation between improvement in mental wellbeing and fruit and vegetable consumption. While this study found that eight (8) servings a day correlated with improved mental health the most, even a more modest number of daily servings (4-6) were positively correlated with levels of life satisfaction and happiness. Through incorporating fruits and veggies into every meal you eat, you might gradually increase your happiness in a sustainable, healthy, affordable and delicious way.