BIG Nutrition: Can fruit and vegetable intake lift your mood?


BIG Nutrition: Can fruit and vegetable intake lift your mood?

Evidence suggests, that in addition to better physical health, vegetable and fruit consumption may be associated with better mental health. This serves as an added incentive for all of us to get plenty of veggies and fruits each day!

A 2017 study of 171 young adults, 18-25 years of age, living in New Zealand with low vegetable and fruit intake (~2.5 combined servings per day) were randomly assigned to one of the following groups for 2 weeks:

  • Diet-as-usual. This was the control group.
  • Ecological momentary intervention (EMI) group. This group was given food vouchers to purchase more vegetables and fruits and twice daily text-messages to encourage them to eat at least 5 combined servings a day.
  • Fruit and vegetable intervention (FVI) group. These individuals were given two weeks’ worth of fruit and vegetables and asked to eat two additional servings on top of their regular daily consumption.

The study’s aim was to see if vegetable and fruit intake positively impacts measures of depression, anxiety, mood, vitality, and flourishing (described as curiosity, creativity, motivation). Subjects completed pre- and post-intervention survey and nightly smartphone survey to assess intake and feelings.

The findings:

  • The EMI and FVI groups consumed more vegetables and fruits, 3.7 servings/day, over the two weeks compared to the control group, 2.8 servings/day.
  • Giving young adults fruits and vegetables (FVI), but not the vouchers and text reminders (EMI) or diet-as-usual, improved ‘short-term vitality, flourishing, and motivation’ for an overall improved sense of well-being.  

Potential reasons the researchers thought that the EMI group did not report an improved sense of well-being despite eating the same amount of vegetables and fruits as the FVI group include that:

  • The study was too short to evaluate the impact of eating more vegetables and fruits.
  • The EMI group tended to cook more of their vegetables. Raw vegetable intake has been associated with a sense of well-being in previous research.
  • Members might have been annoyed by the twice daily text reminders to eat more vegetables and fruits, thus reducing their feeling of well-being.

When interpreting this research, remember that this was a very small, short study of young people in New Zealand, so applicability to individuals in Boston is unknown. This is preliminary research that does not test cause and effect. So, until further research is conducted to determine whether eating more vegetables and fruits impacts a sense of well-being, individuals can certainly strive to eat abundant (at least 5 and up to 9 servings) vegetables and fruits each day for their many physical benefits.

Happy and healthful eating,

Donna G. Pertel, MEd, RD, LDN

Questions about how to eat more vegetables and fruits each day? Contact me at [email protected].

Nutrition Services are available for BIG Members (@ 30% discount) and the Community. More information is listed here.