According to a study, eating enough vegetables encourages well-being and happiness

August 21, 2022

Numerous nutrients found in vegetables support general physical wellness. According to a recent study that was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, veggies can also support healthy mental health in addition to physical health.

"Vegetables contain myriad micronutrients such as zinc, magnesium, folate, and iron, which are critical for optimal mental function," says Isa Kujawski, MPH, RDN, a dietitian in DC. "They also contain antioxidants that protect the body against oxidative stress, which has been associated with depression and anxiety."

About the Study

In the new study, researchers sought to determine whether the amount of veggies people eat has any bearing on their happiness levels and psychological health. Researchers gathered 75 individuals with low vegetable intake who were between the ages of 18 and 65 to test this. They were divided into two groups: the test group and the control group. Over the course of eight weeks, the test participants were given a choice of fresh or frozen vegetables and instructed to eat the amounts suggested in the Dietary Guidelines—roughly two to four servings per day, based on their usual calorie intake. When compared to the control group, who consumed their regular diet, this intake was higher.

Prior to and following the 8-week study, the Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS) was utilized by the researchers to gauge happiness. The study findings demonstrated that increasing vegetable consumption to match recommendations in the USDA Dietary Guidelines can increase mean SHS scores. The SHS includes four questions to gauge participants' levels of happiness based on questions to gauge their level of cheerful vs sad symptoms.

"SHS scores increased when the amount and type of vegetables recommended by the Dietary Guidelines were consumed," says Shanon Casperson, PhD, DTR, a research biologist at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, USDA-Agricultural Research Services, and one of the researchers on this study.

Dr. Casperson notes that the researchers were unable to determine if one vegetable is superior to any other based on this research because the participants were given a choice of more than 30 veggies. According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, participants were advised to choose green, red, and orange veggies every day.

"Each participant in this study ate two to three servings of vegetables every day," says Dr. Casperson. "They were given the freedom to pick the vegetables they wanted to eat from each of the required vegetable subgroups. It is important to eat a wide variety of vegetables from all the colors of the rainbow each week."

These findings support what many food and nutrition experts have long hypothesized, namely that a person's health can be greatly impacted by their diet.

"It is not surprising that eating more vegetables might make you feel happier," says Elizabeth Barnes, MS, RDN, LDN, a dietitian and the owner of Weight Neutral Wellness. "Vegetables provide your body with necessary vitamins and fiber. "

Why Vegetables Promote Happiness

According to Dr. Casperson's research report, the vitamins and phytochemicals found in vegetables have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may benefit psychological health. She however point out that additional study is necessary to properly comprehend how eating veggies affects psychological health.

"There are some nutrients as well as behavioral mechanisms that may help explain the effect of vegetables on psychological well-being," says Dr. Casperson.

Barnes acknowledges the role of antioxidants and names vitamin C as one nutrient that may assist control neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are involved in mood regulation. Additionally, according to Barnes, some veggies' B-vitamin content may influence your mood.

"The folate that dark green leafy vegetables contain is necessary for making serotonin and dopamine, which act as mood stabilizers," says Barnes.

And Kujawski contends that fiber may be responsible for some of the beneficial mechanisms that link veggies with happiness.

"When you eat vegetables, you're supplying your body with dietary fiber, which feeds beneficial gut bacteria that works to strengthen the lining of the gut," says Kujawski. "A strong gut lining is important, as increased intestinal permeability may trigger the immune system and promote
depressive symptoms."

Kujawski claims that fiber may also reduce inflammation, which may have an impact on neurotransmitter levels and lessen depression symptoms. Barnes concurs, saying that in addition to the nutrients found in veggies, doing things for your health also makes you feel better. Since veggies are recognized to be good for health, adopting a healthy habit can help with wellbeing.

Do Fruits Also Promote Happiness?

The current study did not evaluate the impacts of fruits, simply the relationship between veggies and happiness. Is it conceivable that fruit may have a similar effect?

"This is an interesting question and one that researchers are beginning to ask," says Dr. Casperson. "There is currently not enough research in this area to fully understand the differential impact of vegetables and fruits on psychological well-being or subjective happiness in particular."

Fruits might have a similar effect, in Kujawski's opinion.

"Fruits, although higher in sugar than vegetables, are also very high in beneficial nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber," she says. "A good rule of thumb is to stick to 75% veggies and 25% fruits."

Happiness is Multi-Faceted

Your diet and meal plan as a whole are important. It is crucial to minimize items that can be harmful to your wellbeing, even while research like this one demonstrate that eating more vegetables is good for your mental health.

"Adding vegetables to your 'feel better' strategy is a great idea," says Barnes. "Just don't make it the only component."

Barnes urges her clients to minimize stress through deep breathing or practicing meditation, getting enough sleep, and exercising mindfulness. Studies also reveal that consuming a lot of ultra-processed foods, which are high in sugar, salt, fat, chemicals, and preservatives, is linked to a higher risk of depression. Exercise can also assist improve mood. By consuming fewer ultra-processed meals, increasing your vegetable intake may help to lessen your depression symptoms.

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