The brain-gut connection: Scientists explore why eating more fruits and vegetables improves mental well-being

The brain-gut connection: Scientists explore why eating more fruits and vegetables improves mental well-being
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(Natural News) The benefits of eating fruits and vegetables aren’t limited to gut health – they also enhance a person’s mood. A large-scale study conducted by researchers from the University of Leeds and the University of York suggests that eating more of these foods can improve mental health.

The study, which was published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, built on earlier research from Australia and New Zealand that involved smaller population samples. For their study, the researchers monitored the dietary habits of more than 40,000 citizens in the U.K. from 2009 to 2017. They controlled other factors that may affect mental health, such as age, civil status, education, employment status, overall health, income, lifestyle, and the consumption of other foods like bread and dairy products.

The results of the study revealed a positive connection between the consumption of plant-based foods and mental well-being. Participants who ate large quantities of fruit and vegetables reported greater satisfaction with life. (Related: Is depression just a symptom of bad gut health? Study confirms link between gut and brain health.)

Eat more fruits and vegetables every day to enjoy better mental health

The study also reported that frequency matters as much as quantity when it comes to the consumption of fresh produce. While an additional serving of fruits and vegetables can confer the same benefits on mental health as 7.6 additional days of walking for at least 10?minutes every month, increasing the frequency of vegetable consumption from never to four to six days a week can give a person the same increase in life satisfaction as being married.

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“It’s well-established that eating fruit and vegetables can benefit physical health,” explained Leeds researcher Neel Ocean, one of the authors of the study. “Recently, newer studies have suggested that it may also benefit psychological well-being.” Ocean worked alongside fellow Leeds researcher Peter Howley and their counterpart from York, Jonathan Ensor, for this study.

Based on their findings, they concluded that even modest changes in the consumption patterns of people can translate into substantive positive effects not only on their physical health, but also on their mental well-being.

Persuading people to improve their physical health by eating more fruits and vegetables

Their findings may benefit health experts who are struggling to convince more people to stick to the “five-a-day” guideline. This is based on a recommendation by the World Health Organization (WHO) advising people to eat at least 400 milligrams (or five portions) of fruits and vegetables a day to lower the risk of serious health problems.

“There appears to be accumulating evidence for the psychological benefits of fruits and vegetables,” Howley stated. “Despite this, the data show that the vast majority of people in the UK still consume less than their five-a-day.”

Howley and his fellow researchers believe that more people can be persuaded to eat more fruits and vegetables if they know that these foods will improve their mental well-being.

The study is part of IKnowFood, a collaborative project between the two universities involved with the study. The aims of IKnowFood is to investigate the behavioral and health patterns of consumers in the U.K. and to explore how the resilience of local and international members of the food supply chain can be enhanced in the face of growing uncertainty in markets, regulations, and the environment.

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