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Vegetables Linked to Improvement in Psychological Health

An analysis of ten studies indicates that people who start eating more vegetables and fruits could see an improvement in psychological health.
Vegetables Linked to Improvement in Psychological Health
Handsome african young man eating a healthy vegetable salad using a fork to eat lettuce, happy and smiling sitting on the table

When you were little, did anyone tell you to eat your vegetables? Eating more fruits and vegetables, especially vegetables, may boost your sense of well-being. An analysis of ten studies that included 33,645 individuals determined that people who ate more vegetables had a more positive emotional state (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July 2019). The studies didn’t seem to show that eating your vegetables will prevent depression or anxiety. However, the analysis points to an improvement in psychological health.

More Produce and an Improvement in Psychological Health:

The investigators note that some previous research suggests benefits to psychological health when people consume the recommended amount (or more) of fruits and vegetables. They chose only interventional studies (experiments) or prospective ongoing studies. Among the ten trials analyzed, however, several different measures of psychological health or mental well-being were used, so direct comparisons from one to another were difficult.

The improvement in psychological health was apparent even within a relatively short time frame, under one month, although many of the studies were longer term, running for six weeks up to two years. The researchers hypothesize that the folate found in green leafy vegetables might help provide adequate fuel for brain neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.

How Many Servings Does It Take?

It isn’t clear how many servings of vegetables you might need to feel more content. The research also didn’t show whether raw vegetables would be more helpful than cooked ones, although there was a hint that might be the case. People who ate few vegetables at the start of their study appeared to get the biggest benefit from increasing their intake by three or four servings a day. Some studies also found a robust improvement in psychological health among participants who ate eight or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

The scientists conclude,

“In conclusion, this review identified that increased F&V consumption has a positive impact on psychological health. … Overall, based on the limited evidence to date, vegetable consumption is relevant to psychological health and could contribute to lifestyle medicine as an affordable preventative public health care strategy.”

Learn More:

If you would like some guidance on fitting more vegetables into your diet, we suggest Recipes & Remedies from The People’s Pharmacy. This book contains a number of delicious recipes from nutrition experts we have interviewed. 

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Tuck, N-J et al, "Assessing the effects of vegetable consumption on the psychological health of healthy adults: a systematic review of prospective research." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July 2019. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz080
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