"Our findings add to the mounting evidence that fruit and vegetable intake could be one such factor and mean that people are likely to be able to enhance their mental wellbeing at the same time as preventing heart disease and cancer," says Sarah Stewart-Brown. (Credit: Anchored in Maine/Flickr)

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Can fruit and vegetables ward off the blues?

A new study links both high and low mental wellbeing with how many servings of fruit and vegetables a person eats each day.

More than 33 percent of respondents with high mental wellbeing ate five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day, compared with only 6.8 percent who ate less than one portion.

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“The data suggest that higher an individual’s fruit and vegetable intake, the lower the chance of their having low mental wellbeing,” says lead author Saverio Stranges of University of Warwick’s Medical School.

About 31 percent of those with high mental wellbeing ate three to four portions and 28 percent ate one to two.

Alcohol intake and obesity were not associated with high mental wellbeing.

“Along with smoking, fruit and vegetable consumption was the health-related behavior most consistently associated with both low and high mental wellbeing,” says Stranges.

“These novel findings suggest that fruit and vegetable intake may play a potential role as a driver, not just of physical, but also of mental wellbeing in the general population.”

Why mental wellbeing matters

Low mental wellbeing is strongly linked to mental illness and mental health problems, but high mental wellbeing is more than the absence of symptoms or illness—it’s a state in which people feel good and function well.

Optimism, happiness, self-esteem, resilience, and good relationships with others are all part of this state. Mental wellbeing is important not just to protect people from mental illness but also because it protects people against common and serious physical diseases.

“Mental illness is hugely costly to both the individual and society, and mental wellbeing underpins many physical diseases, unhealthy lifestyles, and social inequalities in health,” says study coauthor Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown.

“It has become very important that we begin to research the factors that enable people to maintain a sense of wellbeing.

“Our findings add to the mounting evidence that fruit and vegetable intake could be one such factor and mean that people are likely to be able to enhance their mental wellbeing at the same time as preventing heart disease and cancer.”

Mental wellbeing was assessed using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale, in which the top 15 percent of participants categorized as having high mental wellbeing, the bottom 15 percent low, and the middle 16 to 84 percent as middle.

The research involved 14,000 participants in England aged 16 or over, with 56 percent of those being female and 44 percent male, as part of the Health Survey for England. The survey collected detailed information on mental and physical health, health related behaviors, demographics, and socioeconomic characteristics.

The findings appear in BMJ Open.

Source: University of Warwick

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