The next time you are feeling down, skip the chocolate, cake or icecream binge and grab an apple or carrot instead.
You’ll miss the instant pleasure of a sugar hit, but you’ll be feeding your brain nutrients that make you feel happier in a more substantial and meaningful way, according to a new study.
Boosting fruit and vegetable intake can make you feel more vital and alive within a couple of weeks, researchers say.
But there’s a twist – they need to be fresh and raw.
The researchers at Otago University, led by senior psychology lecturer Dr Tamlin Conner, were trying to find out if fruit and vegetables made you feel better, or if people ate more of them when they were in a good mood. The study indicated eating led to a mood lift.
They studied 171 people aged 18-25 who were split into three groups over a fortnight.
The first group continued eating as normal. The second were encouraged by text reminders and given pre-paid vouchers to eat more fruit and vegetables. The last group was personally given two extra daily servings of fresh produce (carrots, kiwifruit, apples and oranges).
Only those in the last group reported significant improvements to their psychological wellbeing (a 10 per cent lift), with motivation up 25 per cent.
“For students, this is a really important thing,” Conner says.
Conner says the key seemed to be eating raw, fresh vegetables and fruit. The group given vouchers tended to eat vegetables cooked as part of meals like casseroles.
“We think it’s the freshness of it. An intervention that improves wellbeing over two weeks is pretty amazing.
“It’s a particular type of pleasure. We found this was related to feelings of engagement, interest, energy, vitality. It’s not just feeling good, it’s approaching your life with zest.”
Conner says the study indicates giving people more fresh fruits and vegetables, rather than simply reminding them to eat their 5+ a day, could have better results.
“People in dormitories, children in daycare centres, patients in hospitals, employees in the workplace, could be provided with fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis.”
Conner’s study has been published in the journal Plos One. It can be read here.