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(Photo: Mike Haller/Flickr)

Broccoli Eaters Get More Out of Life

• August 14, 2014 • 4:00 AM

(Photo: Mike Haller/Flickr)

New research finds a link between eating fruits and vegetables and experiencing a greater sense of meaning.

What’s your idea of a fulfilling life? Definitions vary, but most of us would likely point to one marked by a sense of purpose and engagement, as well as curiosity and creativity.

Brussels sprouts and bananas probably wouldn’t enter into our mental picture. But perhaps they should.

In an intriguing finding, researchers in New Zealand have found a link between eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and experiencing the aforementioned pleasures, which collectively fall under the heading of eudaemonic well-being.

People who ate more fruits and vegetables over the 13-day period reported higher average levels of curiosity, creativity, and positive emotions, as well as engagement, meaning, and purpose.

“These findings suggest that fruit and vegetable intake is related to other aspects of human flourishing, beyond just feeling happy,” writes a research team led by University of Otago psychologist Tamlin Conner. Its study is published in the British Journal of Health Psychology.

The study featured 405 participants, all university students, who kept a daily diary for 13 consecutive days. Each day, they recorded the number of servings they had of fruits, vegetable, desserts, and various fried-potato dishes.

They also filled out a daily questionnaire intended to measure creativity, curiosity, and psychological flourishing. Specifically, they responded to statements such as “Today, I was engaged and interested in my daily activities” on a one-to-seven scale (“strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”). They also responded to additional items designed to measure their general emotional state that day.

The results: People who ate more fruits and vegetables over the 13-day period reported higher average levels of curiosity, creativity, and positive emotions, as well as engagement, meaning, and purpose.

Even more strikingly, participants tended to score higher on all of those scales on days when they ate more fruits and vegetables.

“We cannot conclude that the link between fruit and vegetable consumption and eudaemonic well-being is causal or direct,” the researchers caution. It’s possible that feeling in a positive, engaged state of mind led people to eat healthier food.

On the other hand, “the micronutrient content of food could provide an explanation for the current findings,” the researchers write.

“Many fruits and vegetables contain higher levels of Vitamin C, an important co-factor in the production of dopamine,” they note. “Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that underlies motivation and promotes engagement.”

In addition, they point out, antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables have been shown to reduce bodily inflammation, which “is thought to protect against depression.”

So while it’s too early to claim kale will cause contentment, the results do suggest that healthy eating and psychological flourishing go hand in hand. Which is certainly food for thought.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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