Research has consistently shown that consuming more vegetables can significantly improve both physical and mental health. A study in the UK in 2023 found that high fruit intake is linked with feelings of relaxation, confidence, and energy, while a study in Australia in 2022 found that women who consumed at least five servings of fruits and vegetables had a 19% lower risk of depression compared to those who only ate one serving per day. Another meta-analysis of 18 studies observed that every 100 grams of vegetables consumed led to a 3% lower risk of depression.
While it is possible that happy people are simply attracted to healthier foods, randomized controlled trials have shown that consuming more vegetables can improve wellbeing. In one such study in 2022, participants who received weekly deliveries of vegetables reported feeling significantly happier and healthier than those who continued their normal diets. Other research suggests that consuming fruits and vegetables can improve mental health almost instantly, leading to a virtuous circle of healthy eating habits.
One reason vegetables may improve mental health is due to the substitution effect, as eating a lot of plants may leave less room for unhealthy foods. Consuming more fiber can also lead to a healthier microbiome, which influences serotonin production and regulates inflammation, both of which play a role in mental health. Phytochemicals, which are naturally occurring plant compounds, also have anti-inflammatory properties and can increase levels of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, helping regulate mood and motivation.
To incorporate more vegetables into one’s diet, experts recommend mindful eating, paying attention to hunger cues and why one wants to eat, as well as surrounding oneself with healthy foods and getting rid of unhealthy options. Repeated exposure to new foods can also increase one’s likelihood of enjoying them, with some experts suggesting watching cooking shows and experimenting with herbs and spices to make vegetables more appealing.