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IS SEVEN THE MAGIC NUMBER?

Happiness is mostly a matter of right thinking, would you agree? Practicing calmness, hope and gratitude will all boost happiness?

Or perhaps, it is about right action? Acts of kindness and service, focusing on improving skills, embracing a life of savoring and enjoying this world will boost happiness?

Undoubtedly, happiness is strongly associated with human connection. When we love others and are loved in return, our life is much happier, wouldn’t you agree?

We don’t usually think of food.

A new study about health and eating habits (nothing new there!) reminded me of a couple of very important other studies.

 In 2012, Blanchflower and associates* reported a surprisingly strong association between the number of vegetables and fruits a person consumes each day and that person’s mood. In a survey of 80,000 British subjects, mood and mental health rises directly with healthy eating. Seven helpings a day was the optimal “dose” for positive mental health. It is true that more was better, but beyond seven helpings (about half a cup is a single helping) there was little advantage.

 In 2013, White and her associates** reported that young adults diet is tied to mood. They tracked moods of 281 young adults, average age around nineteen. Those who ate more vegetables and fruits were consistently in a better mood the following day. That is, the consumption of colorful foods seems to cause better mood the next day. Optimal mood was associated with—guess the number?—seven to eight helpings a day.

 Now comes another study, Oyenbode and associates***, with the same magic number. In this study, the researchers tracked deaths from cancer or heart disease in a group of British subjects who took the Health Survey for England between 2001 and 2008.  The researchers then determined who had died by 2013 and what had caused those deaths. They discovered that there were significantly fewer death in people eating seven helpings of vegetables and fruits a day. They called their findings “robust” meaning that there is a very strong relationship between food and health.

 Vegetables were better predictors of health than fruit. Canned or frozen fruit were not helpful; in fact, they increased the chances of poor health. I am going to guess that the canned / frozen fruit had sugar added which would drive worse health, at least if Robert Lustig is to be believed.

 The average British subject was eating less than four helpings of fruits and vegetables a day, 2.3 portions (80 grams, around 3 ounces) of fruit per day, and 1.5 portions of vegetables.

 There is now a solid body of literature emphasizing the role of eating in mental health. On the other hand, telling people to stop eating junk food is likely to fail. So what am I going to say to you?

What if you were to substitute? Instead of buying convenience foods and packaged foods, would you be willing to do an experiment? How about substituting fresh raw vegetables for snack foods? How about keeping containers of vegetables in the fridge, perhaps resting in water?

 What sorts? Well, color is the key. The more color, the better. Carrot sticks are fairly well accepted by children and young people. If they will eat those, how about florets of broccoli? When my daughter was young, she enjoyed eating raw broccoli, pretending she was a fierce dinosaur eating whole trees. While white, slices of raw turnip have a peculiarly attractive taste, as opposed to when they are cooked.

 We are talking about environmental engineering here. Make a list, shop from your list, and incorporate much more color into your diet. Emphasize vegetables and let fruit play a supporting role. That will boost both mood and physical health. Don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself and see.

 When you are a cheerful and healthy 85 or 90, look me up and tell me how it is working.

*http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/7-a-day_for_happiness/; Blanchflower, D.G., Oswald, A.J., Stewart-Brown, S.(2012).  Is Psychological Well-being Linked to the Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables?  Social Indicators Research.

**White, B. A., Horwath, C. C., & Conner, T. S. (2013). Many apples a day keep the blues away—Daily experience of negative and positive affect and food consumption in young adults. British Journal of Health Psychology, 18, 4, 782-798. 

*** Oyenbode, O., Gorden-Dseagu, V., Walker, A., & Mindell, J. S. (2014) Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England dataJournal of Epidemiology and Community Health,  doi:10.1136/jech-2013-203500 http://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2014/03/03/jech-2013-203500.full; retrieved 4-20-2014.

 

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7 Responses

  1. Sonia
    | Reply

    Yes! I totally agree with the relationship between eating healthy and a good mood! Thanks for the research on this subject. Will try to reinforce it at my home. Keep up the good work!

  2. Randy Zeitman
    | Reply

    “In a survey of 80,000 British subjects, mood and mental health rises directly with healthy eating.”

    I found this statement a little problematic … is it saying that mood is raised by people eating better? … like it’s a medicine? … or that ‘people eat well to exercise their commitment to mental health’.

    So I found the paper, http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/research/workingpapers/2012/twerp_996.pdf, and on the second sentence of the last paragraph of page 10 it says:

    “In each of three data sets, and for seven different measures of mental well-being, we find evidence for the existence of a positive association between well-being and fruit-and-vegetable consumption. ”

    This doesn’t say to me there’s causation but more likely something like ‘people who are committed to well being are happier’.

    This paper was not of a study they conducted … they evaluated data from other studies.

    Wouldn’t you like to see a study of average happy people with bad eating habits forced to eat a healthy diet and see what the mood change is? … removing the element of feeling good because I made choices that were good for me regardless that they didn’t satisfy my immediate desires?

    • Dr.J
      |

      Yes, it is a survey based research. But bear in mind that such surveys are exactly how tobacco was first implicated in cancer. We have all learned that correlation is not causation, but it can point to causation if replicated and controlled well enough.

  3. Lee Ann
    | Reply

    I will shoot for 7 servings. I am doing about 6 now. I remember Buckwheat saying “Seven eleven, Ha! Mama’s little baby needs a new pair of shoes” in response to the telephone operator asking, ” Your number please! in the Little Rascals show during the 1950’s. I have already substituted raw veggies for chips at our house. The crunching seems to be what is desired and when there are no chips to crunch, there are fresh veggies to crunch.

    • Dr.J
      |

      Wonderful strategy! Very clever, keep up the good work.
      drj

  4. Mary Helen Peter
    | Reply

    7 has played a part inmy life and, if I can be healthier by just remembering 7, then I should live to be a happy old lady! Thanks, Dr. J. MH

  5. Melanie
    | Reply

    Cute article, I will try and let you know, as well I will pass on to my clients, since it is coming from a source other than me, maybe they will consider it.

    Warm regards,

    Melanie

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