You already know they’re good for you in all kinds of ways, but the latest research on fruits and vegetables has revealed some very surprising results. Apparently, eating more produce can actually increase your level of happiness over time. The newly released study, conducted at the University of Warwick, followed 12,000 people who kept food diaries and had their psychological well-being measured. What it found is that people got incrementally happier with every daily serving of fruit and vegetables they ate (up to eight portions a day). Why the connection between increased produce consumption and increased happiness? Researchers don’t know for sure, but one possible theory is that the abundance of antioxidants the fruits and vegetables provides leads to higher levels of carotenoids in the blood — and having higher levels of carotenoids has been linked to optimism.
Since every serving counts when it comes to attaining fruit-and-veggie-induced bliss, here are some ways to painlessly sneak in extra servings throughout the day.
• Mix chopped veggies into your hummus or guacamole. Shredded carrots, diced tomatoes and julienned cucumber or zucchini blend in beautifully. Whether you eat it as a dip or a sandwich spread, you could add up to a full serving of veggies per serving of guac or hummus.
• Make your pizza dough out of minced cauliflower. Not only is it gluten-free, but it also makes your crust a rich source of vitamin C, vitamin K and other key nutrients.
• Break out the spiralizer. Replacing a bowl of pasta with a bowl of zoodles (spiralized zucchini noodles) can add at least one additional serving of vegetables to your meal.
• Don’t forget about fruit: Adding it to savory dishes can add interesting flavor and texture — not to mention numerous extra nutrients. Add apple or pear slices to your green salad, apple chunks to your chicken salad, grapes to your tuna.
• Eat your garnish. That sprig of basil or parsley isn’t a full serving, but it’s worth remembering that every little bit counts. If you routinely eat your garnishes, as well as things like lettuce and tomato that come on the plate with your burger, it will add up to a happiness-increasing helping.
Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.