You undoubtedly urge your clients and family members to eat more fruits and vegetables to better their health, but new research suggests that fruit and vegetable consumption could be as good for mental health as it is physical health. 

10 Tips to Help Your Clients Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

Many people feel motivated to eat healthier, but ultimately struggle to get the recommended five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day. In fact, very few people—fitness professionals, included!—get anywhere near the recommended amount.

Encourage your clients to honestly evaluate how many servings they are currently eating per day. From there, they can set a realistic goal, like increasing their intake by one or two servings per day. Next, help your clients plan ahead to make sure they meet their goal. Once they have maintained that amount for a few weeks, they can set a new goal, gradually increasing the amount they eat until they reach the recommended five to nine servings per day.

Dr. Natalie Digate Muth, Senior Advisor for Healthcare Solutions for the American Council on Exercise, offers these 10 tips for making it easier to incorporate fruits and vegetables into family meals and snacks:

  • Wash and cut fresh vegetables after purchasing them. This makes it easier to grab-and-go during the week and reduces the risk they’ll be forgotten and go bad.
  • Store fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits and veggies in easy-to-see places in the refrigerator, pantry, shelves and countertops.
  • Ditch the candy jar! Instead, keep a bowl of washed apples, oranges, bananas and other ready-to-eat fruits on the table.
  • Have a sweet tooth? Try eating fruit with yogurt for dessert.
  • Include a veggie tray with dip for a healthy before-dinner snack.
  • Make a habit of including a side salad with a mix of leafy greens with dinner.
  • Add veggies like spinach, tomatoes, peppers and avocado to sandwiches.
  • Add veggies to your pizza.
  • Make fruit smoothies for breakfast and snacks.
  • Incorporate at least one serving of veggies and/or fruits into all snacks and meals throughout the day.

The study, conducted by the University of Warwick’s Medical School in Coventry, England, focused on mental well-being and found that high and low mental well-being were consistently associated with an individual’s fruit and vegetable consumption.

The research involved 14,000 participants in England aged 16 or over, with 56 percent of those being female and 44 percent male, as part of the Health Survey for England. This survey collected detailed information on participants’ mental and physical health, health-related behaviors, demographics and socioeconomic characteristics.

Significantly, researchers found that 33.5 percent of respondents with high mental well-being ate five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day, compared with only 6.8 percent who ate less than one portion. Even a slightly lower intake was associated with higher well-being, with 31.4 percent of those with high mental well-being eating three to four portions and 28.4 percent consuming one to two.

“The data suggest that the higher an individual’s fruit and vegetable intake is, the lower the chance of [him or her] having low mental well-being,” explains Dr. Saverio Stranges, associate clinical professor of cardiovascular epidemiology and lead author of the study. “These novel findings suggest that fruit and vegetable intake may play a potential role as a driver, not just of physical, but also of mental well-being in the general population.”

Low mental well-being is strongly linked to mental illness and mental health problems, but high mental well-being is more than the absence of symptoms or illness; it is a state in which people feel good and function well. Optimism, happiness, self-esteem, resilience and good relationships with others are all part of this state. Mental well-being is important, not just to protect people from mental illness but because it protects people against common and serious physical diseases.

“Mental illness is hugely costly to both the individual and society, and mental well-being underpins many physical diseases, unhealthy lifestyles and social inequalities in health. It has become very important that we begin to research the factors that enable people to maintain a sense of well-being,” says co-author Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown, chair of public health for the University of Warwick’s Medical School.

“Our findings add to the mounting evidence that fruit and vegetable intake could be one such factor,” Stewart-Brown continues, “and mean that people are likely to be able to enhance their mental well-being at the same time as preventing heart disease and cancer.”

Urging your clients to eat more healthfully by adding more fruits and vegetables to their diets is well within your scope of practice as a fitness professional. After all, as this and other studies suggest, this one dietary change could make a significant difference in your clients’ physical and mental health.