Does Eating Your Carrots Make You More Creative?

Eating fruits and veggies is linked to curiosity and creativity.

Posted May 04, 2015

USDA Agricultural Research Service
Source: USDA Agricultural Research Service

Eating my veggies always makes me feel self-nurturing and virtuous, and that’s a boost to my happiness and self-esteem. But the mental health benefits of a well-nourished mind don’t end there. A new study hints that eating fruits and vegetables might also make me more curious and creative.

In previous studies, people who ate more fruits and vegetables reported feeling happier and more satisfied with their lives. This relationship persisted even when researchers controlled for factors such as income, education and physical activity.

In the new study, more than 400 young adults completed daily online diaries for two weeks. Each day, they recorded what they were eating, feeling and doing. Below, lead researcher Tamlin Conner, Ph.D., a psychology lecturer at the University of Otago in New Zealand, explains what the results revealed.

What were the key findings of your study?

Dr. Conner: On days when people ate more fruits and vegetables, they reported feeling much happier than they normally did. But even more strongly than happiness, daily fruit and vegetable consumption predicted states of eudaemonic well-being—how engaged and inspired people felt that day, how interested and curious they were in their environment and how creative they felt. In fact, these patterns for flourishing were almost twice as strong as the patterns found with happiness.

Might it be that people who ate fruits and veggies also tended to stay healthier and exercise more, and that’s what helped them flourish psychologically?

Dr. Conner: This is a good question. If people were having a healthy day, they might eat better, exercise more and feel better because of the exercise, not the diet. However, in follow-up analyses, I controlled for daily exercise and daily health ratings, and the original findings still held.

How could eating fruits and vegetables enhance someone’s psychological well-being?

Dr. Conner: I think there is likely to be a connection between fruit and vegetable consumption and the motivation or drive to engage in daily life—approach motivation, in scientific terms. There are biologically plausible pathways by which fruits and vegetables could promote engagement.

Vitamin C might be a key pathway here. It is an important co-factor in the production of dopamine, which is critical to mood and motivational drive. A recent study found increased vitamin C levels in the blood following kiwifruit consumption, with corresponding improvements in emotional vitality.

B-vitamins and complex carbohydrates in fruits and vegetables also promote the synthesis of dopamine and serotonin, which are important to daily mood. At this stage, however, I cannot say exactly what the mechanism might be.

Because your research was correlational, it wasn’t possible to show causality. Could it be that feeling engaged and curious led to choosing healthier foods?

Dr. Conner: Yes, that’s very possible. There is a growing awareness that happiness and health are tightly linked, and the connection is bidirectional. This is why I’m shifting into intervention research, so that I can test for causal patterns and biochemical mediators.

I have a study running right now that aims to increase young adults’ fruit and vegetable consumption over a two-week period. This will allow me to test the causal effects of eating more fruits and vegetables on mood, engagement and curiosity. I will also be looking at a few select biochemical mediators, including vitamin C.

In the meantime, what are the practical implications of your research?

Dr. Conner: Pay attention to what you eat each day for a week, and then try to incorporate more plant foods the following week. Although at this stage I cannot say with certainty that eating carrots will make you more creative or that fruit will help you flourish, the evidentiary base is growing. So it probably wouldn’t hurt to hedge your bets and opt for a carrot rather than a candy bar if you want to feel better.

Linda Wasmer Andrews specializes in writing about the mind-body connection. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook. Read more from her blog:
Four Brain Benefits From the Farmers’ Market
Nine Ways to Relieve Stress by Gardening