New research provides yet another reason to include fruits and vegetables in the diet, after finding that eating up to seven servings per day can lower the risk of psychological stress for middle-aged women.

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Researchers say that moderate intake of fruits and vegetables could lower the risk of stress, especially among women.

According to the American Psychological Association, around three quarters of adults in the United States report experiencing at least one symptom of stress over the past month, including irritability, anger, nervousness, anxiety, and depression.

Not only can stress take its toll on mental health, it can also have negative implications for physical health. A recent study reported by Medical News Today, for example, revealed how chronic stress can increase the risk of obesity, while other studies have linked stress to high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

Of course, it is not always possible to escape stress; whether it is down to money worries, work demands, or family problems, all of us experience stress at some point in our lives.

The new study, however, suggests that simply including more fruits and vegetables in the diet may help to lower the risk of stress, particularly for women.

First study author Binh Nguyen, a Ph.D. student at the University of Sydney in Australia, and colleagues recently reported their findings in BMJ Open.

The researchers came to their conclusion after conducting an analysis of 60,404 men and women aged 45 and older, all of whom were a part of the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study – a large-scale study of more than 267,000 adults from Australia.

The fruit and vegetable intake of each adult was assessed between 2006 and 2008 and again in 2010. At both time points, the psychological distress of participants was measured using the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale – a 10-item questionnaire that assesses symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Overall, the researchers found that adults who consumed three to four servings of fruits and vegetables daily were 12 percent less likely to experience stress than those who consumed zero to one serving daily.

Eating five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables each day was associated with a 14 percent lower risk of stress, compared with adults who consumed zero to four servings a day.

However, when looking at the results by sex, the researchers found that the link between fruit and vegetable intake and reduced stress was much stronger for women.

Women who ate five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables each day had a 23 percent lower risk of stress, compared with women who consumed zero to one serving per day.

Women who consumed two servings of fruits daily had a 16 percent lower risk of stress than women who consumed zero to one serving, while eating three to four servings of vegetables daily was linked to an 18 percent lower stress risk.

Eating more than seven servings of fruits and vegetables each day was not associated with lower stress risk, the team reports.

The researchers say that while their findings support current guidelines that recommend fruit and vegetable consumption as part of a healthful diet, further research is needed to better determine how these foods might impact stress.

The authors write:

Fruit and vegetable consumption may help reduce the prevalence of psychological distress among middle-aged and older adults. However, the association between fruit and vegetable consumption and the incidence of psychological distress requires further investigation and possibly, a longer follow-up time.”

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