"We're saying church membership or having that church community is one of the key links in the long chain of social support structures that help people eat better," says Deidre Griffith, the Saint Louis University researcher who is presenting the information at the American Public Health Association conference this week.
Jennifer Strayhorn, executive director of Hope Build, a faith-based community organization that focuses on healthy lifestyle, is Saint Louis University's collaborative partner on the project, and will join Griffith for the presentation.
The researchers found that those who frequently attended church ate 26 percent more "powerhouse" fruits and vegetables -- those fruits and veggies that contain the most nutrients -- than those who didn't, Griffith says.
Powerhouse fruits and vegetables are citrus, cruciferous -- such as broccoli or cauliflower, those that have the brightest colors -- dark green leafy greens or bright orange carrots and cantaloupe.
Everyone in the survey ate the most popular fruits and vegetables - corn, iceberg lettuce and bananas. But frequent church-goers - many of whom attended choir rehearsals, Bible study groups, workshop services or committee meetings each week -- ate more of the stuff that researchers say offer the most nutrition.
"The body is your temple and we should treat it that way," Griffith says. "Church can be a big part of your support system for changing your diet."