Nutrition is a core pillar of a thriving lifestyle, pivotal for physical and mental health. Opting for plant-based foods is crucial for both wellness and mindfulness. Abundant in nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, a plant-based diet proves suitable for every stage of life.
Discover the mental benefits of being a vegan and actionable tips for switching to a plant-based diet.
Are Plant-Based Foods Good for Mental Health?
A plant-based diet has many benefits, such as lower mortality rates and decreased risk of heart disease. Plant foods are also good for the environment since they have a lower ecological footprint. For instance, growing vegetables requires less land, water and energy than raising animal-based food.
When you follow a plant-based diet, you’re consuming brain-boosting nutrients without the side effects of meat-based diets. The high levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber in plant-based foods are also good for mental health.
Mental Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
Beans, fruits and vegetables are great foods that positively affect overall health. Here’s how adopting a vegan lifestyle may contribute to mental benefits.
Helps Reduce Inflammation
Depression can cause high levels of an enzyme called monoamine oxidase (MAO). This component breaks down dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine — neurotransmitters that help regulate mood. When this happens, it may cause chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters and even worsen depression.
Plant foods with high antioxidant and phytochemical levels help decrease the inflammation caused by the imbalance. Food sources such as almonds and olive oil have antioxidants and vitamins E and K that help reduce inflammatory markers that may negatively impact your overall health.
A plant-based diet can elevate mood and reduce the risk of depression. Those who eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains may enjoy a more positive outlook in life. The high levels of antioxidants and phytochemicals have mood-boosting properties.
For instance, nuts and seeds are rich in fiber, healthy fats and tryptophan, an amino acid that helps release mood-boosting serotonin. Certain nuts and seeds, such as almonds and pine nuts, are also excellent sources of selenium and zinc. Deficiency in these minerals is linked to higher rates of depression, although it’s necessary to pursue further research.
Better Cognitive Function
Plant-based foods, especially those containing high levels of B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, help improve cognitive function. These nutrients are essential in your mental performance, memory and focus.
The most well-known food sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish such as trout, tuna and salmon. This can pose challenges for vegans or those who don’t consume fish to meet their needs. Fortunately, plant-based enthusiasts can get their daily sources from chia seeds, Brussels sprouts and walnuts.
Improved Gut Health
Another mental health benefit of being a vegan is improved gut health. Eating plant-based foods has a positive influence on the gut-brain connection. Loaded with dietary fiber, vegans can enjoy the benefits of having a healthier gut microbiome.
The gut is home to trillions of bacteria. Striking a balance of these microorganisms can help strengthen the immune system and improve gut health, which can significantly impact your mental health.
Brightly colored fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli, berries, carrots, bok choy and spinach, are rich in phytochemicals, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that help boost brain and gut function.
Reduces Stress Levels
Nutrients in plant foods, such as potassium and magnesium, can help regulate stress responses. Whole foods like leafy greens, seeds and nuts are packed with nutrients that help support the body’s stress response, allowing you and your brain to cope with challenges more effectively.
Exposure to long-term stress can rewire your brain, keeping your blood pressure high and raising your risk of heart complications. Eating bananas, sweet potatoes and walnuts provides your mind with nutrients that will help ease anxiety and reduce stress.
Aids Weight Management
Maintaining a healthy weight with a plant-based diet positively affects your mental health. When you feel good about your body, you’re more at peace with your own body. It reduces the risk of mental health problems related to body image.
Weight loss can also enhance the quality of sleep. It helps reduce feelings of irritability and fatigue commonly associated with depression. Add whole grains, beans, nuts, broccoli, avocado and cauliflower to your weight loss diet.
Tips for Switching to a Plant-Based Diet
Now that you know the mental health benefits you can get from a plant-based diet, here are some actionable steps to start your wellness journey.
1. Start Slowly
A complete transition to a vegan diet might overwhelm you. Just like tackling a work project, it’s best to break it down into smaller, more achievable steps. Here are some pointers you should keep in mind:
- Switch to plant-based milk: This option is an easy starting point because it offers a familiar substitute for traditional dairy milk. It’s readily available, comes in many flavors and many people love them. For instance, in Britain, 25% of consumers are choosing plant-based beverages over traditional dairy beverages. Popular choices include almond, soy and oat milk.
- Add more: Increase your intake of whichever fruits and vegetables you love.
- Explore more: Add a new plant-based food to your plate every week. Try out a whole grain you haven’t had before.
- Make a swap: Swap processed meat-based foods such as hamburgers, nuggets and pizza for plant-based alternatives. Instead of ordering a pizza, try creating one at home with vegetables, bell peppers, cashew sauce or marinara and add some vegan cheese.
2. Add Protein
One of the common drawbacks of a plant-based diet is the need for more protein. As you veer from meat, remember to include protein-packed plant foods like tofu, beans, legumes and tempeh.
3. Get Savvy with Food Labels
Keep an eye on what you eat. Read the labels and pay attention to added sugar, saturated fat content and sodium levels of packaged foods. Just because a product has a plant-based mark on it doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with pitfalls.
Try Meal Planning
Precooking your meals can make mealtime easier. Instead of cooking after a long day, you only need to heat and prepare your plant-based plate. Do your meal preps when you’re less busy and choose food options that are palatable to you, including your favorite vegetables and whole grains.
Step Up Your Plant Game
Embracing the mental health benefits of a plant-based diet involves switching to plant-centric eating habits. Make a mindful switch today with these tips to nurture your mind and body.
This is a collaborative post supporting our Peace In Peace Out initiative.