According to the CDC, more than 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in their life. Depression and anxiety are among the top conditions that people suffer from.
As our society becomes more aware of mental health and more attuned to improving it, a number of potential solutions and aids have come to the surface.
One of the most recent theories is that a plant-based diet could help improve your mental health and reduce the effects of anxiety and depression. Today, I’ll examine this theory and show you some of the top research-based evidence so you can decide for yourself!
Can a Plant-Based Diet Improve Your Mental Health?
Obesity and physical illness aren’t the only drawbacks of an unhealthy diet. It’s no secret that our dietary choices have a huge impact on our mental health.
Our body needs specific vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to support optimal hormone production and healthy brain function. Without them, our hormone levels can fluctuate drastically, resulting in symptoms such as:
- And more…
Simply put – when we’re not eating healthily, our bodies will ultimately suffer, both physically and mentally.
Plant-based diets tend to be a lot healthier, compared to the average American diet that’s full of meat, sugar, and highly-processed foods. As a result, plant-based eaters tend to consume more plant-based nutrients than meat-eaters.
Meat does contain some essential nutrients. However, as long as vegans are supplementing with the best plant-based trace minerals to make up for this, they shouldn’t be negatively affected by the lack of meat in their diet.
Can a Plant-Based Diet Help Depression & Anxiety?
A growing body of evidence points towards the idea that a plant-based diet could improve your mental health. A recent study of 219 individuals revealed that those who adhered to plant-based diets were around 6% less likely to suffer from depression.
Six percent may not seem like a huge difference, but it’s certainly relevant. For those who suffer the daily effects of a mental health condition, a pharmaceutical-free solution (no matter how small the chances are) is certainly worth looking into.
Cognitive Dissonance & Plant-Based Eating
It’s easy to see how proper nutrient levels can correlate with healthier brain function. However, there’s a deeper aspect that’s just as relevant.
The American Psychological Association (APA) published a paper showing that many who suffer from depression also suffer from cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort that occurs when an individual’s beliefs about themselves don’t line up with the life that they actually live. It can also happen when an individual holds two conflicting beliefs at the same time.
For example, a part of you might really want to change your diet, improve your health, and start a plant-based lifestyle. The other part of you might also really enjoy meat, junk food, and other unhealthy things in your life.
Until you make a solid decision to follow one path or the other, you’ll likely feel uncomfortable. Sustained over long periods of time, these feelings can develop into depression or anxiety.
Once people commit to living a healthier lifestyle (which may include a plant-based diet), the positive decision can often feel like a weight lifted off of the shoulders. Stress, guilt, and indecision are replaced by focus, positivity, and clarity, which are naturally healthier emotions.
Not All Vegan Food Is Equal
When considering a plant-based diet to improve your mental health, it’s important to keep in mind the type of vegan food that you’re eating.
Not all vegan food is healthy.
Unfortunately, there are lots of unhealthy, highly-processed vegan foods that can be detrimental to your health.
I always recommend that plant-based eaters stick to natural, healthy whole foods, whenever possible.
Vegan Probiotics & Mental Health
Gut health often correlates with mental health. The healthier your gut biome is, the less likely you are to suffer from conditions like depression and anxiety. When your stomach is healthy, it’s able to absorb more of the nutrients it needs. Probiotics can even improve your body’s ability to create and absorb serotonin!
While vegans may not be able to consume yogurt (which is the biggest source of probiotics), the best vegan probiotics contain all of the essential bacteria needed to support a healthy gut!
Conclusion – Can Going Vegan Improve Your Mental Health?
As long as you’re consuming healthy whole foods and vegan nutrient supplements, then you may see improvements in both your physical and mental health! Vegan diets tend to be healthier than non-vegan diets and are more positive and ethical.
Combined, all of these things can lead to a happier state of mind, which can reduce the effects of depression and anxiety.
Guest author Emma Wilson is the creator of Vegan Calm, your guide to everything vegan!