Mental health has become an important topic in light of recent global events. The COVID-19 pandemic and the worldwide lockdowns have put a lot of stress on everyone, especially those personally impacted by it. Spending time alone allowed us to look inward and evaluate how our mental health is doing, rather than using our busy schedules to avoid it. Many of us discovered that our mental health may not be in the best shape and are looking for a way to improve it. Whether it is taking up meditation or a stress-relieving hobby, caring for your mental health is not a one size fits all solution. Eating a vegan diet, however, is one of the few things that can significantly improve your mental health and reduce the risk of anxiety and depression.
How can simply changing your eating habits have such a beneficial effect on your mental health? Worry not, we will discuss this in further detail below.
The Vegan Diet Provides the Necessary Nutrients for Optimal Mental Health
The typical argument against Veganism is that it does not provide sufficient levels of vitamin B-12 or iron, and while that is a true statement, supplementation of those two vitamins is an easy solution, and a plant-based diet ensures that the remainder of the necessary vitamin needs is easily met. Nearly 50% of Americans are deficient in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and magnesium. That number is greatly reduced in those consuming a plant-based diet, as the majority of the foods contain the vitamins required for optimal health. By eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, you are providing both your body and brain with the fuel needed to operate at its highest levels.
A 2019 study has found that zinc, magnesium, and vitamin C significantly decreased symptoms of anxiety, especially in young adults. Both balanced vegan and vegetarian diets supply a sufficient amount of all of the necessary vitamins to fight anxiety and many of those struggling with the condition have credited eating a more plant-based diet to reducing the severity and symptoms of it.
Plant-based foods and their nutrient high properties may also contribute to increased energy levels as well as decreased stress levels. Foods typical to a vegan diet such as leafy greens, fermented foods, and even dark chocolate have been found to lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the blood. This helps to combat the stresses of our daily lives which can ultimately reduce depression and anxiety. Increased levels of cortisol have negative effects on not only our mental health but our physical wellbeing.
Vegan diets typically consist of complex carbohydrates that increase serotonin levels, also known as the feel-good hormone. All the while meat and animal products contain long-chain fatty acids, which are linked to symptoms of depression. Incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet can positively impact your physical and mental wellbeing.
Mindfulness in Food and Lifestyle Choices
Mindfulness is a concept widely taught by yoga, meditation, and life coaches. It is the act of being present and aware of everything you think, say, and do. By being mindful of your actions and feelings, you can improve your mood and overall mental health by freeing yourself of the negative feelings and judgment of your everyday lives. Following a vegetarian or vegan diet, or any plant-based diet encourages mindfulness by increasing awareness of the foods and products you put into your body. Being aware of the food choices you make, allows you to only pick the foods that make you feel good and builds a healthy and balanced relationship with nutrition. By putting good ingredients into your body, you show yourself that you care for your body and its wellbeing. Reinforcing self-love in the form of the foods we eat will make you feel more gratitude and confidence.
The Feeling of Belonging to a Community
One of the primary needs for all humans is feeling like we belong to a community. While society is becoming more disconnected, having a common goal and purpose can unite many of us. Becoming a vegan can feel quite terrifying at first, especially if you are first in your immediate friend and family group to do so. You may fear not being included in outings and dinners, but in fact, there is a great and supportive vegan community that you will belong to. More and more restaurants are finally adopting plant-based options and there are more vegan restaurants opening up around the world. There you can meet like-minded individuals who share similar goals of eating and living more sustainably. You can find your tribe in Facebook groups and event pages, local blogs, and farmers’ markets.
The vegan community is consistently looking to expand and they are incredibly welcoming to any new and interested members. Having the feeling of belonging to a community dedicated to a bigger purpose can improve your mental health significantly. Feeling like you are supported and have a tribe to lean on in times of need can be especially great for those struggling with feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Are You Ready To Go Plant-Based?
Veganism is not only a diet; it is a lifestyle. There are many reasons why somebody would want to choose the vegan lifestyle, and while mental health may not have at the top of the list for deciding factors, we hope that this post changes that view. Aside from being environmentally friendly and sustainable, eating plant-based can have incredible effects on both your physical health, but most importantly your mental health. The increased levels of vitamins and nutrients are only one of the reasons for improved mental health. The sense of belonging and making choices that are good for the environment, as well as being mindful in one of the biggest aspects of your life are the other remaining reasons why you should consider incorporating more plant-based foods into your daily life.
If you aren’t ready to fully make the switch, start small and build from there. We promise it will pay off tenfold!