It has long been said that the food you put in your system will have a lasting impression on the way our bodies function and operate on a daily basis. While it’s sure to make us feel better about ourselves physically, can adopting a plant-based diet improve mental health?
Studies and research continue to point towards yes, though it will largely depend on what your plant-based diet consists of. While relying on plants for nutrients is the way to go, it’s just as easy to find yourself deficient in certain areas if the proper nutrients aren’t being utilized.
What Does Food Do To Our Brain?
For starters, it’s known that certain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can help reduce oxidative stress in the brain, as well as free radicals. While most foods will contain adequate amounts of these nutrients, others won’t.
If you eat a lot of plant-based foods that lack these nutrients, your brain won’t be getting the necessary anti-oxidants to properly protect itself from impaired cognition.
We’ve probably all heard of the neurotransmitter Serotonin before. If you haven’t, it plays a major role in the feeling of pleasure and happiness. Research shows that nearly 95% of the serotonin produced in our bodies is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. It is often synthesized from an amino acid called tryptophan.
Tryptophan is commonly found in protein-rich foods and many people will rely on animal meat or dairy products to get this amino acid. Research is starting to suggest these aren’t the best ways to consume tryptophan, rather pointing to plant-based sources of tryptophan as being more effective.
How Can We Get More Tryptophan
If you’re looking at getting started on a plant-based diet, you can do a lot for your mental health and happiness by eating tryptophan-rich foods. Contrary to popular belief, there are several ways to get this nutrient through plants.
One of the most popular ways of getting tryptophan on a plant-based diet is through spirulina, which contains over 900mg of tryptophan per 100g serving. Chia seeds also have high levels of tryptophan, containing over 725mg per 100g serving.
Other sources include mushrooms, cucumbers, walnuts, wheat, potatoes, and cauliflower. Adding these foods to your daily consumption will help produce more serotonin, which in turn will help you feel much happier throughout the day.
Starting a Plant-Based Diet Today
Many people will try to tell you that a plant-based diet isn’t healthy. They’ll try to tell you that plants don’t contain protein, they don’t contain iron, and they don’t contain a variety of nutrients we need on a daily basis.
It’s important to understand that this is completely false. In fact, plants are often a better source of protein and other nutrients than animal-based foods are. Taking tryptophan for example, you can find nearly 5x the amount in spirulina than in turkey — which is one of the better animal-based sources of tryptophan.
If you’re interested in seeing a plant-based diet improve mental health, potentially for years to come, contact me today!