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Health

Why Eating Plant-Based Can Boost Your Mental Health

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Adapting your life to a vegan lifestyle is sure to improve your mentality because you’re standing up for those who cannot speak. As wonderful as that may be, adhering to a vegan diet can do even more for your mind and mental health. This is due to certain nutrients found in plant-based foods that work to elevate your mood, reduce stress, and promote a sense of well-being.

To find out how nutrition plays a role in mental healing, continue on!

While proper nutrition may help improve mental health, it is important to understand that it is not a replacement for proper treatment. Always consult a doctor if you are experiencing depression.

1. How Nutrition Can Improve Your Mindset

 brianna.lehman/Flickr

What you eat influences every area of your body, including your brain. It is important to consider what you put into your body, because that food will become the fuel for your mind. When you feed yourself nutritious, plant-based foods filled with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, you are protecting your brain from oxidative stress and free radicals. If you deny your body and mind healthy foods, free radicals could wreak havoc and negatively impair cognition and mentality.

Another link to nutrition and mental well-being begins within the gastrointestinal tract. Because 95% of serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, it seems that the digestive system not only breaks down food but also may trigger your emotions. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays many different roles, including stabilizing your mood, aiding with sleep, helping your body digest food, and impacting your motor skills. If you have low levels of serotonin in the body, you are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, or have trouble sleeping.

Certain foods trigger the synthesis of serotonin because they contain an amino acid found in proteins called tryptophan. In order to maintain normal serotonin levels, it is important to consume foods containing tryptophan. While some animal products contain this amino acid, recent studies have shown that it may not be the best source.

Dr. Michael Greger explains that amino acids compete with one another for access to the blood-brain barrier. Because tryptophan is found in low doses in animal products compared to other amino acids, it gets pushed out of the way causing tryptophan levels in the brain to decline. However, when you consume plant-based foods, insulin is released due to the carbohydrate intake. This causes other amino acids to be taken in as fuel so that tryptophan can be the first one to access the brain.

This is why it consuming vegan sources of tryptophan with high levels of other beneficial nutrients is optimal so that this amino acid can successfully access the brain and synthesize serotonin.

2. The Best Vegan Sources of Tryptophan for a Stronger Mind

The Best Vegan Sources of Tryptophan for a Stronger Mind

Flávio Rossato/Flickr

Because serotonin plays such a major role in mental well-being, delivering yourself extra healthy doses of tryptophan can only help. The recommended dose of this amino acid per day is .29 grams. The best sources of tryptophan to help put your mind at ease are:

1. Butternut Squash Seeds have .04 grams of tryptophan per ounce, and are also a great source of protein.

2. Sea Vegetables like spirulina, kelp, and seaweed are awesome at boosting serotonin levels and also contain iodine, vitamin C, manganese, and vitamin B2!

3. Organic, Non-GMO Soy contains over 122% of the recommended daily value of tryptophan in only one ounce! This includes tofu, soybeans, and soy milk.

4. Cucumbers are super hydrating, have levels of vitamin K, vitamin C, potassium, and can also help boost your mood!

5. Wheat especially uncooked oats have high levels of tryptophan, coming in at 34% of your daily recommended intake in one ounce.

6. Walnuts are an awesome source of unsaturated fat, and great mood boosters!

7. Potatoes have .008 grams of tryptophan per ounce, and are an excellent source of fiber.

8. Leafy Greens are loaded with nutrients and phytochemicals, and can aid in the synthesis of serotonin.

9. Mushrooms are one of the few vegan sources of the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D, and also possess small levels of tryptophan.

10. Cauliflower has .0025 grams of tryptophan per ounce, and contains other essential amino acids!

3. Bring on the Positive Vibes with These Recipes 

Bring on the Positive Vibes with These Recipes 

Cherry Blueberry Galettes/Flickr

Promote a sense of clarity and mental ease by incorporating recipes into your life that help build serotonin levels. For a little meal inspiration try this Roasted Butternut Squash Soup, Carrot and Soba Noodles with Sea Vegetables, Cucumber Pinwheels with Sun-dried Tomato Avocado Pesto, Colorful Peanut Tofu Veggie Bowl with Glass Noodles, Soft Tacos with Walnut Meat, Fancy Pesto Potato Salad, Mushroom and Zucchini Burger with Radicchio Slaw, or this Tahini-Roasted Cauliflower with Lemony Herb Oil.

To further improve your mood, check out Elevate Your Mood and Get Happy with These 11 Foods. We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!

Lead Image Source: Shutterstock

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