A plant-based diet does much more than improve your physical health in a short amount of time. It can also be a great way to improve your mood, as well. It’s a strange effect, really, considering that the media and food industry promotes foods such as fish, Greek yogurt, and even poultry or red meat as prominent “mood-boosters” or imperative foods to consume in an ancestral type diet.
Yet, a plant-based diet that full of unadulterated vitamins and minerals straight from the earth (which is where animals get their nutrients from, mind you), is the best way to improve your health and mood.
Plant-based foods that grow in organic soil are the absolute best source of vitamins and trace minerals your brain and body need to feel their best. Calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, amino acids that make up protein, and even omega 3s can all be obtained through plant-based foods.
Here are 10 ways a plant-based diet can affect your mood and the foods that offer the most benefits for each purpose.
Magnesium is one of the most overlooked, necessary minerals one needs on any diet, plant-based or not. It’s essential for energy, fighting off headaches, improving sleep health, and regulating your mood. Magnesium is also very competitive with calcium, which makes it even more important to consume on a regular basis. Plant-based foods are loaded with high-quality magnesium, while most animal foods have none.
The best sources of magnesium include: all nuts and seeds, cacao, whole grains, coffee, and leafy greens. Bananas, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash also contain decent amounts.
Check out why magnesium is a must and how to get enough!
Calcium is an important nutrient for calming the nerves and keeping our bones healthy. Most plant-based eaters know you don’t need to eat dairy to get your fill. Calcium can lower your blood pressure, aid in healthy sleep cycles, treat anxiety, and keep your hair, nails, and teeth in good health.
The best sources of calcium include: leafy greens, seaweed, almonds, broccoli, figs, chia, sesame seeds, some beans, fortified non-dairy milks, soy, tofu.
Now, this little fact will really surprise those out there that believe meat is the only source of high-quality iron. Plant-based foods are packed with iron and yes, your body can use this iron just as efficiently as it can meat. For one, plant-based foods come with none of the side effects that meat does, such as saturated fats and acidity. Next, some sources of plant-based iron are actually higher than their animal based counterparts. Iron is important for your mood because it shuttles oxygen to the brain and provides energy to the body.
Here are the best sources: spirulina, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), cacao, almonds, chia, leafy greens, beans, raisins, mulberries, legumes, and whole grains.
Once again, you don’t need meat to get your fill of high-quality nutrients, including protein. The question people ask most often regarding a plant-based diet is “Where do you get your protein?” For those out there that hear this question as much as I do, you likely already know how to get your protein just fine.
But why is protein important for your mood? Well, for starters, amino acids that make up protein help your neurotransmitters function properly. This can ward off depression, anxiety, and also just make you feel better overall. Protein also keeps you lean and toned, and it gives you strength and stamina.
Plant-based foods that are packed with high-quality protein include: spirulina, chia, pumpkin seeds, almonds, quinoa, millet, oats, rye, buckwheat, tofu, soybeans (endamame), lentils, beans, and tempeh.
5. Omega 3s
Plant-based foods are also loaded with omega 3 fatty acids, which are vital for healthy brain function, along with heart and skin health. You absolutely do not have to eat fish to get enough omega 3 fatty acids in your diet, especially considering that fish obtain their omega 3 fats directly from algae. Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and help fight off joint pain, along with boost your mood and give you a more positive outlook.
The best sources of omega 3s from plant-based foods include: blue green algae (such as spirulina), chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and even leafy greens (though these amounts are smaller.)
Plant-based foods are overall very alkaline. Even the most acidic plant-based foods don’t compare to the acidity of fish, dairy, meat, and poultry. Plant-based foods also contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals, which help contribute to their overall nutritional benefits. The more acidic your body, the less vitality you’ll have overall. You may notice joint pain, stomach problems, and an overall lack of zest for life. An acidic body can also lead to aging, along with other health issues to be aware of.
The most alkaline plant-based foods include: all leafy greens and vegetables, apples, pears, ripe bananas, winter squash, spirulina, wheatgrass, all green powders, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. Sprouts and fermented foods are also excellent for aiding in alkalinity. Making green smoothies and juices is an easy way to improve your alkalinity, along with a raw foods diet.
Plant-based foods are also wonderful for digestion! Even if you have digestive problems when you first eat a plant-based diet, there are some helpful things you can do to turn this around quickly. Overall, a plant-based diet eliminates acidic wastes, saturated fats, and harmful proteins found in animal-based foods. This improves your mood since your digestion is “your second brain” as they say. When your digestive system is struggling, your mood takes a major hit.
Here are the best plant-based foods to improve digestion: leafy greens, sprouted foods, fermented foods such as tempeh and miso, ripe fruits, soaked grains, raw nuts and seeds, coconut meat, and root vegetables. If you tolerate them, beans and legumes are also great sources of fiber but take it slowly and see how they work for you before diving in head first.
And remember- green smoothies are an awesome way to get in your veggies and work through digestive difficulties.
Now, let’s talk plant-based fats (which are one of my favorite food categories!) While I love my leafy greens and veggies, healthy fats are a very important part of taking care of your mood on any diet – plant-based or not. When you ditch the harmful animal fats, laden with cholesterol, you’re only left with nature’s finest plant-fats. Even those that contain saturated fats are completely cholesterol-free and beneficial to the brain. Just be sure to avoid processed and packaged foods that are high in fat, since those are refined and not beneficial to your mood or any other aspect of your health. Healthy fats come with many health benefits, so long as you consume them smart and in proper portions.
Here are some of the best sources of plant-based fats (including those rich in omega 3 fats listed above): avocado, all nuts and seeds (preferably raw), coconut (raw and unsweetened), and cacao and dark chocolate (avoid those with milk and refined sugar). Even some grains like oats and quinoa have a little fat, so eating a variety of foods can help you get enough.
Try this Creamy Chai Chia Coconut Pudding to get your fill of healthy fats in one delicious bowl!
Carbohydrates are essential for producing serotonin, the feel-good hormone in the brain. Carbs are found in all plants and not in animal foods at all. If you’re a fan of the low-carb diet, but seem to have a low mood all the time, this is something you may want to consider. Plant-based foods are filled with good carbs that help promote a balanced mood, help regulate your sleep, and even help benefit your weight if you portion them out between meals. Your body and brain need carbs, just from the right sources and not from refined foods.
Here are the best sources of healthy carbs on a plant-based diet: fruit, whole grains (preferably gluten-free), beans, nuts, seeds, green and root vegetables, legumes, and sprouted grains. Leafy greens also contain carbs but not as much as these other foods. Be sure you get a variety of plant-based foods in your diet and you’ll be well on your way to getting all the carbs you need for a well-balanced mood.
Here’s a great recipe veggie-filled recipe with healthy carbohydrates from brown rice and zucchini!
Lastly, one of the best things about a plant-based diet for your mood is the variety of foods you have to choose from. Plants far outweigh animal foods when it comes to choices. You can only do so many things (especially healthier options) with animal-based foods, but the possibilities are endless when it comes to plant-based foods. Why is this good for your mood? For one, you’ll hardly ever miss out on nutrients if you eat a whole foods, plant-based diet and your mood will naturally be enhanced through all the variety of foods you eat. Secondly, plant-based foods have so much variety, you’re more likely to be excited about preparing healthy meals, which will in turn give you mood benefits.
These amazing energy bites have a variety of nutrients that make them perfect for on the go eats anytime of the day!
To eat a variety of plant-based foods, fill up on: vegetables, leafy greens, raw nuts and seeds, whole grains, beans, legumes, and fruit. For those of you who don’t like to spend a lot of time prepping foods, you can also used clean plant-based protein powders and nutritional shakes that provide all these nutrients in an easy to go format. Simple, easy, done.
What’s your favorite mood-boosting benefit of a plant-based diet?
Image Source: Alice Henneman/ Flickr