Relatively new research is suggesting that what we eat in general, and specifically a vegan diet, can have a profound effect not only on our physical well-being, but also on our mental health.
I do not intend to list all, or indeed any, of these studies here, or I would fill the page, but please get in touch through the contact option at the bottom for details. Indeed, get in touch anyway I would love to hear your views on this article or my website in general.
Firstly let me state that I am neither a doctor nor a mental health practitioner. I have studied both psychology and sociology, but I do not believe such academic qualifications make one an authority on this subject, and certainly not in my case!
Therefore, any points made in this essay are firstly my own, and secondly, only intended as an idea to supplement any actions, medication, counselling or chats with a friend, exercise, listening to music or exercise or indeed anything else, that are recommended by a professional medical or mental health practitioner. Or whatever you feel helps your personally!
We are talking about one more aid to help with mental well-being, not a silver bullet nor a “cure”! But it could perhaps be a very useful and largely ignored supplement. A vegan diet for anxiety and food to reduce stress are not new, but are relatively unknown outside of the vegan community. I can understand why. Many people do not find it easy switching to a vegan diet, others simply refuse to even consider it. Change is not always easy, but then many things worthwhile are not!
A vegan diet is characterized by the exclusion of animal products, be this meat, fish, eggs, butter, milk and cheese. It has gained significant attention for its positive impact on physical health, animal welfare and environmental sustainability. It’s potential benefits extend beyond these domains.
Emerging research suggests that adopting a vegan lifestyle can have a profound effects on mental health, particularly, but not only, depression and depression like symptoms. It is aiding in the prevention of panic attacks and the promotion of emotional well-being. In this article we will delve into a number of key areas where a vegan diet can contribute to good mental health, like a vegan diet for depression and why, and how it can serve as a defence against panic attacks. Towards the end of this article I talk about specific foods that help keep your calm and even help your sleep.
A nutrient rich diet for brain health
There is no doubt that many mental health issues have a root cause based on a physical condition. Of course also many based on other matters like trauma in general particularly PTSD in particular and many more.
However, even in the latter cases, though the cause was not from inside the body, we will still benefit by the body being in the best physical and physiological shape it can. Illness brought on by a vitamin or other dietary deficiency, can only exacerbate the condition.
A vegan diet emphasizes nutrient dense, plant based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. These foods are rich in essential vitamins, minerals antioxidants and phytochemicals that play a crucial role in maintaining optimal brain function.
Nutrients like B vitamins particularly B-12, Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and magnesium are associated with improved cognitive function and mood regulation by providing the brain with these essential building blocks.
(I know I said I would not do references, but search for this on google or drop me a line for the reference, It is fascinating.)
I think we are only now just starting to see how important having the correct good microbes in the gut are to our overall health and particularly mental health. I cannot stress this enough.
Good microbe mixtures in the gut (often referred to as the microbiome) do far more than breakdown our food, but of course they are only as good as what we put into them. The gut microbiome plays a pivotal role in mental health through the gut-brain axis. A vegan diet is abundant in fiber, probiotics (the good microbes) and prebiotics (the food these probiotics need) from plant based sources.
This nurtures a diverse and healthy good microbiota, a balanced microbiome is linked to the production of neurotransmitters like, but not only, Serotonin, often referred to as the feel good hormone. Serotonin imbalance is associated with mood disorders and panic attacks, the consumption of plant based foods enhances gut health fostering a positive influence on mental well-being.
Many of these healthy microbes struggle to survive and grow in the gut in the presence of meat and dairy, and find life difficult without adequate fiber. It is estimated that 97% of Americans who eat both meat and vegetables are deficient in fiber! This struggling microbiome is only one effect of this imbalance, but I am sure your appreciate the impact of this now if your didn’t before. There are many other issues that a lack of fiber can lead to, serious are really debilitating illnesses and even fatal ones, but that is for another day and article.
Chronic inflammation has been implicated in various mental health conditions including anxiety and panic disorders. A vegan diet is naturally anti-inflammatory due to its high content of antioxidants and phytochemicals. All animal products, especially but notably, not only, red and processed meats are known to cause inflammation.
By excluding these from the diet individuals following a vegan lifestyle may experience reduced inflammation thereby decreasing the risk of panic attacks and fostering a more balanced mental state. Whilst inflammation in any part of the body is a cause for concern, I am sure I do not have to go into the impact of inflammation in the gut and in the blood vessels, particularly those in the brain, on this topic.
Blood sugar regulation
Staple blood sugar levels are essential for mood stability and anxiety prevention. Plant based foods, particularly whole grains, legumes and fruits have a lower glycemic index compared to many animal products. This means they lead to a slower more even release of glucose into the bloodstream, preventing rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels.
Fluctuations in blood sugar can trigger anxiety and panic like symptoms. A vegan’s diet focused on low glycemic foods contributes to better blood sugar control and the more tranquil, even, mental state. There are products on the market that can lead to a regulation of blood sugar and are also associated with weight loss. I attach links to two such products here so that you can choose between them. Please click for details. And click here for the second I would stress though if your have transitioned to a vegan lifestyle your should not need this but if your feel it could be of assistance before or whilst your move to this lifestyle change. I should also say that if your do take this offer I receive a small commission as an affiliate.
Mindful eating and emotional connection
Adopting a vegan lifestyle often encourages individuals to be more mindful of their food choices and consumption patterns. Mindful eating practices can promote a deeper emotional connection with food and enhance self-awareness. This heightened consciousness around food choices can extend to emotions and triggers potentially leading to a better management of stress and anxiety, thus reducing the likelihood of panic attacks.
This is probably better combined with the individual keeping a diary/journal on reflections to include what and when they are eating and how that makes them feel. This fits in with much of the best practice of people keeping a journal of their moods but seeks to extend it’s use to the benefits of both practices and of course the individual’s health. Please do not under-value the benefits of this journal, and remember to record your achievements!
Ethical and environmental considerations
The ethical principles that underpin veganism, such as compassion for animals and environmental sustainability can contribute to a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Engaging in actions aligned with personal values and contributing to a greater cause can positively impact mental well-being.
Moreover, being part of the community that shares similar values and goals can provide a support network that reduces the feelings of isolation that far too many people feel, and fosters emotional resilience. This can particularly benefit individuals who don’t have, or don’t feel they have, a close support network, from family or friends. If they look to join a wider group, a vegan group that they can often be more comfortable in communicating with like-minded people without their “baggage” being known to all.
Need specific food to reduce stress and help sleeping?
Unfortunately many of us suffer from a lack of sleep. This can have a detrimental effect on your day to day ability for function and can have a cumulative effect on your well-being and your enter a vicious circle of lack of sleep leading to depression, or at the very least listlessness, which leads to poor performance and an inability to focus and eventually, often, feelings of negative self-worth. There is one main way to get out of this without medication, and that is a good period of sleep.
The following vegan items can help this, most studies agree in this order but again, whilst the benefits are clear, objective studies are needed to consolidate the findings. These foods should help your sleep, but please bear in mind why. They are calming foods so can be used during the day just to help your stay on a certain level. Not only that but of course they are not artificial pills, but good natural wholesome food.
This essay/blog has got longer than I had planned, so I will try to keep this list brief with only one or two points why this might make a difference for your. Please email or message me for further details.
You will, of course, see similar lists with animal based products included, like cottage cheese, but even before reading this I suspect your will have formed a view of cheese and sleep? Again, I will not produce the references here. Message me if your want more details please. I would also suggest your read my article on the true cost of milk, on this site, which explains the impact of milk, cheese and such on the body, the animals and the environment.
Beneficial vegan foods to generally help your mood.
1) Leafy greens: Foods like spinach, kale and Swiss Chard are rich in folate which is linked to improved mood and a reduced risk of depression.
2) Berries: Blueberries strawberries and and raspberries are packed with antioxidants and vitamin C which may help lower stress and boost mood.
3) Avocado: rich in healthy fats and B vitamins, avocados support brain health and may contribute to improved mood regulation.
4) Nuts and seeds: Walnuts flax seeds and chai seeds are high in Omega 3 fatty acids which are associated with reduced inflammation and enhanced mood.
5) Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas and beans are an excellent sauce of plant-based protein and contain tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of well-being.
6) Dark Chocolate: Choose vegan varieties with a high cocoa content. Dark chocolate it contains compounds like phenylethylamine and flavonoids, which can boost and increase feelings of pleasure.
7) Whole grains: Foods like quinoa, brown rice, and oats have a low glycemic index and produce a steady, consistent release of energy helping to stabilize blood sugar levels and mood.
More Beneficial vegan foods specifically to help with sleep.
1) Tart cherries. Tart cherries and their juice are a natural form of melatonin, a natural source of the hormone secreted by our brain to help regulate sleep patterns.
2) Dried apricots. Plenty of natural magnesium in an easy to break down compound. The sleep foundation suggest this will not only help your get to sleep but stay that way rather than constantly wake and sleep.
The benefits of a vegan diet extend far beyond physical health and environmental concerns. Through its naturally, nutrient rich composition, positive influence on gut-brain axis, anti-inflammatory properties, blood sugar regulation, mindful eating practices and alignment with ethical values, a vegan lifestyle can significantly contribute to good mental health and act as a defense against depression and panic attacks.
While dietary choices are just one facet of mental health management, like medication, counseling and many others, the evidence suggests that adopting a vegan diet may play a meaningful role in enhancing emotional well-being and promoting a calm more balanced state of mind. It is also an approach that has been largely overlooked!
As research in this field continues to evolve exploring the synergies between plant-based nutrition and mental health most promising potential for a holistic approach to well-being.
As with any change in diet, if your are under medical supervision or on medication your should consult your health care professional before making changes to your diet. Indeed, undertaking these changes may lead to your requiring less medication, but if that is the case this should be done slowly and with the agreement of a medical/mental health professional.
If you need a few ideas for recipes here is a link to a vegan cookbook. Though please note this is a general one not specifically catered for mental health but will be a good start bearing in mind what you have just read. To look at this please click here. Please note, should you decide to purchase this product I will get a small commission as an affiliate marketer.
I know I have already mentioned it but I really would love your to get in touch with me about this article in particular, and my website in general. Please provide as much feedback as your can. I will endeavor to answer your questions as best I can.
If your would like me to produce a journal to track your food intake and emotions, please let me know. However, if your keep one anyway please remember to acknowledge your achievements, whether this be “cut out meat today” or “cut down on butter and yogurt,” I think your body and mental state will thank your.
Thank your for taking the time to read this article.