Boost Brain Health (and Mood) with a Plant-Based Diet
With the growing trend of depression and other brain-related maladies affecting Americans, more and more studies are looking at how dietary changes can improve mood and increase quality of life. What might be surprising is the growing evidence that plant-based eating could be the solution for a prescription-free, healthy mind and body.
Processed Food Problem
Recent studies have looked at what people eat in relation to how they feel, and processed foods do seem to point to a correlation between diet, mood, and brain health. The British Journal of Psychiatry looked at 3,486 participants over a five-year period, examining dietary patterns and depression. What they found was that those who ate more whole, unprocessed foods had a lower risk of depression. Plant-based eaters also had better overall moods.
An Easy Correlation
Why is plant-based eating better for the brain? Most research points to the fact that a plant-based diet dramatically reduces inflammation, which can lead to many types of chronic diseases. The antioxidants found in most fresh fruits and vegetables helps to repair damage to cells and can help to balance neurotransmitters for optimal brain function. Additionally, there are micronutrients, called phytochemicals that are only found in certain fruits and vegetables and help your brain to function optimally. Cutting out these foods and replacing them with meat, dairy, or processed foods means that your brain is not getting the right fuel.
Fish is one source of Omega-3, but it can also cause inflammation. A recent trial looked at the difference between a standard diet, one limited in meat but high in fish, and one plant-based diet. The results? After just a few weeks the plant-based group felt significantly better, with lower stress levels and a more positive mood. Plant-based diets high in items like walnuts, avocado, chia and flaxseeds have just as much Omega-3 fatty acids as one that contains fish. Maintaining a level intake of Omega-3 fatty acids is vital to good brain health, as it can reduce inflammation, reduce the risk of degenerative diseases such as dementia, improve mood and memory, and even prevent certain cancers.
Don’t Worry, No Turkey
We all know that happy effects of tryptophan found in turkey. Tryptophan helps to create serotonin, which is your brain’s “happy” neurotransmitter. But you don’t need to eat turkey to get this benefit, and in fact, your body finds it much easier to create serotonin from the tryptophan found in leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, peas, and other plant-based foods. Studies have also shown that combining high-tryptophan foods with protein can help the tryptophan to more easily be absorbed by the body.
Best Bets for Boosting the Brain
There are so many options to choose from, but here are some of the best options to add to your shopping cart on a weekly basis.
- Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, cashews
- Flax seeds and/or flax seed oil
- Dark leafy greens
- Pumpkin seeds
It’s so easy to add these brain boosters to your diet any time of the day. Top whole grain oatmeal with a sprinkle of nuts and blueberries, add avocado and pumpkin seeds to your salads, blend chia and flax into your smoothies and add a hearty serving of dark leafy greens to your dinners. If you’ve been feeling a bit down, forgetful, or just want to make a positive change, then it might be time to transition to a plant-based diet.