How Plant-Based Eating Affects Your Mood

Updated: Sep 23

Guest post from Sunshine Behavioral Health

“You are what you eat.” You've probably heard this platitude too many times to count, but have you ever stopped to consider whether what you eat has any bearing on how you feel?

Mental illness can affect anyone and may develop anytime in the form of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, dementia, and more. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression affects almost 300 million people. The primary therapies for depression include antidepressant medications and psychotherapies. However, psychotherapy services may be limited, and compliance with antidepressants is low. Medication is not always ideal or effective for everyone, not to mention the side effects. Lifestyle factors, such as physical activity and diet, may be better options for those with mild forms of depression or anxiety.

Your Mind on Meat

A diet rich in animal products may increase feelings of depression. One of the reasons for this is arachidonic acid, an essential fatty acid found only in animal products.

There are two schools of thought regarding its effects:

  • Some maintain arachidonic acid is beneficial since it's needed for muscle growth.

  • Other studies show it is an inflammatory chemical messenger that can trigger mood-changing disturbances in the brain including depression, stress, anxiety, and hopelessness.

One study looked at the relationship between red meat consumption and depression, anxiety and psychological distress in 482 women, aged 25-50 years old. They found that women who consumed the most red meat had a higher risk of depression compared with those who consumed less. They also found that women who consumed more red meat had more anxiety and distress compared to those who consumed less meat.

They concluded that red meat contains cholesterol, saturated fatty acid and heme iron, which are risk factors for chronic diseases. Red meat intake is also associated with higher BMI, higher prevalence of obesity, and lower physical activity levels. All of these factors may be associated with declining mental health due to oxidative stress and inflammation.