Many people have chosen to eliminate or greatly reduce the amount of meat in their diets. Those who have chosen a vegan diet avoid any food that has animal origins, which means they do not eat meat, seafood, poultry, dairy products of any kind, or honey.
There are a range of reasons someone might become a vegetarian or a vegan. They could be taking an ethical stance against cruelty to animals. They may be pursuing health benefits associated with a plant-based diet. They may be concerned about the environmental impacts of a meat-based diet in the United States or elsewhere. Or it might be a combination of all of these reasons and more.
For our purposes here, we will focus on the potential tradeoffs to a person’s mental health that are related to a plant-centered approach to eating–and how to supplement your diet to avoid these problems.
Positive Health Outcomes of Plant-Based Eating
A plant-based diet can lower a person’s risk of developing a chronic disease. It can also help address other physical health conditions including arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity.
Improvements in any and all of those conditions lead to better overall well-being. And for some, the improvements in physical health seem to have a corresponding impact on mental health as well.
This is all good news, of course. But it isn’t necessarily the end of the story.
Overcoming Potential Deficiencies of a Plant-Based Diet
There are a number of vitamins and nutrients that play a role in regulating mood and other aspects of mental health—and some of these can be in short supply in a vegan diet. If you struggle with mental health issues, it will be especially important for you to supplement your diet with certain nutrients known to boost mental health.
The key three for this discussion are vitamin B-12, omega-3s, and amino acids.
Vitamin B-12 Is Vital
Vitamin B-12 is only found in meat, eggs, and dairy—three types of food that vegans do not consume. Nevertheless, B-12 deficiencies appear to be linked to depression. Those who avoid animal products in their diets may need to take B-12 supplements or multivitamins. There is also a range of plant-based food options that have been supplemented with vitamin B-12. In some situations, a doctor may give you a vitamin B-12 shot to improve your levels.
Chewing the Fat About Omega-3s
Omega-3s are a fatty acid found in seafood—another non-option for vegans and many vegetarians (those who follow a vegetarian diet plus seafood are known as pescatarians). While supplements are an option, it is better to find plant-based alternatives so that you can get the needed fatty acids from your food. Fatty acids can be found in chia seeds, ground flaxseed, hemp drinks, soy oil, tofu, and walnuts. It is important to get enough omega-3s because a deficiency can lead to issues with memory and learning—which can lead to or exacerbate mental health issues.
All About Amino Acids
Amino acids are a central component of the brain chemicals that help support your mood. They are found in protein, and much of the protein in our diet comes from meat. Fortunately, protein and amino acids can be found in quite a number of plants including beans, lentils, nuts, peas, seeds, and whole grains. The key is to make sure that there are enough of these foods in your diet to offset the protein you are not getting from meat.
Meat or No Meat, Nutrition Is Important for Mental Health
Whether or not you choose to eat meat or other animal products, the fact is that making good nutritional choices is important to everyone’s mental health (including those in recovery for a substance use disorder). Sticking with a healthy diet is just one of many things you can do to give your physical and mental health a boost.
We Can Help You Better Manage Your Mental Health
At Peak View Behavioral Health, we offer a full range of mental health services that can help address various kinds of depression, anxiety and panic disorders, trauma-based disorders, and more. We have the expertise, experience, and compassion necessary to create effective, personalized plans for improving your overall mental health and then maintaining those improvements.
Maybe you have been trying to convince yourself that you should just be able to shake off the symptoms of depression or another mental health disorder. But mental health is complicated—and not a matter of willpower. If you are struggling, we can help.