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5 Reasons Why a Vegan Diet May Negatively Impact Your Mental Health

Are you taking part in Veganuary this month?

Do you experience mood issues?

If so, you might want to read on!

Eating more plants and less meat has undeniable health benefits, including providing antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fibre, and low saturated fat intake. However, contrary to popular opinion, and without careful planning, vegan diets have the potential to hinder mental wellbeing.

Vitamin B12

– vitamin B12 is mainly sourced from foods of animal origin, such as meat, poultry, and eggs, therefore vegan diets may result in a low intake of this important vitamin. Being involved in neurotransmitter production and nervous system health, low B12 has been shown to aggravate depression.

You can obtain B12 from fortified foods such as plant milk & cereals (watch for their added vegetable oils & sugar content though). Staying on a strict vegan diet may require additional supplementation with vitamin B12.

Ultra-processed foods

– it seems that everywhere you go the food industry is producing alternatives to meat, but the vegan label does not necessarily ensure a better health choice. Many of these types of foods are classed as ‘ultra-processed’ containing chemicals, colourings, unhealthy oils, and preservatives, with minimal nutritional value.

Relying on these types of foods can be harmful to physical and mental health and are best avoided.

Excess Carbohydrates

– With the absence of animal products, many vegan diets can be overly reliant on carbohydrates, such as pasta, bread, rice, and potatoes. However, whilst carbohydrates are our principal source of fuel, eating too many simple carbohydrates can lead to blood sugar issues, creating anxiety, brain fog, low mood, and fatigue.

Always try to opt for wholegrain, complex carbohydrates – think brown rice and wholewheat pasta, oats, buckwheat, and quinoa. Be sure to also include some protein with each meal because this helps to balance blood sugar. Vegan sources include nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, lentils, beans.

Vitamin D

there are no naturally occurring vegan food sources of vitamin D therefore vegan diets can be lacking in this important vitamin. Although researchers have yet to conclude exactly how vitamin D impacts mood, there is a wide consensus that low vitamin D levels are connected to mood disorders such as depression.

Vegan manufactured food sources include fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals and plant milks, and mushrooms when grown under UV light (irradiated). Sun exposure during the summer months can provide vitamin D however, during the winter months, it is recommended to supplement with vitamin D.

Omega 3 fats

–omega 3 essential fats and are classed as essential in the diet because we are unable to produce them ourselves, but they are needed for the proper functioning of the body. Direct and rich sources of omega 3s are oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel. Although it is possible to source omega 3 fats from plant-based sources, such as flaxseeds and walnuts, the body must convert them, yet the conversion rate is poor (estimated at 3-10%). This is especially the case if the diet is high in carbohydrates, processed foods, or vegetable oils such as sunflower oil.

For this reason, vegan diets are susceptible to inadequate omega 3 intakes, which can directly impact mental wellbeing. This is because the brain is especially reliant on DHA to function correctly, and omega 3 fats have repeatedly been shown to play a beneficial role in preventing anxiety and depression. Usually, omega 3 supplements involve fish oil, however, it is now possible to obtain vegan omega 3 supplements, and this may be something that requires consideration.

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