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Mental health appears to play a part in physical health, so it’s crucial to foods that support both your mind and your body. Studies on the emotional health and mood states of those eating plant-based diets suggest that eating less meat may not only be good for us physically, but emotionally, too. Researchers employed two tests—the Profile of Mood States and the Depression and Anxiety Stress Scale—and measured levels of depression, anger, hostility, fatigue, confusion, hopelessness, lack of interest, anhedonia (lack of pleasure), agitation, irritability, and impatience with others. Subjects eating plant-based diets reportedly experienced significantly fewer negative emotions than omnivores and also reported feeling more “vigor.”

Major depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses. The traditional explanation proposes the condition arises from of a chemical imbalance in the brain. Levels of monoamines, a class of neurotransmitters including serotonin and dopamine, are controlled by monoamine oxidase (MAO), an enzyme that breaks down excess monoamines. People who are depressed appear to have elevated MAO levels in their brains. Thus, the theory goes, depression may be caused by abnormally low levels of monoamines due to elevated levels of MAO.

Many plant foods, including apples, berries, onions, and green tea, contain phytonutrients that appear to naturally inhibit MAO. This may help explain why those eating plant-rich diets have lower rates of depression. Studies have shown that the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the happier, calmer, and more energetic you may feel.

Risk of depression may also be increased by certain food components, such as arachidonic acid. The top-five sources in the American diet are chicken, eggs, beef, pork, and fish, although chicken and eggs alone contribute more than the other top sources combined. There are data suggesting that people with higher levels of arachidonic acid in their blood may end up at significantly higher risk of suicide and episodes of major depression.

Image Credit: llhedgehogll / Thinkstock. This image has been modified.

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