Eating habits play an important role in how your body functions, but did you know that what you eat can have a profound effect on your mind, too? Food is fuel for the brain as well as the body. Making the shift toward a plant-based diet can have remarkable psychological effects that benefit your brain function, your thought patterns and your overall mental health.

A diet for self-love.

Taking control over your food choices instead of defaulting to what is around you can be a powerful way to build your self-confidence. It might seem scary at first, but speaking up for yourself about what you want (and what you want to avoid) even when it bucks the norm, increases your sense of agency in the world. Neuroscientists know that confidence isn’t just a feeling but an important cognitive function. When you advocate for your needs, ask questions or politely decline something, you strengthen your sense of self at the cellular level. The confidence of self-love is magnetic, which means your bold choices are sure to inspire others around you.

More plants = less environmental guilt.

Eating plant-based does wonders for yourself and the planet because growing fruits, vegetables and grains (especially using organic practices) uses a lot less energy and produces less waste than conventional animal agriculture. The climate crisis is real and the harmful effects of human consumption carry with them a lot of guilt. But habit shifts like eating lower on the food chain or eliminating animal products altogether helps to alleviate eco-anxiety (even if you didn’t realize it was there) because you’re making thoughtful choices that benefit the earth we all share.

Your mental health is about to improve.

Did you know that plants can actually make you happier? It’s extra good news during the winter gloom, but year-round vegetarians and vegans report overall better moods than omnivores. Eating more plant-based foods, especially those high in short-chain omega-3 fatty acids and amino acids, can help reduce feelings of anxiety, stress and depression. The standard Western diet is scarily high in processed foods, refined sugar and saturated fat which lack vital nutrients and can harm cognitive health. Switching to a diet rich in seeds, nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables is the brain boost you didn’t know you needed. Of course, your diet should not replace professional psychological therapy and mental health treatment.

Ensure your brain ages gracefully

Cognitive function tends to decline with age but eating a plant-based diet can keep your mind nimble and reduce your chances of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. Brain health is related to other bodily functions and studies show that as you get older, the mind-body connection becomes even more important for successful aging. Healthy plant-based eating can help stave off inflammation and strengthen your immune system which can easily be compromised in your elderly years. Think of plants as a retirement investment for your health. Your future self will thank you.

Being veg-curious is fuel for your brain.

Making the plant-based switch involves a lot of learning along the way. Like, how to find healthy alternatives to your favorite foods, experimenting with new recipes and building better habits. All of this newfound knowledge is a marker of your growing curiosity, which is good news for your brain on many levels. Curiosity for the world around you—like what you eat, where it comes from and how it affects your body—is a healthy cognitive function that actually helps stimulate overall brain activity. Being curious strengthens your ability to retain information and preserve new memories, which gets more important as you age (see #4).

There is still a lot of exciting research yet to be done on all of the psychological benefits of plants. Be sure to talk with your doctor before making big dietary changes. Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian or omnivore, consider taking a daily multivitamin to ensure that you get all the vital nutrients you need—especially on cheat days, cloudy days and vacays.

If you’re thinking about going plant-based but unsure how, give our Splendid Spoon plant-based meal plans a try. They help take the stress out of habit forming and healthy eating with filling meals that are balanced in nutrients and made to grab & go.