During these turbulent-is-an-understatement times, more and more people are reevaluating their diets in an effort to lead a healthier lifestyle. Whether you’re thinking about making the plant-based plunge or just want a refresher on why being vegan is amazing for your body, we’ve got you covered.

From smooth sailing in your digestive system to yogi guru levels of energy, it pays to go plant-based (nevermind the fact that you can expect your grocery tab to drop when you leave behind the animal products). Worth noting: We’re talking about whole foods, fiber-rich vegan diet, and not one laden with vegan cheesecake, heavily processed veggie burgers, and french fries. The occasional splurge is okay but if you want to reap these health benefits, it’s best to say “Pass the beets, please.”

1. You'll feel happier.

What’s that we spot? A little more pep in your step? “Aside from being in a better mood because you feel good about helping the environment, research shows that ditching meat and dairy is a mood booster.

Meat-eaters have a higher intake of arachidonic acid compared to vegetarians,” explain the Nutrition Twins Lyssie Lakatos,  RDN, CDN, CFT, and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, co-founders of the 21-Day Body Reboot. “Diets high in arachidonic acid can alter the brain and disturb mood.” Anecdotally, we can also tell you, there’s no food high like a smoothie or an avocado toast rush.

2. You’ll have more energy.

“You may feel more well-rested and have more energy, thanks to a better night’s sleep. Sleep enhancing brain chemicals such as serotonin, tryptophan, and melatonin are found in many vegan foods,” The Nutrition Twins say. They offer as examples kale, bananas, and oats. “On the other hand, studies show that meat and animal products can worsen sleeping conditions like obstructive sleep apnea, which disrupts sleep,” they continue.

If you’re wondering what to do with all that extra energy, you may want to consider adding some new fitness goals to your to-do list. A recent study showed that vegans outperform meat-eaters in strength and endurance. (Be sure to tell that to your chicken-and-eggs guzzling bodybuilder who lives down the hall.)

3. You’ll protect your ticker.

Your heart does so much for you—return the favor by helping it run efficiently with a nutrient-dense, whole foods vegan diet. “Well-constructed plant-based meals have less saturated fat and cholesterol than animal-based meals, which makes plant-based eating healthier for reducing your risk of heart disease,” offers Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, who serves on the advisory board for Fitter Living. Study after study shows that plant-based diets–especially those low in fat or oil–not only can reduce the risk of heart disease but can reverse disease symptoms. The latest study indicates the lower your saturated fat intake the better for your overall risk of heart disease.

Another related bonus of eating a diet rich in fiber? “[They] tend to offer a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals (which can help reduce oxidative stress, improve immunity and other functions),” Kostro Miller notes.

4. Your digestion will improve

Especially now, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, promoting optimal digestion is oh-so-important (we’ll spare you the details but leave you with two words: quarantine constipation).“If a plant-based diet is done correctly, those who make the switch may notice almost an immediate increase in overall satiety and digestion,” says Tiffany Ma, RDN. “Plant-based diets are high in insoluble and soluble fibers, which at least 95% of Americans are not getting enough of according to a study in 2014. Adequate intake of dietary fiber is positively associated with reducing the risk for developing heart disease and improving overall gut health,” she continues.

5. You’ll feel fuller longer.

Not in the "feel like crap, need a nap" way you feel after a big steak dinner, but in the most satisfying " I am no longer hungry but feel fueled and ready to go" kind of ways. By eating a fiber-rich diet, you’ll also help curb cravings which can help with weight management, energy levels, and more. “When you eat a vegan or vegetarian diet, you’re more likely to include vegetarian sources of protein, such as pulses—chickpeas, black beans, and lentils,” comments Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian in the New York City area. And including more pulses in your diet can mean that you have a higher intake of protein and fiber, per a study in the British Journal of Nutrition. “These are nutrients that help keep you satiated for longer,” adds Gorin, as our mouths water contemplating her chickpea chocolate chip vegan cookie dough and her healthy roasted chickpeas with seasoning.

6. Inflammation in your body will decrease.

Three cheers for this one, dear readers: “You'll experience a significant decrease in inflammation, even inflammation you may not have noticed you were carrying. Chronic, low-level inflammation can cause widespread health issues from brain fog to chronic disease,” shares Trista K. Best, MPH, RD, LDN, of Balance One. “A vegan diet incorporates many fruits and vegetables which contain phytonutrients that act as antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants are known for removing toxins produced by free radicals and cause cellular damage, all of which lead to low-level chronic inflammation in the body.” For more on eating to fight inflammation, lowering the risk of disease and boosting anti-aging, read our article here.

7. Your mood and mental cognition may be enhanced.

We’re all on board with Best’s explanation of how going vegan may help your noggin: “Your mood and mental cognition will improve rather quickly [when you go vegan]. What we eat affects our gut bacteria and these bacteria produce many of the active hormones of the brain,” says Best. “Gut bacteria depend on fiber, which is naturally found in whole plant foods only. This results in a plant-based vegan diet improving mental clarity and mood quickly as the body is able to produce mood-enhancing hormones more efficiently,” she elaborates.

Ma remains more cautious but concedes that research seems encouraging, saying, “whether or not switching to a plant-based diet may improve cognitive health is an area of research that still warrants further studies. However, the studies that propose the mechanism between improved cognitive health and a plant-based diet can be mainly attributed to plant-based diets being rich in certain bioactive compounds.” She explains that regularly consuming foods with such bioactive compounds such as polyphenols, antioxidants, and phytochemicals “have been shown to reduce oxidative stress in the body, and increase the production of neurons in the brain.”

With all those extra neurons floating around, maybe we’ll finally be able to solve the mystery of why the combination of a smoothie and avocado toast is just THAT good.

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