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Plant-Based Diets Can Boost Mood, Exercise & Sex

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Loving senior couple drinking healthy smoothie in the kitchen at home

Your diet can affect more than just cholesterol, blood sugar and body weight. It may also influence your mood, your athletic performance and your sex life.

Plant-based diets in particular have been shown to improve these areas, says University Hospitals registered dietitian Elizabeth Traxler, MS, RDN, LD. She shares more below.

How do plant-based diets affect mood, exercise and sexual function?

Since plant-based diets are associated with improvements in metabolic health, such as reducing body fat, lowering cholesterol or managing blood sugar levels, they can also reduce the risk of chronic diseases that may contribute to the development of physical or sexual dysfunction.

Compared to a Western diet (defined as high intake of pre-packaged foods, refined grains and saturated fats), plant-based diets may improve sexual health by reducing risk of erectile dysfunction, increasing fertility in men and reducing post-menopausal symptoms in women.

Exercise performance may be improved because of nutrients from a plant-based diet. Higher intake of carbohydrates and antioxidants, and lower intake of saturated fat, can improve endurance and cardiovascular performance during exercise.

Some plant-based diets may improve mood, reducing anxiety and depression, because of anti-inflammatory foods. However, not all plant-based diets show the same results in improving mood. Some vegetarian diets have been correlated with higher rates of depression, if the intake of processed foods is higher than whole, unprocessed plant foods.

Are there specific foods that have been shown to boost these areas?

Plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and olive oil contain polyphenols. These compounds reduce oxidative stress that occurs throughout the body from inflammation. Oxidative stress has been linked to many diseases. These foods also contain monounsaturated fat, which helps with brain function and may enhance mood.

Polyphenols are compounds found in numerous plant foods. Vitamin C, for example, is found in citrus fruit. Bell peppers have been found to support production to reduce oxidative stress. Unsaturated fats like walnuts and pumpkin seeds provide important components for the membrane of the sperm.

For females, soy foods may help to reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes because of the conversion of the polyphenol isoflavone from soy into molecules that act like estrogen in the body.

Exercise performance may be enhanced from higher intake of carbohydrates such as whole grains, oats, brown rice, quinoa, fruits, sweet potatoes or beans. These foods provide energy to sustain endurance during activity. Additional cardiovascular benefits come from the antioxidants found in fruit, vegetables and whole grains that lower oxidative stress and increase blood flow.

Can heavy consumption of meats or processed meats have a harmful effect?

Meats are generally higher in cholesterol and saturated fat, which may affect male fertility by increasing oxidative stress that reduces sperm and testosterone production. In women, diets high in processed red meat are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer.

Some studies have shown that meat intake is associated with increased risk of erectile dysfunction. It may occur less often with plant-based diets because of increased blow flow and less plaque buildup from cholesterol in the arteries. A plant-based diet may also reduce body fat, which can enhance overall fertility.

Additional thoughts?

There are many ways to eat a plant-based diet. Most research shows that there are many advantages to most types of plant-based diets. However, not all approaches may be adequate to produce these benefits. It’s recommended to meet with a registered dietitian to discuss your diet and get personalized recommendations on how to achieve these results.

Related Links

University Hospitals has a team of clinical dietitians with the expertise to provide counseling and personalized eating plans for anyone looking to enhance their health, meet nutritional goals or lose weight safely and effectively.

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