Can a plant-based meal make you fuller and give you a better mood?

Credit: Brooke Lark / Unsplash

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences did smartphone-based studies in over 400 university cafeterias across Germany to test the influence of plant-based meals on mood and satiety compared to animal-based meals.

They hypothesized that plant-based meals, which are rich in dietary fiber, would induce a higher feeling of satiety and better mood than animal-based meals.

But what actually happens in our bodies after consuming plant-based meals compared to animal-based meals, and who is most likely to choose which dish in the cafeteria?

More than 16,300 adults participated in the three large-scale smartphone-based studies using the iMensa app.

The people rated the dishes for taste and used emojis to vote on their mood and feeling of hunger before and after meal intake.

The team showed that meal intake generally led to higher satiety and better mood, regardless of whether the meal was vegetarian, vegan, or meat-based.

However, individuals who chose a plant-based meal reported a slightly better mood before the meal and a smaller increase in mood after the meal compared to individuals who chose an animal-based meal.

Protein content also had a slight influence on post-meal satiety, while gender and taste rating had a strong effect on satiety and mood in general.

More women and diverse individuals consumed plant-based dishes overall.

The team found for very poorly tasting dishes, post-meal hunger increased and mood decreased strongly.

Whereas for very tasty dishes, hunger decreased strongly and mood increased moderately.

In addition, plant-based dishes were more often eaten alone rather than in company, which may have led to a lack of increase in mood through social interaction.

However, the researchers did not find profound effects of plant-based versus animal-based meals on satiety and mood overall.

Of the meals chosen in the cafeterias, 55% were animal-based and 45% were vegetarian or vegan, indicating a high demand for plant-based dishes in German canteens.

The team suggests that the palatability and protein content of plant-based dishes should be further improved to increase their popularity.

Avoiding animal products such as meat and milk can reduce agricultural climate greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. However, the physiological and psychological factors of eating plant-based foods are still largely unclear.

If you care about wellness, please read studies about how dairy foods may influence depression risk, and B vitamins could help prevent depression and anxiety.

For more information about mental health, please see recent studies that ultra-processed foods may make you feel depressed, and extra-virgin olive oil could reduce depression symptoms.

The study was conducted by Evelyn Medawar et al and published in npj Science of Food.

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