Are Vegetarians More Likely To Be Depressed Than Meat Consumers?

The battle for which diet remains supreme continues after a new study suggests vegetarian diets leads to increased cases of depression. Or, this could be more proof that alternate factors other than meat consumption have a role in causing depression.

Key takeaways:
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    Research shows that individuals following vegetarian diets may be more susceptible to depression, as expressed in a new Brazilian study.
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    A healthy diet goes far beyond identifying as a vegetarian or non-vegetarian a French study shows.
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    Healthy eating habits combined with physical activity can help prevent cases of depression.

New research from Brazil finds vegetarian diets may lead to more cases of depression versus diets featuring meat, but some data differs.

It seems the only way to truly combat depression is through a healthy lifestyle, in which both diets have a role to play.

The Brazilian study surveyed 14,216 people in the country between 35 to 74 years old, searching to find a possible link between vegetarianism and depression. Researchers found an association connecting the prevalence of depressive episodes and a meatless diet. Those who didn’t eat meat were twice as likely to have a depressive episode in comparison to meat consumers.

This new research aligns with many previous studies exploring the connection between vegetarian diets and depression. An Australian study from 2007 analyzed over 9,000 women between the ages of 22 through 27. They found semi-vegetarians and vegetarians had poorer mental health than non-vegetarians.

German research published in 2012 also found a vegetarian diet is not associated with better mental health, yet the most substantial study evaluating vegetarian diets came from France in 2018.

This study evaluated more than just status as vegetarian, vegan, or meat eater, but investigated which individual foods participants in the study were consuming. For example, vegetarians who didn’t have legumes (ex. beans, peas, or lentils) were more likely to experience symptoms associated with mental disorders like depression. Overall, data supported previous studies, going against the French study’s hypothesis that depressive symptoms did not relate to a lack of meat consumption.

While there is substantial evidence pointing to a lack of meat consumption causing more mental health issues, there are some conflicting studies. For example, a study from the United States evaluated 138 healthy Seventh-Day Adventist men and women in the American Southwest. Individuals in the Seventh-Day Adventist denomination commonly do not eat meat.

Researchers found no correlation between vegetarian diets and mood effects such as depression, despite reduced consumption of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.

Maintaining a balanced healthy diet

A vegetarian diet full of processed foods is not going to be more beneficial than a diet containing chicken breast and broccoli. The same with a diet focused on processed meats as opposed to black beans, lentils, whole grains, and other naturally healthy foods.

Diet steps for staying sharp from the University of California at San Francisco Health:

  • Dark green vegetables including broccoli, peppers, kale, spinach, and brussels sprouts three to four times per week.
  • Whole grain bread along with rye, oatmeal, barley, amaranth, and quinoa to help with fiber intake.
  • Beans, lentils, or other legumes.
  • Three to four servings of fish featuring salmon, trout, herring, bluefish, sardines, and tuna for omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Two to four servings of fruit per day, with emphasis on the consumption of berries such as raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries.

Many have argued red meat consumption leads to increased cases of health issues, but research published by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation on Oct. 10, 2022, found little evidence of red meat consumption leading to complications.

If someone eats burgers with no veggies constantly and sits down a majority of the time — they are not doing anything to benefit their health. The same would be for a vegetarian who consumes unhealthy food items not containing meats or physically works out.

Exercise is a major proponent of fighting depression. For adults, it is recommended to participate in physical activity three to four times per week for at least 30 minutes. Exercise can serve as an escape and a way to release potential stressful energy.

Solid levels of physical activity can help prevent breast cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

Also, exercise is a great way to fight obesity. Whether you are a vegetarian or meat eater, obesity can impact anyone. Currently, the prevalence of obesity in the U.S. is 41.9% according to research from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Obesity has also been found to be a cause of depression.

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