I’ve written quite a bit over the years about how a vegetarian diet can harm your physical health. It also applies to your mental health. And recently, the topic’s even gotten some attention in the mainstream press.
Of course, many people think that following a vegan or vegetarian diet is healthier than following a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, fish, full-fat dairy, meat, and vegetables. And that misconception dates back to some very early studies conducted in the 1970s. Such studies suggested that people who followed a plant-based diet tended to have lower rates of cancer and other chronic diseases.
But subsequent analyses explained that the restricted diet itself didn’t offer those early health benefits. Rather, researchers learned that vegetarians most often engaged in other “healthy” behaviors also, which wholly accounted for their improved health outcomes.
Plus, more recent studies show that vegetarians are much more prone to developing anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Eliminating meat increases anxiety and depression by one-third
In one 2010 study, researchers asked more than 1,000 Australian women about their dietary habits. It turns out, women who followed a traditional, balanced diet (which included beef, fruits, fish, lamb, vegetables, and whole grains) had much better mental health than women who followed a vegetarian diet (which included beans, fruits, fish, nuts, salads, tofu, yogurt, and wine).
Specifically, the meat-eaters had a 32 percent lower risk of developing anxiety and a 35 percent lower risk of developing major depression.
(This study also looked at women who followed a so-called “western diet,” which I call a junk food diet. Researchers found that the women on the junk diet had the worst mental health scores out of everyone. This diet includes high amounts of ultra-processed foods, fried foods, refined grains, sugars, and beer. Studies also show this kind of diet is a problem for overall health.)
In another well-known study, researchers at the Medical University of Graz, in Austria, analyzed dietary and health information for more than 1,300 subjects ages 15 and older. In this study, vegetarians had more than twice the rates of depression and anxiety as those who ate meat. Plus, they had a slew of other health problems as well.
Of course, these findings make perfect sense, as plant-based diets lack optimal amounts of nutrients required to stabilize mood…
Vegetarian diet lacking important, mood-stabilizing nutrients
By eliminating fish and meat, vegetarians have a very hard time getting optimal amounts of key nutrients that support mood, including:
- B vitamins, which are called “neurovitamins” in Europe
- Bioavailable minerals, which support brain health
- Complete proteins, which contain all the amino acids required to make serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter
- Essential fats, which are required for brain and mental health
- Fat-soluble vitamins, including the all-important vitamin D
Granted, some say that plant-based sources of linolenic acid, such as flaxseed oil and nuts, may meet omega-3 requirements. But many people don’t have strong metabolic pathways for converting plant-based omega-3s to DHA and EPA—essential fatty acids for the brain.
Plus, without adequate fats and complete proteins, the body has a harder time stabilizing blood sugar. Indeed, many vegetarian diets are often higher in sugar and carbs. They’re also likely to experience episodes of unbalanced hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which can cause anxiety.
Which comes first—the chicken or the egg?
Clearly, the link between low meat intake and mental disorders relates to inadequate nutrient intake.
But there do seem to be more factors involved…
As I mentioned earlier, people who follow a vegetarian diet harbor more concerns about their health, which is generally a good thing. But some take it too far…
In fact, some vegetarians allow food, the most natural and pleasurable of human experiences, to become their enemy. (If you ever want to ruin a great meal for everyone, and quickly, just invite a vegetarian to a normal, balanced dinner.) And, some experts speculate that perhaps vegetarianism appeals to those who already harbor a higher degree of emotional fragility or have a tendency toward obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Of course, if you avoid eating meat for ethical reasons, I certainly respect your decision. I only eat meat and dairy from free-range, grass-fed, and organic animals. It’s better for the treatment of the animals and results in better-tasting and healthier foods for human consumption. Plus, treating living creatures with respect is ethical and has a positive influence on our mental health.
But if you restrict meat for health reasons, you’re on the wrong track. In fact, you face a far greater challenge to achieving optimal nutrition if you don’t eat meat. Plus, with skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression, following a balanced diet is more important than ever.
In the end, life is all about finding the right, healthy balance. Balance in your diet. Balance in your sleep habits. Balance in your exercise habits. And even balance in your work life. And tomorrow, I’ll tell you all about an important career change that had a profound effect on my mental health. Stay tuned.
P.S. I exposed the truth behind plant-based diets in the March 2019 issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures (“NEWS ALERT: Popular plant-based diets are not as healthy as they claim”). Subscribers have access to this issue and all of my past content in the archives. So, if you haven’t already, consider signing up today. Click here now!
“Could a vegetarian diet undermine your mental health?” Intelligent Medicine, 5/2/19. (drhoffman.com/article/could-a-vegetarian-diet-undermine-your-mental-health-2/)