Is Going Meatless Affecting Your Mental Health?

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Considering the idea of switching to a completely vegetarian diet for good? From reducing your risk of developing certain cancers to sparing the environment, cutting out meat entirely from your diet brings about a myriad of health benefits. But, there can be complications in the form of mental health risks, too. Ongoing research shows that going meatless may be associated with scary mental risks like panic attacks, depression, and anxiety disorders. Read on to find out exactly what could be causing this.

You may decide to switch to a meat-free diet because of health reasons, religious convictions, animal welfare concerns, or just a desire to follow a simplistic diet. Some of you may even decide to go meatless simply because of the fact that you can’t afford to eat meat every day. Whatever your reason may be, there’s no ignoring the fact that going meatless has now become more appealing and accessible. This is possible largely because of the fact that fresh produce is available all year-round, an increasing number of vegetarian dining options are available, and the culinary influence of cultures with largely plant-based diets seems to be growing positively.

On the brighter side, a nutrient-rich vegetarian diet can lower your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Traditionally, most research based on vegetarianism has always focused on possible nutrient deficiencies. Today, a new study has added another dimension to this oft-discussed subject – the scary mental health risks of going meatless!

Can A Meatless Diet Affect Your Mental Health?

A meatless diet can affect your mental health due to nutrient deficiencies

Research into the possible mental risks of a vegetarian diet is few. But according to an Australian study, participating vegetarians demonstrated a less optimistic view of the world than the meat-eating participants.1 Here’s what studies on this had to say:

  1. Vegetarians are 18% more likely to experience depression
  2. They are 28% more likely to have panic attacks and anxiety.
  3. They are also 15% more likely to experience depression and twice as likely to experience anxiety disorders.2

Some health experts are of the opinion that people with mental illnesses are more likely to keep a close eye on what they eat. This, in turn, can cause their symptoms to heighten. But, what exactly are the mental health risks?

Vegetarianism And Anxiety

Vegetarians tend to have more anxiety attacks and meat-eaters

A 2012 study compared the mental health exams of 2 groups, each with over 240 vegetarians and 240 meat lovers. The study showed a significantly higher rate of psychological issues among those participants who didn’t eat animal proteins than those who ate meat. As many as 31% of the vegetarians were found to show the signs of an anxiety disorder, whereas a mere 13% of the meat-eaters followed suit.

Nutritional deficiencies can be one possible reason for anxiety issues among vegetarians. On the other hand, the stress involved with worrying about what others think about your eating habits and not being able to share what your friends pick but be the odd one out can add to your mental woes.3

Vegetarianism And Depression

Lack of nutrients in vegetarian diets can lead to depression

People who give up eating meat have also been found to be more depressed. According to a study, 24% of the vegetarian participants experienced depressive symptoms compared to just 10% of the meat-eaters.4

This might possibly be due to low vitamin B12 levels. While you can get most vital nutrients like vitamins from plant and animal sources, certain nutrients like vitamin D3 and B12 that your brain needs can only be obtained from meat and animal proteins.5 When your brain lacks these vital nutrients, the levels of glutamate in your body get lower. This can cause an increase in feelings of depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.6

A deficiency of vitamin B12 has previously been linked to depression. In addition to this nutrient, you are prone to experience mood swings if your brain doesn’t get enough iron or zinc, both of which are found in meat. Besides these mental health risks, such deficiencies can cause physical problems like eating disorders and anemia.

In Conclusion

Vegetarian diets can be harmful only with a lack of required nutrients

Whether mental health risks and vegetarianism are truly connected or not, we can’t deny the fact that what we eat impacts our mental health to a large extent.7 Vegetarians are likely to be deficient in vitamin B12 and D3, iron, and zinc. To prevent any possible psychological and physical disorders, ensure that you follow a balanced diet that contains the recommended amount of all these nutrients. Here’s the ideal dietary intake:

  1. Vitamin D: 600 IU (15 mcg) for male and female adults8
  2. Vitamin B12: 2.4 mcg for male and female adults9
  3. Iron: 8 mg for middle-aged men and 18 mg for middle-aged women10
  4. Zinc: 11 mg for male adults and 8 mg for female adults11

Note: These values are given on an average. To get the dosage that suits you best, consult your doctor/dietitian. Also, remember that pregnant/lactating women are given different dosages.

While the results of these studies are shocking, there’s no need to think of changing your lifestyle completely. Remember, it’s perfectly possible to get all the nutrients your body needs in a vegetarian diet, provided you watch what you eat. And no matter what you gorge on, always know how to recognize the warning signs of an emotional breakdown or any other mental health issue and be prepared for any eventualities.

References   [ + ]

1, 4.Baines, Surinder, Jennifer Powers, and Wendy J. Brown. “How does the health and well-being of young Australian vegetarian and semi-vegetarian women compare with non-vegetarians?.” Public health nutrition 10, no. 5 (2007): 436-442.
2, 3.Michalak, Johannes, Xiao Chi Zhang, and Frank Jacobi. “Vegetarian diet and mental disorders: results from a representative community survey.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 9, no. 1 (2012): 67.
5.Becoming a vegetarian. Harvard Health Publishing.
6.Tsapakis, Eva M., and Michael J. Travis. “Glutamate and psychiatric disorders.” Advances in Psychiatric Treatment 8, no. 3 (2002): 189-197.
7.Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food. Harvard.edu.
8.Vitamin D. National Institutes of Health.
9.Vitamin B12. National Institutes of Health.
10.Iron. National Institutes of Health.
11.Zinc. National Institutes of Health.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

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