Does being vegetarian lead to depression?

In this article we will discuss the link between vegetarian diets and mental health problems such as depression. 

We will also attempt to understand whether a vegetarian diet can lead to depression and if you are experiencing changes in mood after changing your diet, what you can do about it.

Does being vegetarian lead to depression?

Being vegetarian does not guarantee that you will become depressed. There have been many studies that link non-mental diets to lower mental health status as well as studies that prove the contrary.

While there are plenty of studies that explore this link, there has been no evidence of a direct cause and effect relationship. Most recent studies indicate that this pattern of eating does not have a substantial impact on mental health.

Here are a few things you can do to cope if you are experiencing depressive symptoms and  mental distress after changing to a vegetarian diet:

  • See a doctor
  • Consider therapy
  • Consult a dietician
  • Take supplements

Exploring the link between vegetarianism and mental health

The answer to the question of whether changing to a vegetarian diet lead to depression is unclear. 

While there have been many studies done to understand the link between diets and mental health, especially the no-meat diet, these studies do not clarify if there is direct cause and effect.

Let us look at some studies done on this issue. 

In a review and meta-analysis of the relationship between vegetarian diets and risk of depression, found that the vegetarian diet was linked to higher depression risk. However, the researchers of this study highlighted that the findings were not robust to claim a direct link. 

In another study, researchers examined a sample of 4,116 Germans including vegetarians, and non-vegetarians for their mental health. The study found that vegetarians, more than meat eaters, suffered from depressive disorders over their lifetimes. 

In a 2018 study of 90,000 adults, researchers tested the effect of giving up various foods on depressive symptoms among meat eaters, vegans, true vegetarians, and vegetarians who ate fish. The results found that the incidence of depression increased with each food group that was given up. 

Another meta-analysis on vegetarian diet and depression scores found that vegetarians were scored to have higher depression scores than non-vegetarians.

However, like all the other studies discussed above, there is no cause and effect relationship between changing to vegetarian diet and depression and that there was more research needed before anything could be said.

The fact that there is no consensus on the matter is because of various other studies that have been done whose results are contrary to these findings. 

For example, a 2012 study examined the mental health of vegans, vegetarians, semi-vegetarian, and non-vegetarians. The study found no significant differences in depression scores between the groups. 

Another study by the Benedictine University to investigate mood found that a strict plant-based diet does not appear to negatively impact mood, in fact reduction of animal food might be linked to more benefits than not.

This discourse regarding the link between eating meat or animal based products and mental health over time has become extremely contradictory. Perhaps the point of a standstill in his discussion has been best presented by a systematic search of 18 studies on this relationship. 

The researchers of this analysis have concluded that.

“… studies examining the relation between the consumption or avoidance of meat and psychological health varied substantially in methodologic rigor, validity of interpretation, and confidence in results.”

They also highlighted that there was mixed evidence regarding causal relations however, this study was firm in their stance that meat avoidance is not an effective strategy to benefit psychological health.

So even if you think vegetarian diets will make you feel better in terms of depression, it is highly unlikely that it will be a direct cause and effect. If you are experiencing some issues related to low moods, lethargy, and other symptoms that resemble depression it could be because of other diet related issues. 

Let us take a look at some challenges when it comes to a vegetarian diet and how it might impact your body and mind. 

The issues with vegetarianism

Let us take a look at some dietary and nutrition challenges that you might be facing if you have changed to a vegetarian diet without the supervision of a dietician.

  • Nutrient deficiency

An unbalanced diet, no matter if you cut out meat or stick to it, can lead to deficiency in important nutritional needs that can negatively affect your body and your mental health. 

A deficiency in nutrients found in animal products like vitamine B, omega 3, and amino acids have been linked to disruptive mood regulation, poor metabolism, as well as memory impairment and challenges in the ability to focus and concentrate. 

When our brains don’t have enough zinc or iron, both of which we find in meat, one can experience mood swings. It is important to understand colorful fruits and vegetables are not exactly excellent sources of most other vital nutrients.

  • Caloric deficiency

Switching to a plant-based diet can end up resulting in a significant reduction in calories that you need to get through your day.

Many find that if their diet becomes too extreme and lacks key nutrients and carbohydrates to keep up with the calories needed, you may become more irritable, or hangry, and easily distracted.

  • Poor diet

Vegetarians who are not knowledgeable enough about keeping up a healthy vegetarian diet can struggle with understanding what they need to eat to remain fit and healthy. 

Instead, they might reach for white bread, rice, pasta, and cereal or other easy vegetarian foods like french fries can result in severe fluctuation of blood sugar and hormone levels may lead to even more irritability, depression, and anxiety.

  • It is also possible that people with mental illnesses often tend to be hyper vigilant about their diet, this in turn can cause stress and anxieties related to their food. 

It could be possible that you are being stressed about what you are eating and your thoughts are consumed by your diet which could be aggravating your symptoms and leading to an emotional breakdown. 

  • Isolation 

Because there are only a few percent of the population that has turned plant-based, it is possible that your vegetarianism could be causing you to be isolated. There have been some efforts made to understand why people return to meat and social reasons have been found. 

You might be experiencing that many people no longer understand you, call you out for dinner, or you might be getting some unsolicited and ignorant hate which could be affecting your mental health. 

How to cope

If you are noticing some changes in your mental health after turning to a vegetarian diet, here are some things you can do to cope. 

See a doctor

The first step you can take for yourself is to book an appointment with your doctor or a general physician to understand what is exactly happening under the hood. 

Tell them of your symptoms and your diet changes including what you do or don’t do to keep up with your daily caloric and nutritional needs. 

They might suggest that you take a few tests or see a dietician, which is a good direction to consider. The tests will show you what you lack and your dietician will help you understand what you can do to get those nutrients your body needs if there is a deficiency.

Your doctor can also recommend that you consider therapy or pharmacological treatments if there are no biological issues related to your diet related to your mental health.

Consider therapy

If you are depressed, your doctor might recommend that you try out therapy and other pharmacological treatments if you need them. 

If you have been tested for depression and there are some neurological imbalances, taking medication and therapy is the best bet for you to deal with depression. 

Therapy can also help you bring about various lifestyle changes including your diet related issues or any underlying eating related issues. Therapy can also help you sort out stress if there are any in your life, and what you can do to cope. 

Consult a dietician

If you plan to continue this diet, seeking a consultation with a dietician will be an act of self-love. While the many blogs and tubes can tell you all about these diets, your doctor can help you understand what your body and mind needs.

There are various needs that our body has that a plant based diet cannot meet, so your dietician can help you figure out how to get those needs through other alternatives while sticking to your vegetarian diet. 

Take supplements

If your diet and meals aren’t well-rounded, this could leave you lacking in essential nutrients. In order to ensure you’re getting the full spectrum of nutrition your body and mind need to thrive, you will have to consider taking supplements which most vegetarian and vegan diets need. 

Take to your dietician about supplements that your body needs on the daily basis and what you can take to meet those needs. You can also take the time to research and study various natural sources of those nutiest and change your diet and portions to meet those needs.

Conclusion

In this article we have discussed various studies that show the link between vegetarian diets and mental health problems such as depression. We also attempted to understand whether a vegetarian diet can lead to depression and what you can do about it. 

References

www.vegetariantimes.com

www.psychologytoday.com

 

 

Frequently asked questions related to “Depression Vegetarian”

 

What makes someone a vegetarian?

Someone becomes a vegetarian when they strictly follow a vegetarian diet. Vegetarians are people who don’t eat meat. Their diet consists of foods that come from plants, like grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. 

Some stricter vegetarians avoid more than just meat. They also avoid animal products, like dairy and honey.

What is the difference between vegetarian and vegan?

A vegan is a person whose diet excludes all meat and animal products (meat, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy and eggs), whereas a vegetarian diet excludes meat, poultry, fish and seafood but might eat honey, dairy. 

Is being vegetarian good for your mental health?

There have been various studies that find that vegetarians reported significantly better mood than omnivores and fish eaters, but a longitudinal study found a vegetarian diet was predictive of depression and anxiety.

The consensus from various studies indicate that vegetarian diets or avoiding meat is not really a robust strategy for better mental health. 

Can being vegetarian cause moodiness?

A lack of meat and dairy in your diet leading to nutrient and calorie deficiency can play a role in new or worsened psychological symptoms. 

Deficiencies can lead to irritability, low moods, inability to focus, and can even aggravate depression symptoms.

Do vegetarians suffer from anxiety?

While recent studies conducted by various researchers found that vegetarians suffer from anxiety or depression in their lifetime, there is no direct cause or effect relationship, Meaning that, if you turn to a no-meat diet it doesn’t mean you will become anxious or depressed. 

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