Why Meat Eaters Have Lower Rates Of Anxiety And Depression Than Vegans

By Gwen Farrell··  6 min read
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We’ve been lectured a lot in recent years – by friends, social media connections, and even Microsoft billionaires – on how veganism is the future and how limiting our consumption of meat (or cutting it out altogether) will be overwhelmingly beneficial for the environment, climate change, etc., etc.

But there’s staunch opposition to this, and rightfully so. Not only does meat provide irreplicable benefits to our bodies and our brains, but there’s little evidence to support the theory that a plant-based or vegan diet is somehow better for the planet. In fact, if anything, a vegan diet has a much larger, more significant environmental footprint than one which relies on animal products.

It doesn’t end there, though. You might have noticed the benefits to your body from meat consumption, and even to your mental health too. There’s now evidence which points to meat eaters having lower rates of anxiety and depression than vegans, which is a consideration that should absolutely factor into what we choose to eat.

Vegans Are More Depressed and Anxious

Millions of individuals identify as having experienced or been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and for some of them, there’s a common factor: no meat consumption. A meta-analysis found “significant association” between consumption or abstention of meat and the prevalence of depression and anxiety present in those individuals. Basically, meat consumers had much lower rates of these two conditions, often called psychopathologies, than those who did not consume meat, such as vegans and vegetarians. The study was published in the Journal of Food Science and Nutrition.

Psychologist Urska Dobersek, one of the authors of the study who researched the connection, has her own thoughts on these results. “Meat avoidance may be both the ‘chicken’ and the ‘egg’ when it comes to mental illness,” she says. “How many people have you met that are both happy and diet all the time? Probably very few – and there is a strong, scientific reason for that – restrictive diets make people unhealthy and unhappy in the long term.”

“Restrictive diets make people unhealthy and unhappy in the long term.”

Though opponents would argue that these psychopathologies might have originated in the affected individuals before diet was even introduced as a contributing factor, Dobersek’s logic, while being simplistic, also makes sense. But higher rates of depression and anxiety in individuals who don’t consume meat aren’t just due to the struggle and frustration many feel while dieting. Diets which include meat and diets which restrict meat are at far ends of a spectrum as far as actual health benefits are concerned, and it’s probably that the disadvantages featured in a meat-restrictive diet are what’s contributing to these conditions.

Vegan Diets Lack Vital Nutrients

An individual might be motivated to pursue a vegan diet in their lifestyle for purely personal or ideological reasons, which is understandable. But admittedly, it can be hard to understand why anyone would pursue a vegan diet for reasons pertaining strictly to personal health.

Any vegan well-versed in their diet will tell you that it lacks vital nutrients essential for our bodies to function, specifically vitamins and minerals. An experienced vegan will know that it’s absolutely crucial to get these nutrients from supplements if they’re not getting them from animal products. These include vitamins and minerals like vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, zinc, and omega 3 fatty acids. While some of these nutrients can be found naturally in balanced diets, a vegan diet will more often than not require supplements to make sure the body is getting enough of them.

Any vegan well-versed in their diet will tell you supplementing is essential.

Vitamin deficiency might seem like a small concern in the grand scheme of things, but stacked on top of one another, lacking these nutrients can severely and negatively impact the overall function of the body. Deficiency in vitamin D, for example, can lead to a weakened immune system, bone and hair loss, muscle aches, and lethargy. Iron deficiency can lead to developing anemia.

Conversely, including meat as a main component of our diets gives us a whole host of healthy advantages that can’t be replicated with other sources of protein or in a strictly plant-based diet. The nutritional makeup of meat is extremely robust, as it includes not only protein but also vitamins B and D, selenium, iron, zinc, and omega 3 fatty acids. Not only that, but meat in our diets is an invaluable source of energy and fat, and can aid in strengthening muscular health and preventing anemia and insomnia.

Our Diets Influence Our Mental Health

While we’ve always known that “we are what we eat,” nutrition psychiatry is a field of health that has exploded in recent years as we uncover how tight the bond between our diets and our mental health really is. Research in this specific area has essentially discovered that our diets impact our brains just as much as they impact our bodies. 

Our diets impact our brains just as much as they impact our bodies. 

A balanced, nutritious diet made up of healthy foods (one which includes the added benefits of meat consumption) poses many benefits, but among them are decreased inflammation, which positively affects our mood and our gut microbiome, better brain development, function, and cognition, and increased serotonin levels.

As you’ve probably already guessed, a diet which lacks proper nutrition and is deficient in the fundamental building blocks which keep our bodies and brains functioning can lead to poorer mental health. In fact, a report published by The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders recommends the consumption of specific nutrients like iron, zinc, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin C, D, and B12 to prevent depression and promote brain cognition – all of which are lacking in a traditional vegan diet. 

Closing Thoughts

Don’t let Bill Gates (or anyone else for that matter) sit in a multimillion-dollar mansion and make you feel guilty for eating meat, or tell you that lab-grown, plant-based sludge is the future of “nutrition” in our society. A diet which includes meat gives us both mental and physical benefits which can’t be replicated by any other product, period. If anything, this research should motivate us to consume more meat in our diets, not less.

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  Mental Health  Nutrition
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