Vegetarians vs meat eaters: Is there a link with depression?

A kitchen table with different vegan dishes.— Unsplash

A recent study has shown that vegetarians are more likely to be depressed than meat eaters. The study from Brazil showed that those who chose to quit meat had nearly double the depressive episodes than meat eaters.

While other studies from around the world have shown similar results and found higher rates of depression in vegetarians, Chris Bryant, an honourary research associate from the Department of Psychology, University of Bath believes that the reasons for depression might not be what we think.

As an immediate cognitive response, one might think the affective impact has to do with nutritional deficiencies. However, the new study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, suggests that the association between the two variables has nothing to do with nutritional intake.

Bryant thinks that it is easy to link diet and health problems but the reasons behind depression are deeper.

The authors of the Brazil study considered all the nutritional factors including caloric intake, micronutrient intake, and protein intake. Researchers found no significant differences between meat eaters and vegetarians.

“This suggests that higher rates of depression among vegetarians are not caused by the nutritional content of their diet,” Bryan writes for The Conversation.

The expert suggested that one of the reasons vegetarians feel more depressed could be due to social ostracisation. 

Since the study was conducted in Brazil, a country where meat-eating is a vital part of culture and most people are meat eaters, those who choose to forgo meat might have difficulty socialising. They might have problems in their relationships and be unable to enjoy gatherings. The inability to find right options for a healthy diet might also lead to feelings of helplessness and frustration.

Secondly, Bryant believes that our assumption that vegetarianism causes depression could be entirely wrong. “It is possible that being depressed causes people to be more likely to become vegetarian rather than the other way around,” he said.

Depressed people might be more sensitive to the truth of the brutalities in slaughterhouses. They might find it hard to accept how meat is brought to the fridge and table. 

“It is possible that depressed people are more likely to ruminate on those thoughts, and more likely to feel guilty for their part in creating the,” Bryant pointed out.

The researcher also noted that in the recent study, out of the 14,000 people surveyed by the authors, only 82 were vegetarians, which is not even 1%.

He said that it is important to question whether the same results would be observed in countries like India where veganism is more common. Other developed countries where there was a rise in people opting for a 100% plant diet should also be surveyed to imply an association between a vegan diet and depression.

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