If you’re looking for reasons to become a vegetarian, I’ve found some fantastic motivation today! Like me, you may have chosen to become a vegetarian for the sake of your physical health and the physical health of your family, but guess what? It seems that a vegetarian diet also improves your mental health, helping you to feel happier and less stressed out than meat eaters.
Do we need any more reason than this?
It sounds pretty convincing to me, and I can honestly vouch for the fact that my husband and I noticed a positive change to our overall mood state since starting down the vegetarian road some seven years ago.
Let me explain further, I came across an article featured in The Huffington Post this week called “Vegetarian Diet Could Make You Happier And Less Stressed, Study Shows”. The article focused on findings published in Nutrition Journal, that reducing meat, fish and poultry intake improved short-term mood in modern-day meat eaters.
How is this so?
Well, it comes down to something called arachidonic acid (AA), which is found in meat and fish. AA is an animal source of omega-6 fatty acid and much of the meat eaten in the US today is high in AA. Earlier research has found that high levels of AA in meat can cause brain changes that affect our mood. This wasn’t always the case; the article explains that, in the past, our ancestors ate sources of grass-fed meat that had a lower average omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid profile than today’s grain-fed meat.
The study got me thinking, could this be part of the reason why we’ve seen an increase in mental health disorders over the years? Millions of Americans suffer from a variety of mental health problems, would those people be better off if they were to ditch the anti-depressant pills and switch to a vegetarian diet? We blame the stresses and strains of modern day living for many mental health problems, but is it possible that the way we feel is also linked to the foods we eat.
Obviously, if you are taking meds for mental health problems, I’m not suggesting that you’d switch to a veggie diet without consulting your doctor first, but I do think the link between a vegetarian diet and positive mood is something to consider and explore further.
This recent study showed that meat eaters who changed to a vegetarian diet experienced short-term improvements to their mood,
but what about those of us who have been vegetarian for some time? Is there anything out there to suggest that vegetarians are happier in the long-term?
Well yes, there is. Reading this article reminded me of another study I read back in 2010 also in Nutrition Journal. This study focused on 138 Seventh Day Adventists; 60 were vegetarians and 78 meat eaters. Seventh Day Adventists were chosen for the study because of their consistent lifestyle, if a more random group had been chosen, many different external influences come in to play, and it can be harder to reach valid conclusions.
In this study, the vegetarians scored lower on tests for depression and reported better mood states than the meat and fish eaters.
This was not expected. Why? Well, like me, you may have heard, repeatedly, that fish is an excellent brain food because it is high in omega-3 fatty acids Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The researchers expected to find that vegetarians suffered more from mood imbalances than meat eaters because of a lack of fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids in their diet.
This challenges the idea that fish is the only, or best, source of omega-3 fatty acids. It was thought, in the past, that plant-based omega-3s, found in flax, nuts and oils, were less effective than EPA and DHA when it comes to providing the brain with a boost. It would seem that this isn’t entirely the case, with this study reporting that vegetarians experience less stress, depression, anxiety, tension, anger and confusion than meat eaters. It also found that the vegetarians had better “mental balance” and “emotional control” when compared with the meat eaters.
Of course, we’re only going to reap the benefits to our mental health by including plenty of foods in our diet that are rich in plant-based omega-3 oils. We need to be eating omega-3s that contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) such as:
- Brazil nuts
- Soy nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Flaxseed oil
- Canola oil
For an ALA power-packed punch,
I use oils to make salad dressings; I add nuts and seeds to salads to give them an extra crunch or sprinkle them over muesli, yoghurt, soups and stews.
My husband and I love our crunchy salads – vibrant in color and rich in texture – and nuts and seeds are a regular staple of our diet; they make for a tasty, energy-boosting snack if you ever hit that afternoon slump. Hand on heart I think we would both attest to an improvement in our mood since we switched to a vegetarian diet. After I’d been eating a vegetarian diet for a few months, it suddenly dawned on me that I felt more alert and yet calmer than I’d ever done before. My outlook on life has changed, and I simply feel far more positive than I did several years ago.
I, for one, am pleased to see the new study this week because it reminds us that the benefits of a healthy and varied veggie diet reach far beyond our physical health.