Following a natural diet with more fruits and vegetables have long been linked to good health and lower risk of having diseases. However, researchers have found that vegan and vegetarian diets have serious impacts on mental health.
The two eating plans could help avoid numerous health problems, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Experts and dieters believe that meat consumption contributes to development of diseases and even climate change through animal methane, waste and land consumption.
However, avoiding meat may negatively affect mental health. Researchers found that people on a meat-free diet are more likely to experience depression, anxiety or self-harm behaviors than those who consume meat, MuscleandFitness.com reported.
The new study, published in Critical Reviews of Food Science and Nutrition, comes amid the growing rates of mental illness in the past two decades. The research team said the increase occurred at the time more people started following the vegan diet.
“My co-authors and I were truly surprised at how consistent the relation between meat-avoidance and the increased prevalence of mental illness was across populations,” Urska Dobersek, study author and an assistant professor at the University of Southern Indiana, told PsyPost. “As we stated in our conclusion, ‘Our study does not support meat avoidance as a strategy to benefit psychological health.’”
The team looked into data from 18 earlier studies that involved 149,559 meat consumers and 8,584 vegetarians from Europe, Asia, North America and Oceania. Each research focused on how diets cause changes in mental health and quality of life.
Eleven studies showed that vegetarians and vegans had poorer psychological health than meat eaters, while three other studies found the positive effects of the no-meat diets. But researchers of the latest study said more “rigorous” studies indicated meat eaters had better mental well-being.
However, the team noted they did not determine how avoiding meat directly contributes to mental problems. They said future research should try to determine if meat provides some nutrients that people don’t get from fruits, vegetables or grains.
Studies should also analyze mental problems as the reason why some people return to eating meat after adopting veganism or vegetarianism.