In this blog, we will explore the link between vegan lifestyle and depression, and also cover other relevant topics like what veganism is, what research says, what do experts say, what vegan diet is, and also answer some frequently asked questions.
Vegan Lifestyle and Depression: Is There a Link?
Yes, as bizarre it might sound but there is in fact a relationship between veganism or vegan lifestyle and depression.
There have been studies that have examined the relationship between vegan lifestyle and depression and have found that they are highly correlated to each other and we will explore that in the further sections.
What is veganism?
The practice of consuming only plant-based products and total avoidance of Animal-derived products is called veganism. Veganism is sought after as a sustainable way of eating and living.
Neither the people who adopt veganism use leather/wool or anything that has to do with animals.
Consuming a vegan diet can help in keeping many problems at bay, such as chronic diseases, high blood pressure, heart diseases as well as cancer, Arthritis. Diabetes and Obesity.
Some people claim that while it’s supposed to be good for the body, it might not be as good for the mind, as it makes them anxious. One can not claim that veganism alone is responsible for causing depression but there might be a link that can be probed further.
Some nutrition deficiencies as well as a lack of vitamins can put your mental health at risk. Vegan diets contain Vitamin E, Magnesium, Folic Acid, Fiber, Iron, and Vitamin C in heavy amounts but what is missing is omega – 3 Fatty acids, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Calcium, Amino Acids, and saturated fats.
Let us look at the importance of some of the components that a vegan diet lacks:
● B12 is found in eggs, dairy, and meat. If your body does not get enough of this vitamin you are likely to experience loss of concentration, forgetting things, lack of appetite, feeling exhausted due to energy levels and weakness, and depression
● Omega-3 Fatty Acids are essential for the smooth functioning of your brain, its lack can cause trouble with memory as well as learning. A surge in inflammation is also a risk that comes along with the deficiency and it is clearly known that inflammation and depression are interlinked.
● Amino Acids are constituents of protein, a vegan diet does not contain enough protein which is required by your body to form necessary brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine which affect your moods, this too can cause the symptoms of depression to occur.
What do experts and research say about veganism and depression?
According to a psychologist at the University of Southern Indiana, fewer people feel happy about diets that are limiting. Such diets only turn people into unhealthy creatures.
Research conducted in Germany also claims that vegetarians, as well as vegans, were more mentally unhealthy than meat-eaters. The result of the study compared the state of mental health between vegetarians and Non-Vegetarians.
The former group was more prone to prolonged sadness than the latter. Since the findings are based on a meta-analysis, it is not yet clear if being depressed leads to veganism or vice versa.
There can be chances of people altering their lifestyle through new dietary beginnings to improve their mental health.
Also, people who are depressed may be more empathetic and sensitized towards the agonies of other beings, animals included, so this may also act as a trigger to stop them from eating meat.
They are also more worried about environmental sustainability, reduction of their carbon footprint, and climate change which can also burden them and make them a prey of depressive symptoms.
More importantly, Nutrition Researcher Megan Lee stated that it is not as if all vegans and vegetarians are only consuming fresh produce of fruits and vegetables straight from the farms but they are rather consuming a significant amount of processed plant-based packed /canned foods which are completely refined and processed and we already know all this is bound to increase the risks of depression.
But it is not as if you are depressed and adopting veganism will cure it immediately, it can help to some extent but can not fix it, neither did the research find if a vegan diet was a treatment for people already suffering from depression.
Vegans and anxiety
Vegans are already more prone and susceptible to anxiety or depression as they can be mocked or ridiculed for their dietary choices by the larger meat-eating population.
They are also more conscious regarding the health of the environment as well as about the welfare of animals. Soy products contain estrogens and a number of vegetarians and vegans consume soy products, so this can lead to an excess of the hormone in the body which can affect the menstrual cycle of women too.
Since a lot of agro-based products are grown with the help of pesticides and insecticides, there is a possibility that vegans and vegetarians have a higher intake of pesticides and insecticides.
While many people opt for vegetarianism and veganism due to ethical or religious reasons, there might be a plausible cause of people choosing this due to their psychiatric disorders and depressive condition.
But the studies have been largely conducted only on men and it is necessary that researches on veganism become incorporative of women as well as trans people.
We are aware of the fact that poor dietary choices made out of haste can cause mood disorders and also fatal disorders like cardiovascular diseases and obesity.
A diet’s nutritional quality must be adequate enough to supplement the need for vitamins, fatty acids, folic acid, and protein in the body. But what does diet quality mean?
It doesn’t mean the number of veggies you are consuming or how many bowls of milk you drink in a whole day but on intake of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and of course water along with dairy, eggs, and meat or fish.
An unhealthy diet will consist of refined foods and sugary foods which are ultra-processed.
Studies on plant-based dietary patterns indicate that a healthy plant-based diet is supposed to be full of vegetables, fresh fruits, nuts, seeds and legumes, and whole-grain, and such a diet is capable of decreasing depression symptoms.
But, some research shows that a plant-based diet alleviates moods and improves mental health, others reflect that such a diet can aggravate depression and mood disorders.
Another research shows that young people who consume a vegan diet are more prone to depression as well as to suicidal ideation. There are correlations between the quality scores of diet and BMI and depressive symptoms.
Research in the context of plant-based diets shows that it is rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, probiotics, and antioxidants like polyphenols which play a significant role in reducing symptoms of depression.
But what can be concluded for sure is that a good quality diet can always be essential for decreasing the risk of mood disorders and depression, especially those high in antioxidants.
But as is mentioned above, the deficiency of the B group of vitamins can lead to a serious impact on brain functioning and cognitive decline.
The matter to research more upon perhaps is not the dietary type but the quality of diet. Any kind of diet which is ultra-processed, refined, or consists of excessive sugar is of course going to harm your mind as well as your body. so, it is the quality that matters more than what you choose to eat.
Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, the health of a large majority of people has deteriorated due to limited exercise, excessive consumption of processed and packed foods, and an acceleration in alcohol consumption. All of this has caused a pessimistic or negative mood.
But of course, one can always point if everybody can afford a vegan diet or a diet of good quality given the rates of poverty and unemployment which soared quite high in the pandemic.
So what can one do? Is good mental health only an option for the rich? What is it that influences our choice of a particular diet? Is it money? Is it tasty? Or is it healthy? Perhaps a combination of all or not, a person’s dietary adherence is prone to other factors apart from just keeping mental health in mind, so that must be taken into account too.
It is also to be studied that women are more attracted towards veganism and vegetarianism as compared to men in western countries and they show a larger role in changing eating patterns and food choices, due to weight control and health-conscious attitude when compared to men.
Nevertheless, it would be better if you were to also keep a tab on what dietary supplements you need with your plant-based diet, as so much hard work put into adhering to a specific diet pattern would lay to waste if you were to face any adverse effects due to your diet pattern.
So keep consulting your doctor regularly about the changes you notice after your vegan diet has begun and do not stop caring about the environment, of course.
If you’re facing this, it may be a good idea to seek the help of a therapist or other mental health professional. You can find a therapist at BetterHelp who can help you learn how to cope and address it.
We answered the question “Vegan Lifestyle and Depression: Is There a Link?” and also discussed what is veganism, vegan diet, veganism, and anxiety, what does the research say,s and how veganism can affect your mental health and result in depression.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs): Vegan Lifestyle and Depression: Is There a Link?
What foods do vegans eat?
Vegans consume plant-based foods including:
● Vegetable oils
● Nuts and seeds
● Pasta, bread, rice
● Legumes like peas, lentils, beans
● Vegetables and fruits
● Alternatives for dairy like soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk.
What do you mean by vegan beliefs?
It is a way of living and not just a dietary choice. Under this, people abstain from all kinds of cruelty or exploitation of animals, from food to clothing to cosmetics or skincare, and also avoid dairy-based products like eggs, milk, curd, etc.
Do vegans consume alcohol?
Yes, they do. They Consume gin, rum, vodka, whisky, or any other distilled alcohol gave it does not contain honey or cream-based ingredients.
Do vegans eat cheese?
Most of the kinds of cheese are made of milk- cow’s or goat’s and hence it is not eaten by vegans instead they prefer soy paneer which is also called tofu.
If I am a beginner vegan, how should I approach my diet?
You can start with soy paneer which is tofu and tempeh and seitan. These foods are a brilliant alternative to protein-rich meat as well as fish and dairy and poultry. You can also include peas, pulses, lentils, and beans in your diet which are again a great source of protein.
If I am a vegan, can I eat chocolate?
Sure, you can. You can always have compound dark chocolate which is totally free of milk, or you can consume high-quality dark chocolate which also does not contain dairy but beware of caramel or milk chocolates because they include of course as the name suggests, milk.
Will I have to stop consuming honey if I follow veganism?
Yes, you might begin with minimizing it because it is obtained from bees and any animal product has to be excluded from a vegan diet. Instead, try maple syrup.
What to Know About Veganism and Depression https://www.webmd.com/diet/what-to-know-about-veganism-and-depression#1
People who eat meat report lower levels of depression and anxiety than vegans do, a recent analysis. https://www.businessinsider.in/science/news/people-who-eat-meat-report-lower-levels-of-depression-and-anxiety-than-vegans-do-a-recent-analysis-suggests/articleshow/87313935.cms
Why are Vegetarians More Likely to be Depressed? https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-asymmetric-brain/202108/why-are-vegetarians-more-likely-be-depressed