Choosing to go meat-free has been gaining in popularity, but a new study from Bond University in Australia warns that not all plant-based diets are good for your mental health.
Specifically, the study found that vegetarians and vegans who eat lots of processed foods are more likely to suffer from depression compared to those who stick to a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Allure of Processed Plant Foods
When people decide to go vegan or vegetarian, they often think they’re automatically opting for a healthier lifestyle. But the reality is a bit more complicated.
Grocery stores are packed with processed vegan and vegetarian foods. These products might not have animal ingredients, but they’re still full of unhealthy stuff like refined oils, too much salt, and sugar.
And it turns out, loading up on these kinds of foods can make you more susceptible to depression.
What The Study Found
Researchers at Bond University looked at the eating habits and mental health of 219 Australian vegetarians and vegans.
Participants filled out questionnaires that assessed the quality of their diets and their mental health status.
The results showed that people who ate a high-quality plant-based diet—packed with fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains—had a lower risk of depression.
The scientists think that the benefits come from complex carbohydrates, fiber, probiotics, and antioxidants found in these healthy foods, which are known to help combat symptoms of depression.
But it’s essential to note that eating well isn’t a magic cure for those who are already dealing with depression; it’s more about prevention.
Mental Health Concerns for Young Australians
The findings are particularly relevant for younger people in Australia. Among the age group 15-44, suicide is the leading cause of death, and nearly 14% report experiencing symptoms of depression.
With over 2.5 million Australians choosing to go meat-free, which accounts for about 12% of the country’s population, understanding the mental health implications of dietary choices has never been more critical.
In summary, if you’re thinking about going vegetarian or vegan for health reasons, remember that not all plant-based foods are equally good for you.
Stick to a diet rich in fresh produce and whole grains to not just take care of your body, but also your mind.
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