Vegetarian and vegan diets are linked to a reduced risk of depression and anxiety, multiple studies have found.
Plus, there is no need to be strict: altering food intake towards a more plant-based diet may still provide a boost to mental health.
One study carried out in the US involved half of 292 people being given weekly instruction in following a vegan diet.
Over the 18 weeks of the study, all had access to healthy vegan options at work for their lunch.
These included black bean chilli, leafy green salads and vegetable hummus sandwiches.
After four months, those that made a shift towards being more vegan were less depressed and anxious as well as feeling less fatigue.
They also felt their overall health was better.
Dr Neal Barnard, study co-author, said:
“The same foods that curb the risk for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, may help boost overall mood.
In the evolving landscape of neurological research, a plant-based diet may help in treating symptoms of anxiety and depression.”
Vegetarian diets may also provide a similar boost to mental health as vegan diets.
Another study of 15,093 people in Spain found that a pro-vegetarian eating pattern was linked to lower levels of depression.
One nice thing to emerge from this study was that becoming moderately vegetarian was as good as being a strict vegetarian for depression.
Again, people did not have to become completely vegetarian to see the benefit, just lean in that direction.
Health benefits of plants
The health benefits of plant-based diets are also well-known, reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer and other illnesses.
According to one review of 86 separate studies:
“This comprehensive meta-analysis reports a significant protective effect of a vegetarian diet versus the incidence and/or mortality from ischemic heart disease (-25%) and incidence from total cancer (-8%). Vegan diet conferred a significant reduced risk (-15%) of incidence from total cancer.”
Note that some studies, like this one, have linked vegetarianism to increased depression, although these are in the minority.
The studies were published in the journals American Journal of Health Promotion, BMC Medicine, Critical Reviews in Food Science And Nutrition (Agarwal et al., 2015; Sánchez-Villegas et al., 2015; Dinu et al., 2017).