Not all vegan and vegetarian diets are healthy—and one consequence of a low-quality plant-based diet could be poorer mental health.
Scientists from Bond University found that plant-eaters with a taste for processed foods are more susceptible to depression than peers with diets high in fresh produce.
The findings are important given the increasing popularity of vegan and vegetarian lifestyles and the proliferation of packaged foods targeting those markets.
Many of the products are high in refined vegetable oils and refined grains, salt, and sugar.
In the study, the researchers examined the diet quality and mental health of 219 vegans and vegetarians in Australia.
Participants in the study were aged 18–44 which closely corresponds with the 15–44 age group for which suicide is the leading cause of death in Australia.
Almost 14 percent of people in this age group report experiencing symptoms of depression.
The participants were asked to complete questionnaires based on recognized measures of diet quality and depression.
The team found those with diets high in fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains were at lower risk of depression compared to fellow vegans and vegetarians with low-quality diets.
The protective effect of a high-quality plant-based diet was likely due to the presence of complex carbohydrates, fiber, probiotics, and antioxidants which have all been found to decrease symptoms of depression.
The research indicated switching to a high-quality plant-based diet was not a “cure” for those already experiencing depression.
It seems to have more a protective role. The research did not find that a plant-based diet was a treatment or fix for those who were already depressed.
Vegans and vegetarians are already more vulnerable to depression than the general population.
The team says this could be due to their outlook on life and that they are generally a younger cohort that is already more susceptible to mental health issues.
If you care about depression, please read studies about supplements that could reduce depression, and anxiety, depression should not be taken as a mental disease.
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The research was conducted by Megan Lee et al.
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