The researchers concluded that the majority of studies, and especially the higher quality studies, showed that those who avoided meat consumption had significantly higher rates or risk of depression, anxiety, and/or self-harm behaviors. “Our study does not support meat avoidance as a strategy to benefit psychological health,” they wrote.
Among the findings were that one in three vegetarians suffer from depression or anxiety in their lifetime; compared to meat-eaters, vegetarians were two times more likely to take prescription medications for mental illness; compared to meat-eaters, vegetarians were two to three times more likely to think about or perform self-harm behaviours (e.g., suicide); the exclusion of any food group, and especially meat and poultry, was associated with increased odds of psychological disorders
“While the risks and benefits of vegan and vegetarian diets have been debated for centuries, our results show that meat eaters have better psychological health,” said Edward Archer, Chief Science Officer at EvolvingFX, and one of the study’s authors.
“These findings have implications when defining what constitutes a ‘healthy diet.’ Mental health may need to be emphasized when evaluating the benefits and risks of particular dietary patterns.”
Aseem Malhotra, an NHS Consultant Cardiologist, said in a tweet: “If in general you want to avoid increased risk of depression, anxiety and self-harm behaviour then do eat meat. If you’re vegan or vegetarian for ethical reasons, then please personally invest extra in strategies to protect your mental health.”
This study was funded in part via an unrestricted research grant from the Beef Checkoff, through the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in the US. According to the study, the sponsor of the study had no role in the study design, data collection, data analysis, data interpretation, or writing of the report.
Meat and mental health: A systematic review of meat abstention and depression, anxiety, and related phenomena
Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition
Authors: Urska Dobersek, Gabrielle Wy, Joshua Adkins, Sydney Altmeyer, Kaitlin Krout, Carl J. Lavie and Edward Archer