Do Plant-Based Diets Cause Depression?

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vegetarian diet

Food and mood have been linked for a long time. The food you eat has an effect on your whole health. Living a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle has many benefits, such as boosting life expectancy, losing weight and lowering your risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. However, new studies have shown another side to plant-based diets. Here’s what you can do to stay healthy on these plant-based diets.

Depression, Anxiety and More

A recent study found that vegetarians and vegans have a higher likelihood of experiencing depression and anxiety than their carnivore counterparts. It’s hypothesized that the increase in depression among those who eat a plant-based diet happens because of the lack of vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids. Deficiencies in these important nutrients has been linked to depression, and even fatigue.

The study found that vegetarians and vegans were twice as likely to experience depression than meat-eaters. Other studies have shown that vegetarians and vegans are also deficient in zinc and iron.

How to Avoid Depression and Stay Vegetarian 

The good news is that you don’t have to ditch your vegetarian or vegan diet. You just have to be more careful to get enough of the vital nutrients and calories your body needs. Remember, always talk with your doctor before trying new supplements or starting a new treatment. Here’s what you can do to stay vegetarian and get your nutrients:

  • Get your B12.

    You can get enough B12 in your diet through foods that are fortified with B12, and also by taking a B12 supplement. Because B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, your body will eliminate any extra B12 that it doesn’t need, so you don’t have to worry about taking too much of the vitamin.

  • Increase your omega-3s.

    You can do this through supplements. Many experts recommend omega-3s from certain kinds of algae. Make sure you ask your doctor about what kinds of foods and supplements you can eat to get enough omega-3s.

  • Keep your iron up.

    Think of the character Popeye from cartoons you watched when you were a kid. He ate plenty of spinach to help keep him strong. While you don’t have to eat tons of spinach like Popeye, you do want to make sure you’re eating plenty of iron-rich foods. These include spinach, black beans, lentils, raisins and pistachios, among others.

  • Boost your zinc.

    Try boosting your zinc by eating foods like spinach, toasted wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, nuts and dark chocolate. If you’re still having trouble with maintaining your zinc levels, talk with your doctor about a zinc supplement.

Ask for Help

Remember, you’re not alone, and you don’t have to go through this by yourself. Talk with your family and friends or seek the advice of a mental health professional. Many people find it helpful to talk to someone, and a licensed therapist can teach you relaxation techniques for times when you’re feeling anxious. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety, it’s important to ask for help.

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