Maybe you’ve noticed that I have some issues with vegetarianism and veganism. And it’s true — I do.
Not because I have a problem with the ethics behind the choice. For the record, I completely support the personal decision to abstain from meat as a matter of principle. (Especially if you’re vegan — it shows commitment, and I respect that.)
But start talking to me about how it’s healthier — as so many people do these days — and that’s a whole different story. Because the fact is, most Americans don’t know how to eat this way appropriately, in a way that fully nourishes your body.
Can it be done? In theory, yes — but it takes a lot of work to replace the nutrients that will go missing when you give up animal products. (The biggest hurdle here is that plant-based protein sources are incomplete — so if you happen to be vegan or vegetarian, please read the amino-boosting section of my A-List diet book, and make sure you pay close attention.)
But I’m not here to debunk all the supposed merits of a “plant-based diet” today. Obviously, there are arguments to be made on both sides of the debate, and going through them one by one would take up more space than I have work with here.
Today, I only want to tackle one risk of going meatless — a topic that couldn’t be more timely as we approach the darkest, shortest days of winter: Vegetarians are at greater risk of depression.
That’s the conclusion of a recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) study of nearly 10,000 men. It showed that males who reported themselves as vegetarian or vegan placed significantly higher on depression scales than meat-eaters — with more of them scoring above 10, indicating mild to moderate depression.
It certainly makes sense from a nutritional point of view. Deficiencies in key nutrients such as iron, zinc, CLA, B12, folate, and essential fatty acids (omega-3s in particular), are all significant drivers of depression. And you risk all of them with strict vegetarianism — especially if you eat the way that most vegetarians in this country do.
Because let’s face facts — our brains are almost all fat. You can only deprive yourself of healthy fats and rely on cheap oils for so long before there’ll be noticeable consequences. Which is why it’s really no surprise that this study also revealed the longer you’ve been vegetarian, the greater the potential impact on your mood.
It’s true that this study only addressed male vegetarians — but that isn’t to say they’re the only gender that faces this risk. In fact, a different study of more than 1,000 Australian women delivered a very similar outcome in cases of red meat restriction.
Interestingly, this research showed a U-shaped relationship between red meat and clinical depression and anxiety — meaning the women who ate both the least and the most red meat were significantly more likely to battle these disorders.
So according to this study at least, the sweet spot for consumption may be somewhere in the middle — in other words, moderate amounts of high-quality meat.
Extra emphasis on the quality. Because there’s a vast difference between conventionally-raised meat and meat from grass-finished (not just grass-fed), pasture-raised, free-roaming animals eating the diet they should naturally be eating.
And as you know by now, the latter kind of meat is the only kind I’ll eat.
That’s why I refuse to be shamed about my love of red meat — or any animal products for that matter. With responsible farming practices, meat absolutely has a place in our diets and on our planet. But that means pushing Big Agribusiness out of the equation for good.
We’d all be a lot healthier — and happier — for it.