I have been a vegetarian for fifteen years, but for my daughter, this is all new. She is still in high school and it’s been interesting to see this life choice through her fresh eyes. Last week she told me, “I’ve been happier since I went vegetarian.” My first thought was, “Of course you are. You have always been an animal lover and caretaker. Now your diet aligns with your morals.” But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if there could be more to it. Can a vegetarian diet make you happier? It turns out there have been some recent studies done on vegetarianism and mental health, and it looks like it can.
In 2010 the Nutrition Journal published a study on how a vegetarian diet affects mood. The goal of the study was to reach beyond the wealth of information already available regarding how a vegetarian diet affects physical health and learn more about how a vegetarian diet affects mental health. The study focused on 138 healthy men and women from the 7th Day Adventist community. About 1/3 of 7th Day Adventists adhere to a vegetarian diet.
Nutrition Journal also published another smaller study in which participants were instructed to eat either a vegetarian based diet, meat based diet or meat and fish based diet. After only two weeks, standardized mood and stress tests showed the participants eating a vegetarian diet had significantly less stress and depression.
More research still needs to be done to truly understand the effects of a vegetarian diet on mental health, but with all the information we already know about how a vegetarian diet can improve physical health, this looks like a win-win.