A recent study published in Nutrition Journal has validated what vegetarians have been claiming for decades: a vegetarian diet can make you happier. This might be bad news for the meat-and-potato man who wants his steaks and burgers, as the study revealed that vegetarians were not only happier, but also less stressed. The data collected during the study points to a negative impact on mood and happiness in those individuals following a diet that is high in poultry, fish, and meat. The researchers proposed that, much like the vegetarian diet had a positive effect on mood, a reduction in the amount of meat and fish consumed would have a positive effect as well. While the researchers suggest that additional study is merited, the results were clearly in favor of vegetarianism for increased happiness and decreased stress levels.
In trying to determine why vegetarians were happier, the researchers pinpointed–and blamed–fatty acids. Diets that are traditionally rich in meat–including fish–cause an
overabundance in the consumption of arachidonic acid (AA), which is the animal form of omega-6. Previous research has already linked high levels of AA with mood changes. Omega-6 fatty acid levels have been continually increasing in meat as more animals are now grain-fed than grass-fed. Even meat eaters who ate plenty of fish, whose omega-3 fatty acids are supposed to offset the mood-altering AA of meat, reported less happiness than vegetarians.
This study, a follow-up to previous work in the area of happiness and diet, placed a group of 39 participants, all of whom were traditionally meat eaters, into three groups. The control group ate meat (including fish and poultry) every day. The second group was instructed to eat no meat but to consume fish three or four times per week, and the third group was required to follow a strict vegetarian diet. In only two weeks, the vegetarian group reported significant improvement in mood as well as lower levels of stress than the meat and fish eating groups, who reported no change.
The researchers concluded that restricting the consumption of fish, poultry and meat not only worked to improve mood in the short term, but it also cleansed the body of AA. Fatty levels in the control group during the study did not change. Those in the group consuming fish had nearly doubled their omega-3 levels but still had far too much omega-6 fatty acid in their blood.
For those interested in testing the benefits of a vegetarian diet, adding plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids is crucial. Omega-3s can be obtained through the consumption of chia and hemp seeds as well as from cauliflower.