It has been well documented that people who choose a vegetarian diet enjoy superior health with lower risks for a variety of disorders, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.1 Now, science has presented us with yet another reason to choose the healthful vegetarian lifestyle.
A study published in Journal Nutrition has linked the vegetarian lifestyle with healthier mood states.2 It turns out that vegetarians are not only a lot healthier than the rest of the population, apparently, they are a lot happier, too. How does this finding challenge current recommendations?
Vegetarian diets exclude fish, long touted as a major dietary source of omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that cannot be synthesized in the body and must be obtained from dietary sources. Omega-3 fats, in the form of DHA and EPA are critical regulators of brain cell structure and function. Omnivorous diets low in EPA and DHA have been linked to impaired mood states.
According to the researchers at Arizona State University, the vegetarians in their study experienced significantly less negative emotion than the omnivores. This is good news for everyone, because consuming fish is often the subject of government health advisories.
The oceans are increasingly polluted and contain unacceptable levels of contaminants, such as dioxin and PCP’s and a recent government study revealed widespread mercury contamination of fish in streams across the U.S.3 Consuming farmed fish can also be problematic, as raising fish in this way relies on a processed diet and requires the use of antibiotics and other elements to prevent the spread of disease.
Nuts, seeds and polyunsaturated vegetable oils are rich sources of fat soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids and in fact, the omega fats in plant foods may be even more important to your health than that found in fish.
A Pennsylvania State University study showed that omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources actually promote bone formation and may help to reduce the risk for osteoporosis by inhibiting excessive bone loss. Omega-3 fat in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and a variety of vegetable oils.
Plant sources of essential fatty acids:
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Flaxseed oil (also called linseed oil)
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Canola oil
- Hemp oil
- Soy oil
- Wheat germ
Additionally, plant sources of this essential nutrient tend also to be rich in vitamin E, which has many benefits including promoting cardiovascular health.
Certainly, vegetarians attain optimal health by consuming plant-based meals. They are leaner and have more energy than their omnivorous counterparts and now it is apparent that they enjoy a healthier mood state, as well.
1. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, July 2009; 109;(7) 1266-1282
2. Beezhold BL, Johnston CS, Daigle DR. Vegetarian diets are associated with healthy mood states: a cross-sectional study in Seventh Day Adventist adults Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:26 (1 June 2010)
3. Scudder, B.C., Chasar, L.C., Wentz, D.A., Bauch, N.J., Brigham, M.E., Moran, P.W., and Krabbenhoft, D.P., Mercury in fish, bed sediment, and water from streams across the United States, 1998–2005. U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2009–5109, 74 p., August 2009