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Mood & Meat

The Mood-Elevating Benefits of Ditching Meat by Eva Blake


Chef Douglas McNish  of Toronto’s Raw Aura organic and raw food restaurant is an acclaimed chef, vegan of more than 8 years, and outspoken advocate for a vegan lifestyle. However, he wasn’t always this way. Before finding the vegan lifestyle – which would eventually become the key to his success – McNish was a 270-pound drug addict, struggling to start over after his lifestyle forced him to give up his job. While veganism wasn’t what initially saved him from himself and his addictions, today McNish strongly acknowledges that one of the many benefits associated with a clean eating, vegan lifestyle is an elevated mood, and satisfaction with life – qualities that have been proven to lead to a decrease in the need for drug dependence.

Vegetarianism and Mood
Although the many physical health benefits linked to a vegetable-packed and meat-free diet are often popularly noted and accepted, the potential mental benefits of the lifestyle often go ignored. In fact, recent research has shown that a vegetarian and pure lifestyle has a scientific correlation with higher levels of positive moods and healthier emotional states. The research was a participant-laden study that measured how individuals’ mood and emotional levels responded to different diets, with a strong focus on the particular effects that might accompany the introduction of a vegetarian diet.

The study  used individuals that previously described themselves as omnivores – those who eat both meat and vegetables – and split them into three groups: (1) a control group that asked the participants to continue their diet as normal; (2) a group that consumed on fruits and vegetables, accompanied by a serving of fish 3 to 4 times a week; and (3) a group that dedicated themselves to an entirely vegetarian diet. At the end of the two-week trial, both groups 1 and 2 reported no changes in mood or emotional levels, while the third group reported drastic improves in both. Nutritionists following the study determined that the most likely explanation for the results lie in the fact that both meat and fish contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which past research has shown may cause alterations to the brain related to negative impacts on mood.

Links with Addiction
This seemingly simple discovery is one that has the potential for two massive benefits within the field of drug addiction. The first concerns the clear relationship between high levels of positive emotions and good moods and their decreasing tendency to lead one to turn to mood enhancing substances for relief. In accordance with the study explained above, past research  has also shown that high intakes of arachidonic acid’s that are found in red meat, poultry, and some fish, promotes changes in the brain that can negatively influence our moods. When levels of these acids become high in relationship to omega-3 acids, the effect has been linked to clinical symptoms of depression – one of the key components typically found in those that suffer from alcoholism and illicit drug use. This research, while not comprehensively conclusive, suggests that decreasing meat from your diet (or better yet, eliminating it!) could have the added benefit of making you more positive, happier, and less likely to turn to drugs or alcohol as an escape.

Second, and perhaps even more intriguing, has been the related research done on the effects of a vegetarian or vegan diet and lifestyle on the process of recovering from addiction. Often, recovering addicts of mood enhancing substances struggle in where to turn  to help boost their moods and battle the depression that often accompanies ties to alcohol and drugs. The first few months in recovery are notoriously difficult times emotionally. While there have yet to be any studies done to focus on the effects of a meat-free lifestyle, specifically during the detox and early recovery period, if the results from related studies could be applied, it’s obvious that a deeper look into the possibility is certainly worth a shot.

Finally, in addition to the direct medical evidence supporting the benefits, it should also be noted that cases like Chef McNish could be used to help show the therapeutic power of the total vegan lifestyle. After all, with a balanced program that advocates for a cruelty free, pure, and peaceful life, it isn’t hard to imagine

Rognlin, B. (2011, Feb 23). From Drug Addiction to Veganism: Raw Chef Douglas McNish Dishes on Food, Recovery, and The Secret. Retrieved from Blisstree: http://www.blisstree.com/2011/02/23/live/drug-addiction-to-veganism-raw-chef-douglas-mcnish-on-food-recovery-and-the-secret/

Beezhold, B. L., & Johnston , C. S. (2012). Restriction of meat, fish, and poultry in omnivores improves mood: A pilot randomized controlled trial. BioMed Central. 11:9: Nutrition Journal.

Adams, P. B., Lawson, S., Sanigorski, A., & Sinclair, A. J. (1996). Arachidonic acid to eicosapentaenoic acid ratio in blood correlates positively with clinical symptoms of depression. Lipids , 31 (1), S157-S161.

Drug Intervention Programs. (2012). Retrieved from DrubAbuse.com: http://drugabuse.com/library/drug-intervention-programs/