Can meat make you happy?

Meat makes me a better person.  I can say that unequivocally on the basis that not having meat makes me feral. Not just any flesh. Red meat. Preferably lamb chops.  They seem to restore balance and order to my universe.  Although given a lack of coffee, coconut, and chocolate all tend to have the same effect on me, perhaps I am giving too much credence to the meat? Primal foods beginning with “C”, perhaps?

Based on two recent papers, you might just have to make a choice as to where meat features in your life.  On the one hand, eating too much of it may just send you to an early death via heart disease, cancer, or maybe just a T-bone stuck in your throat.  The bestest epidemiological mind on the planet suggests you limit your red meat intake to once to twice PER YEAR, if immortality is your end game [2FF].  On the other hand, a recent study reported in the Letter to the Editor section of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, suggests that, for women at least, red meat consumption is associated with less depression and anxiety…

Since 2009 there has been increasing evidence of a relationship between habitual diet quality and depression and anxiety. In two of our studies we reported that women with higher scores on a dietary pattern characterised by fruit, vegetables, beef, lamb, whole grains and fish (‘traditional’) were less likely to have anxiety or major depressive, dysthymic or bipolar disorders…

…Moreover, there are published studies from Australia and Scandinavia reporting that vegetarians and/or low meat consumers have poorer mental health than those who habitually eat meat, although the direction of the relationship between vegetarian status and mental health is unclear.

I do like the last statement there.  What it suggests is that we are presently unsure whether eschewing meat leaves you with a few sheep loose in the top paddock, or whether by being as mad as a bag of cats means you are less likely to eat meat.

With those previous observations in mind, the authors set out to further examine the relationship between red meat consumption and mood and anxiety disorders.  Using the database from the Geelong Osteoporosis Study, the authors were able to examine the diet history of just over 1000 women for whom they had full dietary and psychiatric data over 10 years of follow-up.

Australian dietary guidelines recommend intakes for red meat (beef and lamb) of 3–4 serves per week, with a serve defined as 65–100 g. Thus, intakes of red meat were categorised as low <28 g/day, recommended 28–57 g/day, and high >57 g/day. We used the aforementioned ‘traditional’ dietary pattern score from our previous study as a measure of overall healthy diet.

Clinical interviews (DSM-IV-TR) were used in conjunction with self-reporting questionnaires (GHQ-12) for depressive and anxiety disorders and psychological symptoms.  Socioeconomic status, education level, physical activity, alcohol consumption, smoking status, total energy intake, and body mass index data were all also available, with these variables tested as potential confounding factors or effect modifiers.  Nineteen women were identified as being vegetarian and all the data was analysed both including and excluding these women.

In this study, 60 women were identified with a current MDD or dysthymia and 80 were identified with a current anxiety disorder. The median dietary intake of red meat was 39.3 g/day (interquartile range 19.8–61.7). In multivariable logistic regression analyses, the only identified confounder was age. No effect modifiers were identified. For those women consuming less than the recommended intake of red meat per week, the odds for MDD/ dysthymia were more than doubled compared to those consuming the recommended intakes. Similarly, those women with low red meat consumption were nearly twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder. Adjusting for ‘traditional’ dietary pattern scores resulted in a strengthening of the relationship between high meat intake and these variables.

The authors saw no relationship between high red meat intakes and the self-reported psychological symptom scores.  Neither did they note any association between the intake of chicken, pork, processed meats, or plant proteins and any mental health outcomes.  There were no observed differences between the vegetarian and non-vegetarian women in any of the factors examined.  And exclusion of the vegetarians from the analysis made little difference to the relationship between red meat and mental health.

In this study, we report that women habitually consuming less than the recommended intake of red meat were more likely to have a diagnosed depressive or anxiety disorder than those consuming the recommended amount. Moreover, those consuming more than the recommended amount of red meat were also more likely to have a depressive disorder once overall diet quality was taken into account. Low meat consumption also tended to be associated with increased psychological symptoms. These associations were independent of measured socioeconomic factors and other health behaviours, including the quality of the overall diet.

In our study, there were no differences between meat eaters and vegetarians on age, socioeconomic factors, health behaviours, BMI or overall energy intake. Moreover, exclusion of the 19 people identified as vegetarian made little difference to our findings. This reduces the possibility that demographic or lifestyle differences relating to vegetarianism account for the observed inverse relationships.

Interestingly, if consuming more meat than recommended was not part of the “Traditional” dietary pattern, then depressive disorders increased.  But not if this increased consumption was part of that traditional pattern.

The authors did highlight the limitations within their study, chiefly the cross-sectional nature of its design, and the potential for residual confounders such as socio-demographic factors and/or other health behaviours associated with certain eating patterns.  But they also note the consistency of the patterns of association between red meat and reductions in the clinically diagnosed mental health disorders lends credence to their findings.

So, are we all here for a good time or a long time?

21 thoughts on “Can meat make you happy?

    • Likely the same answer as mine, Nigel? If this is what poor health and an impending heart attack feels like, I’m cool with that. It certainly feels a lot better than the whole grain, low-fat “health” I have previously “enjoyed”.

      • If it’s “Yes” and “The former”, then yes.
        Tyrell: “The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long – and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy.”
        I intend to burn very, very brightly. I’m 57 but behave like an 18 year old. Vitamin D For The Win. If you see a bright flash, that’s me going *pop*! :-D

  1. I was never a meat eater until I started eating paleo. In fact I was probably eating meat a few times a year. I blame it on the vegans and vegetarians that I went to school with. I grew up in a house where seafood was a much bigger part of the picture than meat, but we also regularly had ox tail soup…so I guess we were ahead of the curve there. I have found that every so often when I’m feeling a bit blah eating a steak of bison or beef definitely helps. In the past I resorted to the wonderful Cs, most notably chocolate. Chocolate, however, sometimes just doesn’t cut it and a juicy steak or two for the next few meals is just what is needed.

    I’m here for a good time and if I can’t have that, then I guess, a long time.

    Great post.

      • Works for me. I’m all for having my meat and eating it, too. I think that the world is lost on this concept of quality, it seems to have shifted to acquiring more regardless of quality. A sad thing that this has also become the mentality when it comes to our food.

  2. Wondering if thats why my female fur child ( cat) goes a bit crazy at times ( even without the influence of catnip!) – maybe I should give up the science diet and get her back on some raw beef. In fact, now I think about it why are we sold that stuff as top notch for carniverous pets ?? ! Time to go to the butchers.

  3. Were iron / ferritin levels measured – just wondered if there was any link between red meat consumption and iron levels. Which may be affecting mood.

    • It wasn’t stated either way, but I suspect they weren’t. No potential mechanism was discussed. But off the top of my head it could be the improved iron status, B12, SFA (cholesterol –> oestrogen/testosterone), zinc… all of the above and more. Probably more Emily’s department that one!

  4. Very interesting indeed!

    I was vegetarian after thinking meat was making me feel ill. Since choosing to reduce fructose in my diet, and then listening to you and Anastasia speak in Melbourne last week, I am back onto eating meat and now find my mental state, although it was not bad, I was creeping into mild forms of unhappiness. Always feeling like I was not quite right. I now have massive amounts of energy, and feel much better about my body, and my emotions.

    Thanks for your enlightenment!

    Cheers Claudia

    • That is excellent news, Claudia. I am so glad Anastasia and I were able to give you the confidence to make some changes and that they are working out for you – in a relatively short period of time too! Nice work.

      • Thanks Jamie!
        I’ve added fruit back into my diet, and although for the past few weeks I’ve been motivated, and got things done, I knew my body was lacking something. Fruit last night, and this morning, I’ve had huge energy to burn, love it! This way of eating, and fueling my body, and mind, is amazing! Thanks again for bringing this to me! Cheers

  5. So a serving of 100 gms provides, on average, 25 gm of animal protein.

    Where do I get the balance of my 100 gms per day? Beans?? Huh?

    I just do not get that 100 gms of meat constutes a serving – I eat 8 – 12 oz ( 240 gm) as a serve – and it’s delivers top spin!

    • I’m with you Leon. The recommended serving sizes are ridiculously low. I typically work to 200-250g per serve for myself. The good thing they found was that as long as overall diet quality remained high, eating more didn’t appear to have any negative effects on this population.

  6. Neither of these pieces are anything more than hypothesis based on observation,Gary Taubes has written an excellent piece on why this kind of speculation should be regarded as junk. http://garytaubes.com By giving credibility to one, you give traction to the other.

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