Georgia Ede, Harvard: “Meat is essential for mental health”

Eating meat improves mental health and is essential to avoid the risk of depression and anxiety. This is the conclusion of a recent study published in the international journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.

Eating meat improves mental health and is essential to avoid the risk of depression and anxiety. This is the conclusion of a recent study published in the international journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, which examined the relationship between meat consumption and psychological well-being. This view is shared by Georgia Ede, an American doctor specialising in nutritional and metabolic psychiatry, who spent many years at Harvard University studying the relationship between what we eat and our mental and physical health. In her book “Change Your Diet, Change Your Mind”, Dr Ede presents all the latest scientific evidence on how cutting out meat can harm mental health and how vegan foods lack crucial nutrients needed to function neurotransmitters in our brains properly.


Meat contains proteins, which are made up of essential amino acids needed for healthy muscles and bones, and many essential nutrients, including vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, choline, iron and iodine. Vitamin B12, for example, plays a fundamental role in producing red blood cells and bone marrow. Still, it is also necessary to produce serotonin, the brain’s “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to an increased risk of depression and anxiety. In addition, low levels of zinc, a micronutrient found in meat, also appear to be associated with a higher risk of depression. This is confirmed by a recent study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, which also shows the role of zinc in reducing inflammation in the brain.


The systematic review of 18 studies in 2021 compared meat eaters and non-meat eaters in a total of 160,257 participants aged 11 to 96 years (53% of whom were women) from Europe, Asia, North America and Oceania, including 149,559 meat eaters and 8,584 non-meat eaters. Eleven of these studies showed that a meat-free diet was associated with poorer mental health: vegetarians had a 35.2% chance of developing major depression, compared with 19.1% for those who ate meat. It was also highlighted that not eating meat was associated with higher rates of anxiety and self-harm. Among vegetarians, the prevalence of anxiety disorders was 20.4%, 31.5% and 31.5% for one month, twelve months and a lifetime, respectively. It was significantly lower among meat eaters, with 10.7%, 17% and 18.4% simultaneously.

The importance of animal-source foods for human health is also highlighted in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) 2023 report, which reviewed more than 500 studies and found that animal-source foods are important sources of nutrients and micronutrients necessary for human health. These include proteins and fats, as well as iron, calcium and zinc, which are important for health and development, noting that these macronutrients and micronutrients are difficult to find “in the required quality and quantity” in a vegan diet. Meat, eggs, and milk are described in the report as “particularly important” for children, adolescents, and the elderly, as well as for pregnant and breastfeeding women.


“The brain needs meat,” Dr Georgia Ede comments, “We are used to hearing that meat is dangerous for our total health, including brain health, and that plants are the best way to nourish and protect our brain. But actually, the opposite is true. Meat and animal products are essential for mental health. Meat is rich in nutrients such as zinc, vitamin B12 and choline, which are associated with better mental health and are harder to find in vegan foods. You can meet your protein needs through a vegan and vegetarian diet if you plan it carefully, but eating meat is about more than just protein. Many of the other essential nutrients are more difficult, if not in some cases impossible, to obtain from plants. Meat is the only food that contains every nutrient we need in its proper form and is also the safest food for our blood sugar and insulin levels.”

A 2022 study of 14,000 Brazilians aged 35 to 74 also found that those who followed a vegan diet were twice as likely to be depressed despite having similar nutrient intakes to meat eaters, suggesting that something extra in meat boosts well-being. A 2019 study found that vitamin B12 deficiency, which is more common among vegans, could increase the risk of stroke, while a study of 26,318 middle-aged women found that vegetarian women had a 33% higher risk of hip fracture in old age compared to women who eat meat and fish.

“It is concerning that vegetarian diets result in lower intakes of nutrients related to bone and muscle health, such as protein, calcium and other micronutrients, as these are much more abundant in meat and animal products than in vegetables,” the study authors comment, “Low intakes of these nutrients may lead to lower bone mineral density and muscle mass, which may make you more susceptible to the risk of hip fracture.” In conclusion, although plant-based diets have gained an aura of greater health over the years, new research suggests caution instead because if prolonged over time, vegetarian and vegan diets could have serious consequences for both physical and mental health.

The "Sustainable Meats" Project aims to identify the key topics, the state of knowledge and the most recent technical scientific trends, with the aim of showing that meat production and consumption can be sustainable, both for health and for the environment.