For mood and mental health, younger adults (age 18-29) need to be eating meat. For older adults (age 30 up), it's more about eating plenty of fruits. Here's why.
Researchers out of Binghamton University wanted to see how dietary choices affect mental health in different age groups. After analyzing data from around the world using the standard Food-Mood Questionnaire, they found that two foods – meat (red or white) and fruits – made a big difference in mood and psychological well being.
Researchers found that mood in younger people is dependent on food that boosts the availability of neurotransmitter precursors and concentrations in the brain. That food is meat.
One of the researchers noted that "...young adult mood appears to be sensitive to build-up of brain chemicals. Regular consumption of meat leads to build-up of two brain chemicals (serotonin and dopamine) known to promote mood. Regular exercise leads to build-up of these and other neurotransmitters as well. In other words, young adults who ate meat less than three times a week and exercised less than three times week showed a significant mental distress."
On the flip side, people over 30 need more fruits for optimal mental health. Fruit increases availability of antioxidants, which are needed because aging comes along with more free radicals, and that's associated with mental distress.
They also found that for these older adults, it's more important to avoid certain foods and bad dietary habits, like having too much caffeine, eating junk carbs, and skipping breakfast which "inappropriately activates the sympathetic nervous system."
Eat a variety of fruits. And don't be a vegan, especially if you're under 30.
Of note, the findings on younger people match those of several previous studies which show a relationship between avoiding meat and poor mental health. The only argument among researchers is about what comes first.
Does poor mental health lead a person to become a vegan, or does their meatless diet lead to the psychological problems and pissy moods? Doesn't look good either way for younger vegans.
- Begdache L et al. Assessment of dietary factors, dietary practices and exercise on mental distress in young adults versus matured adults: A cross-sectional study. Nutr Neurosci. 2019 Jul;22(7):488-498. PubMed.