Plant-based dietary quality and depressive symptoms in Australian vegans and vegetarians: a cross-sectional study

BMJ Nutr Prev Health. 2021 Oct 21;4(2):479-486. doi: 10.1136/bmjnph-2021-000332. eCollection 2021.


Plant-based dietary patterns (vegan and vegetarian) are often considered 'healthy' and have been associated with broad health benefits, including decreased risk of obesity and ill health (cardiovascular disease, blood glucose and type II diabetes). However, the association between plant-based diets and mood disorders such as depression remains largely equivocal. This cross-sectional study of 219 adults aged 18-44 (M=31.22, SD=7.40) explored the associations between an estimate of overall plant-based diet quality and depression in vegans (n=165) and vegetarians (n=54). Overall plant-based diet quality was associated with depressive symptoms in vegans and vegetarians F(1, 215)=13.71, p<0.001 accounting for 6% of the variation in depressive symptoms. For those without depression, higher diet quality was protective against depressive symptoms F(1, 125)=6.49, p=0.012. Conversely, for those with depression no association with diet quality was found F(1, 89)=0.01, p=0.963. These findings suggest that a high-quality plant-based diet may be protective against depressive symptoms in vegans and vegetarians. In line with emerging research between food and mental health, higher-quality dietary patterns are associated with a reduced risk of depressive symptoms. Given the rapidly increasing rate of vegan and vegetarian food products within Australia, understanding the potential mechanisms of effects through which a plant-based diet may influence depressive symptoms is required.

Keywords: dietary patterns; mental health.