Background: The association between vegetarianism and depression is still unclear. We aimed to investigate the association between a meatless diet and the presence of depressive episodes among adults.
Methods: A cross-sectional analysis was performed with baseline data from the ELSA-Brasil cohort, which included 14,216 Brazilians aged 35 to 74 years. A meatless diet was defined from in a validated food frequency questionnaire. The Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised (CIS-R) instrument was used to assess depressive episodes. The association between meatless diet and presence of depressive episodes was expressed as a prevalence ratio (PR), determined by Poisson regression adjusted for potentially confounding and/or mediating variables: sociodemographic parameters, smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, several clinical variables, self-assessed health status, body mass index, micronutrient intake, protein, food processing level, daily energy intake, and changes in diet in the preceding 6 months.
Results: We found a positive association between the prevalence of depressive episodes and a meatless diet. Meat non-consumers experienced approximately twice the frequency of depressive episodes of meat consumers, PRs ranging from 2.05 (95%CI 1.00-4.18) in the crude model to 2.37 (95%CI 1.24-4.51) in the fully adjusted model.
Limitations: The cross-sectional design precluded the investigation of causal relationships.
Conclusions: Depressive episodes are more prevalent in individuals who do not eat meat, independently of socioeconomic and lifestyle factors. Nutrient deficiencies do not explain this association. The nature of the association remains unclear, and longitudinal data are needed to clarify causal relationship.
Keywords: Depression; Meat; Mental health; Vegetarian diet.
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