Women who cut red meat out of their diet are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, according to a study.
Those who eat less than the recommended amount of lamb and beef were twice as likely to be diagnosed with the mental health disorders, researchers in Australia have found.
The study of more than 1,000 women showed that completely switching to protein such as chicken and fish is not as healthy as many believe.
'We had originally thought that red meat might not be good for mental health, as studies from other countries had found red meat consumption to be associated with physical health risks, but it turns out that it actually may be quite important,' said Felice Jacka, from Deakin University, Victoria.
'When we looked at women consuming less than the recommended amount of red meat in our study, we found that they were twice as likely to have a diagnosed depressive or anxiety disorder as those consuming the recommended amount.'
The associate professor added: 'Even when we took into account the overall healthiness of the women’s diets, as well as other factors such as their socio-economic status, physical activity levels, smoking, weight and age, the relationship between low red meat intake and mental health remained.
'Interestingly, there was no relationship between other forms of protein, such as chicken, pork, fish or plant-based proteins, and mental health.
'Vegetarianism was not the explanation either. Only 19 women in the study were vegetarians, and the results were the same when they were excluded from the study analyses.'
But the professor, whose results have been published in the journal Psychotherapy Psychosomatics, advised women not to exceed the recommended amount of red meat either.
Complex choices: The study found no relationship between other forms of protein, such as chicken and fish, and mental health
'We found that regularly eating more than the recommended amount of red meat was also related to increased depression and anxiety,' she said.
'We already know that the overall quality of your diet is important to mental health. But it seems that eating a moderate amount of lean red meat, which is roughly 3-4 small, palm-sized serves a week, may also be important.'
The study by Deakin’s Barwon Psychiatric Research Unit took place in the Geelong region.
Associate Professor Jacka also suggested that women should stick to organic, grass-fed meats whenever possible.
'We know that red meat in Australia is a healthy product as it contains high levels of nutrients, including the omega-3 fatty acids that are important to mental and physical health,' she said.
'This is because cattle and sheep in Australia are largely grass fed. In many other countries, the cattle are kept in feedlots and fed grains, rather than grass. This results in a much less healthy meat with more saturated fat and fewer healthy fats.'
The Department of Health recommends consuming no more than 70g of red meat a day.
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