Red meat halves risk of depression - Women who reduce lamb and beef in their diets are more likely to suffer depression, according to the new study.
Experts admitted surprise at the findings because so many other studies have linked red meat to physical health risks.
The team made the link after a study of 1000 Australian women.
Professor Felice Jacka, who led the research by Deakin University, Victoria, said: "We had originally thought that red meat might not be good for mental health but it turns out that it actually may be quite important.
"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.Let me make a slightly non-PC argument for the reasons this study came out the way it did. I suspect that concern over the effects of foods is a marker for neuroses in women (it's probably also a marker in men, but less strongly), and people who are neurotic are more likely to be anxious or depressed. Therefore, the association between low red meat consumption and depression and anxiety in women is not causal, but rather a covariate to the underlying neuroses.
"Even when we took into account the overall healthiness of the women's diets, as well as other factors such as their socioeconomic 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 nineteen women in the study were vegetarians, and the results were the same when they were excluded from the study analyses."
But what about greater red meat consumption?
"We found that regularly eating more than the recommended amount of red meat was also related to increased depression and anxiety," Professor Jacka added. "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 three to four small, palm-sized serves a week, may also be important."I would suggest that neurotic women are more likely to react to what they perceive as red meat consumption with anxiety and depression. Men are just simpler.
The results of the study are published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. The Department of Health recommends consuming no more than 70g of red meat a day - the equivalent of a Big Mac burger.
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