How do different diets affect meditation? While people with widely different diets may profit from daily meditation, many also reckon that what you eat has an influence on the effects you get. In particular, although some meditative cultures are meat-eating, a vegetarian diet is often considered helpful.
From a completely different point of view, and without regard to meditative effects, a pilot study by two American nutritional experts indicates that avoiding meat and fish may improve your general mood. Thirty-nine healthy omnivores (people who eat “anything”) were randomly assigned to one of the following three groups for two weeks:
- a group consuming meat, fish, and poultry daily
- a group consuming fish 3-4 times weekly, but avoiding meat and poultry
- a group avoiding meat, fish, and poultry
At the beginning of the study and after two weeks, the participants filled in various questionnaires assessing their mood, including anxiety, stress, and depression levels. It turned out that after two weeks, mood scores were unchanged for the first two groups, while they improved significantly for the third group. Changing to a lacto-vegetarian diet produced almost immediate results.
Less omega 6
Other studies have suggested that changing from a meat-based diet to one based on fish would also have a positive effect on mood. In this study, however, neither the meat-eaters nor the fish-eaters saw any significant change in their basic mood – the changes only came in those who avoided meat and fish altogether.
One explanation may lie in the higher levels of arachidonic acid (AA, a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid) in both meat- and fish-based diets, since high intakes of AA are known to promote changes in the brain that can disturb mood. People who eat fish regularly increase their intakes of two other substances that oppose the negative effects of AA, called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This may explain why some studies have shown fish-eaters to be happier than meat-eaters. In this study, however, what counted seemed to be the lower concentrations of AA itself. At the end of the two-week session, the vegetarian group had lower concentrations of AA as well as EPA and DHA than the two other groups. The fish group had the highest levels of EPA and DHA, but apparently that was not enough to improve their mood.
It is not known, of course, whether there is a connection between the positive mood changes resulting from a lactovegetarian diet to its supposed suitability for meditative processes. It is also not known – at least not scientifically – what long-term changes would result from such a change of diet.
*Bonnie L Beezhold and Carol S Johnston: “Restriction of meat, fish, and poultry in omnivores improves mood: A pilot randomized controlled trial”. Nutrition Journal 2012; 11:9.