Updated: Dec 19, 2021
What we eat has a direct impact on our mental health. The nutritional content (or lack thereof) of the food we eat in our westernized culture is greatly contributing to the rampant mental illness that so many now are experiencing.
Mainstream medical has severely simplified mental illness and mental/emotional health. Consider for instance that neurotransmitters (the “happy chemicals” in our brain) are made up in part by amino acids and B vitamins, and they are produced by beneficial bacteria in our gut. Nutrient deficiencies play a massive role in the health of our brain. We must consume a diet rich in nutrient-dense, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory foods, such as vegetables, herbs, and fungi if we want our brain to heal and function optimally.
Your great grandma wouldn’t recognize that broccoli you’re eating
The nutrition we are getting from fresh produce now is not the same as what our great grandparents enjoyed (or even our grandparents). Most of the soil on our planet is dead, leading to a severe nutritional difference in our current food vs. the food we had 100 years ago.
Back in the 1930’s, America enjoyed the creation of the very first supermarket. Grocery stores were a brilliant invention that made many things far easier for us. Unfortunately though, we got greedy. Big business got bigger, and reached far outside local area to ship food from across the planet. On average, food travels 1500 miles to get to us in the United States.
While this may seem like a really great and convenient thing, it has had a very severe impact on the nutritional content of our produce. By the time fresh produce gets to us (even the organic stuff), it is in many ways dead. It isn’t truly living like it is supposed to be.
Why we need to buy local or grow our own garden
This is due to long shipping times that require produce to be picked far earlier than it should be, leading to severe nutritional deficiencies. Plants must fully mature before they gain all of their vitamins, phytonutrients, and other important nutrients. These are crucial for our brain health. In addition, the planting of massive conventional monocultures has led to far less microbial diversity in our soil, leading to desolate soil. This has severely depleted the microbial diversity and health of our gut microbiomes, which is directly tied to our mental health.
Then there is of course the mass use of pesticides/herbicides that have compromised the health of our soil. These kill the microbes in the soil, rendering it desolate and requiring the use of more, insufficient synthetic fertilizers (and more pesticides).
GMO crops are also in wide use. While these are controversial, it is no doubt the case that foods contain miRNA, which directly impacts our genetic expression. Therefore we do not yet know what GMOs might do to our bodies long-term. More on this later.
Lastly, much of the conventional (and likely even organic) produce we buy in the grocery store is irradiated to preserve it and/or chemically ripened, which both have untold consequences on the health of the food we eat.
We can solve a lot of this problem through buying from local farmers and growers that are practicing sustainable growing practices and using healthy, organic soils to grow their food that they do not spray chemicals on. Buying these foods will transform your mental and physical health, as the health of the soil directly impacts how nutritionally dense and powerful the food itself is. Your diet, in turn, determines what building blocks your body has to supply your brain with. This is because digestion is directly connected to mental health. If you'd like to know more about how your gut and brain connect, click here.
The destiny of our earth hangs in the balance
Over the last 90 years, we have experienced a severe depletion in the health of our soil, the nutritional quality of our food, and the closeness of our community. And, not to be mellow-dramatic or anything, but truly the fate of our very planet is hanging in the balance due to many of our modernized agricultural practices.
Specifically, these practices are the planting of monocultures, use of herbicides/pesticides, and tilling the land (an outdated and short-sighted practice), and the misuse of compost and food waste which is being tossed in landfills instead of being utilized as material for the regrowth of soil.
Here are some extremely disturbing statistics to illustrate how dire our situation truly is:
Roughly 30 soccer fields of farmable soil on the planet are lost every single minute.
Today, 70% of our planet’s viable soils have already been destroyed.
At this rate, the earth will run out of farmable soil in a mere 60 years.
Each of these stats comes from the documentary The Need to Grow. Check it out.
Our mental health is tied to the health of our earth & soil
We can see that our farming practices and buying practices have to change if we want to survive as a species. This has become very clear, and many are beginning to wake up to this, leading to the growth and support of regenerative agricultural practices across the planet.
Even putting that aside (which we shouldn’t), we have to understand that these farming practices are directly impacting our physical and mental health. These are one of the most fundamental causes for our chronic mental and physical illnesses.
The science is clear. Our nutrition plays a direct role in our gut health and digestion. Our gut health and digestion play a direct role in our brain health.
Look up any micro or macro-nutrient right now on google. Type in “the effects of blank on the health of the brain”. You name a nutrient, it impacts mental health. We need to stop listening to the narrative that our genetics determine our mental health, and start to understand that we have the power to change our destiny through our physical, mental, and spiritual choices - including our diet.
If you do not yet understand the connection between the gut and the brain, I highly recommend reading my article The 4 Ways the Gut and Brain Connect. It is the accumulation of literally hundreds of hours of research, and a pretty dang good conglomerate of the basics on the gut-brain axis.
The health of earth’s soil is directly connected to the health of our brain. We need to buy from local gardeners and farmers who are growing good produce without pesticides, and raising grass-fed meat that has not been mistreated or fed utter garbage. Remember, you are what you eat, and you also are what your food eats.
Eat healthy and whole and you’ll begin to see that your brain and body will heal.
Nutritional solutions that will lead to better mental health and a better planet
Grow your own garden using organic soil such as volcanic soil, as well as good, organic compost.
Buy from local farmers that do not use chemicals on their produce - The best way to do this is by meeting them at farmer’s markets and talking with them about their growing practices. Buying from a farmer’s market is not as expensive as you might think, and it seriously pays dividends in every kind of way.
Eat fermented foods, such as kimchi, raw probiotic sauerkraut, raw apple cider vinegar, or probiotic coconut yogurt (preferably unsweetened)
If you have a mental illness, I highly recommend going off of dairy, sugar, and/or gluten for 2 months and seeing what kind of impact it has for you. Going off of these has completely transformed my mental health. At the same time you do this though, you must replace these foods with nutrients-dense, whole foods, or else you’ll just be really hungry, experience food cravings, and likely give up.
If you have the money, switch to grass-fed (& grass-finished) and pasture-raised meats and eggs. The health of these animals will make you feel much better than the toxic, nutritionally inferior meat you find at most grocery stores. Just as importantly, the animals haven’t been tortured and treated like crap, so you won’t be feeding on the severe mistreatment of God’s creations, which I think is better for your soul. Seriously though. I recommend going with a service such as Butcher Box or Grass Roots Farmer’s Co-op. My wife and I have been using Butcher Box and we have been spending nearly the same amount on meat and our fridge is literally stuffed to the brim - it goes a lot further than we thought it would.
For more info on specific foods to eat (and not to eat), as well as supplements for mental health, read my article How to Heal the Gut to Improve Mental Health.