Updated: Jan 7
Our mental health has everything to do with what we eat. We may not think something like where we purchase our fresh fruits and veggies from would transform our mental health. As it turns out though, it has everything to do with that.
Read on to find out why.
The problem with the produce at most U.S. grocery stores
Obviously we all know at this point that a lot of the packaged foods at the grocery store are toxic to our bodies. This information is not new. Processed foods that contain white sugar, bad fats, artificial sweeteners, corn syrup, and other inflammatory ingredients contribute to cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disease, hormone dysfunction, IBS, and other chronic health conditions including mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, and others.
It is important to remember that we did not evolve alongside these man-made “food” products. Rather, they were introduced only in the last hundred-and-fifty years or so. In most ways, they are not meant for human consumption, and we are seeing the ramifications.
Alright, so we know that processed foods are junk. But what about the fruits and vegetables in grocery stores? The so-called “healthy” stuff?
First off, eating fresh produce is far better than eating the packaged and processed garbage found on most of the shelves in the grocery store. At the same time though, I’m sorry to say that fresh produce is not what it used to be.
Why? It all comes down to our growing practices.
What’s going on behind the scenes of conventional (and even organic) U.S. agricultural practices and the foods you and I are eating everyday? And why does it matter for your mental health?
Here are the problems we'll discuss in this article:
Picking produce early
Loss of nutrients after produce is harvested.
Phytonutrient & antioxidant depletion
miRNA & exosomes
See the end of the article for solutions and what to do about it all.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
There have been no long-term studies conducted on GMOs and what potential impacts they may have on our bodies and brains.
That being said, one of the most major issues with some GMOs is that many are “RoundUp Ready”, which allows farmers to spray the herbicide glyphosate (or ‘RoundUp’) directly on the plant. This leaves residues that are likely harmful to human health - both physically and mentally.
GMOs and miRNA
But there’s another major issue with GMOs that I want to share with you, and that’s the fact that food is literally genetic information.
Research is now finding that foods carry what are called microRNA (miRNA) - genetic messages that interact with our DNA. These messengers travel inside of microscopic vesicles referred to as exosomes, and can travel to any place in the body after they are consumed, including to the brain.
Research is showing that these miRNA have a direct impact on our epigenetic expression. This means that what we eat tells certain genes to turn on, and others to turn off, determining which proteins are coded for and which aren’t.
We have seen this for instance in the study of miRNA in exosomes that are within broccoli, which are shown to impact genetic expression and alter risk of cancer in the human body. We've also seen that certain miRNA carried within exosomes have inflammatory and anti-inflammatory effects. This field of research is still very new, but it is very exciting.
In addition to this, we have an estimated 46 million bacterial genes in our human microbiome. Because we have a around 20,000-25,000 human genes, this means that we have 1840x the number of bacterial genes in our body as we do human genes. It is extremely important to note that, in a healthy body, around 85% of these microorganisms in our microbiome are beneficial bacteria, fungi, etc. that are central to our health and crucial to our ability to thrive mental and emotionally.
So, what do miRNA, exosomes, and bacterial genes have to do with GMO’s? Good question. Let me ask you one in return.
If our food carries genetic messages that alter our gene expression, and we have 1840x the number of genes that are not our own but of other species living inside of us...many of which we depend on for survival...then how can we so ignorant to assume that we can alter the DNA of our food without any consequences? How can we think that we can simply add in or take out some strand of DNA, altering the composition of a food that has developed and evolved throughout time to become optimal for our health, and expect that not to suffer any ramifications?
If you ask me, it is ignorant to assume we can do this without side effects. Food is not as basic as we have made it out to be - it is endlessly complex and intricate.
Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide on the planet. It has been implicated for years in “increased risk of cancer, endocrine-disruption, celiac disease, autism, effects on erythrocytes, leaky-gut syndrome, etc.” It has also been shown to be a massive contributor to breast cancer and the development of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
Research also indicates that glyphosate is a neurotoxin - in other words it is harmful to the brain and nervous system. This is due to multiple reasons, not the least of which is that it infiltrates glycine amino acid receptors in the body, disabling some of our body’s ability to fight inflammation. Out of control inflammation = mental & physical illness.
Glyphosate is also known to be a mineral chelator - which means that it can bind to minerals in the body, preventing us from absorbing the minerals that we need to survive and thrive. It can also carry harmful heavy metals into our body.
If you’d like to know more about why glyphosate sucks and how to detox from it, read my article How to Detoxify Your Body of Herbicides/Pesticides.
One other major issue with conventional produce sold in the grocery store (and perhaps organic as well) is the irradiation of produce. Irradiation is a process that alters food so that it will last longer. It is an unnatural and genetically harmful process that is associated with birth defects and cancer, and is known to stunt growth in animals fed these irradiated foods.
While the FDA would like to say that irradiation does not have any harmful impacts on the nutritional value of food, it would seem strange that studies should show it causes stunted growth, birth defects, and cancer if it didn’t have any impact whatsoever on nutritional content.
Another thing many of us do not know is the negative impact that synthetic fertilizers are having on crops. These fertilizers are touted as “the thing” for growing healthy plants. But unfortunately, they are simplifying a massively complex subject: the ecosystem of top-soil.
Top-soil, in its healthy, natural state is an extremely complicated system of interdependent microorganisms - bacteria, fungi, and other organisms working together to ensure that plants get the nutrients they need, that water is retained in the soil, as well as other crucial processes. This directly determines the health benefits of the plant itself, impacting the resulting physical and mental health benefits experienced by eating the fruit or veggie grown in that soil.
Simply put, when we eat produce from crap soil we get crap results - both in health and taste.
Why modern fertilizers are short-sighted & outdated
Petroleum-based conventional fertilizer companies in the 20th century began making fertilizers with 3 main ingredients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
These companies hit it big after WWII, when they used excess bomb material and converted it into synthetic fertilizer.
If you like that, you should also know that excess nerve gas was converted to herbicides/pesticides right after WWII as well. That's the stuff we started spraying on our soil and food we eat.
If you’d like to know more details on this, I’d suggest watching the documentaries The Need to Grow and Kiss the Ground.
These massive corporations said that 3 ingredients (and some trace minerals), no matter where they were derived from, accounted for everything that plants needed to thrive. Just nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.
Well, modern (and ancient) agricultural research is coming to find out that was ignorant. Plants require far more to survive and thrive.
Soil is vastly more complex than nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. This is because soil contains SBOs (Soil-Based Organisms), including fungi, bacteria, and other microorganisms that feed plants, support their growth, and enable plants’ uptake of nutrients. All of these microorganisms are necessary for the growth of plants. They are also extremely necessary for the health of our planet, as these microorganisms are the great detoxifiers of the earth; they trap carbon from CO2 inside of the soil and are able to break it down, leading to a cleaner and healthier planet.
Regenerative agriculturalists throughout the world are rebuilding the soil and using ancient practices to renew the earth. As we begin to adopt these practices across the world, we can heal our earth and our health.
These Soil-Based Organisms have been studied at length since the 50’s. Research shows they are highly beneficial for our gut health and mental health, as they are extremely powerful for the balancing of the bacterial and fungal species in our gut microbiome, and hence are highly beneficial for gut-brain interdependent health.
God’s creations are extremely complex. We need to begin using organic, living soil to grow our food.
When you shop, buy from a local grower that uses organic soil, not man-made inferior fertilizer that has been reduced to nutritional components that have very little to do with the health of the soil or of the plant.
When you garden, choose rich, organic, living soil that contains naturally-occurring SBO’s.
When you do these things, you will feel the difference physically and mentally.
Produce is picked before it is ripe
Another point of concern is that conventional farmers, and many organic farmers as well, pick produce long before it is ripe and then ship it across the world to our local grocery store.
While this may seem okay at first because the produce ripens by the time you eat it, it could not be less okay. Plants need time to fully mature in order to develop all of their phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. When we eat produce that is picked weeks early, it is far less nutritionally beneficial. It cannot have the same positive effects on our body and mind as a fruit or vegetable that has been allowed to run its full course and completely develop.
Unfortunately, this is the same whether the fruits & veggies are conventional or organic. Because of this, so much of the organic produce we buy is unfortunately dead. It isn’t alive the way it is meant to be.
We need to eat fresh fruits and veggies that are ripe and delicious, that have been given the chance to fully develop and become alive with nutrients and benefits. We simply can’t find these kinds of fruits and veggies at most grocery stores. This is one of the reasons that we must shop locally at farmer’s markets, go to local growers, or grow our own garden. Our physical and mental health will transform when we do, as the foods we eat will be filled with far more micronutrients essential for our brain and body.
If you have trouble shopping local, or finding the time to cook and prep, one really excellent solution is to purchase fruits and veggies that are freeze dried. There is a product I really love called Ruvi. It is made simply by taking fully ripe fruits and veggies, freeze drying them, and then pounding them into a powder. You just mix it with water and drink it. Not a bad solution if you're looking for something quick!
While tilling seems like such a basic practice at this point, it is actually quite destructive. Tilling ruins the regenerative capacity of soil, disturbing its highly intricate network of fungi and microbes that are underneath the earth. These microorganisms work together to form an ecosystem that helps plants grow, and they should be left to do their thing.
Tilling leads to disruption in soil health, which leads to less healthy, less vibrant plants, which then leads to far less benefit to us when we eat them. Our brains depend on vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and more to stay healthy, focused, and active. The health of our brains depends on the health of our earth. We need to care for our earth if we want to thrive as a species - we are part of the great whole.
Another very popular practice throughout the world for a long time now has been growing monocultures. This is just a fancy way of saying we plant acres and acres of the same crop, rather than a diverse set of plants.
This is a highly ineffective practice, as it actually leads to soil that has far less diverse microbes, yielding unhealthy and vulnerable soil that cannot grow very nutritious food. One of the most fundamental rules of nature is diversity - diversity is needed for nature to thrive.
The longer food sits, the more nutrients it loses
Another unfortunate truth is that the longer a food sits after being picked, the more nutritional content is lost. A report in the Chicago Tribune states that produce on average loses 30% of its nutritional value within 3 days of being picked.
I didn’t want to believe it either. But unfortunately, it’s true.
This is why planting our own food or buying local is so incredibly important for our physical and mental health. When we consume foods that have been picked the morning of or within the last few days, we feel so much more energy and vibrancy.
This is a far different experience than eating foods that were picked weeks ago and shipped 1500 miles or more. In order to ship produce from South America to North America, or even from one state to another, it must be picked weeks in advance (and sometimes even longer if the food is irradiated).
Dead soil = dead food
Last, but most important of all, is that so many of our conventional growing practices are killing our top-soil. Because we have been growing monocultures, tilling, and spraying fungicides, pesticides, and toxic chemicals all over our top-soil for about a century now, much of the living top-soil across the world has now turned into dead dirt.
Some estimates say that we’ve managed to kill 70% of the top-soil on the planet so far. If this is true, those same estimates say we have about 60 years until we run out of farmable soil. (Documentary: The Need to Grow) Put very simply, these practices are leading us straight into a world-wide famine. If you’d like to learn more about this, I highly recommend watching the documentaries Kiss the Ground or The Need to Grow.
This denaturing of nature and desertification of farmland is rendering our ‘fresh’ produce wildly below its original, God-given nutritional value and capacity for healing the body and mind.
Studies show that there has been a loss anywhere from 9-76% of our produce’s vitamin and mineral content since 1970, depending on which vitamin or mineral you are referencing. A study published in the British Food Journal found that 20 different vegetables dropped 14% in potassium content, 19% in calcium content, and 22% in iron content.
And there are many more studies showing drops in the nutritional content of our fruits & veggies.
The depletion of phytonutrients & antioxidants
Many ancient eastern cultures and indigenous peoples believe that we take on the strengths or weaknesses of the food we eat. A very powerful representation of this is the existence of phytonutrients and antioxidants.
Natural struggle helps plants develop more nutrients
Phytonutrients’ is the umbrella term used for many micronutrients we are now discovering in plants that have healing and beneficial properties and are not classified vitamins or minerals. There are over 25,000 different phytonutrients we have discovered in food so far. Phytonutrients you may have heard of are chlorophyll, beta-carotene, or polyphenols.
Something fascinating about phytonutrients is that these are also the very same nutrients that help protect plants from the elements (wind, rain, frost, etc.). Plants develop these phytonutrients during their development to protect them from everything in their environments.
What is truly fascinating, is that the more adversity a plant goes through as it grows - as long as it does not kill the plant - the more phytonutrients it will develop. For this reason, I like to call these nutrients “fighting-nutrients.”
This is one of the reasons that there is a major difference in the benefits and composition of medicinal mushrooms grown in the wild versus those grown in a lab or cultivated in a greenhouse. When plants have to struggle to survive, they develop far more beneficial properties. As most produce at the grocery store is picked far too early, it does not have time to develop all of its phytonutrients and antioxidants meant to heal the mind.
Food is genetic information - miRNA & exosomes
Something emerging in nutritional biological research is the study of microRNA (miRNA) and exosomes. As stated earlier, miRNA are messengers of genetic information in plant foods that directly impact our genetic expression - what genes get turned on, and which get turned off.
MiRNA are found in ‘exosomes’, tiny little vessels that carry these miRNA, that are able to make it through the digestion process and out into the body to impact any system. Studies show they actually travel wherever they are able to be used in the body. These tiny packages carry these gene messengers into the body, leading to transformations in our health and well-being.
So, if we are consuming produce that is irradiated, picked to early, sitting for too long, sprayed with chemicals, and grown in dead soil...how is this affecting the genetic messengers - these exosomes and miRNAs - inside of the food?
I know it’s a lot to take in. But people need to know. My hope is to empower you with knowledge and truth so that you know where you stand and what you want to do about it. Below are some solutions to get you started on your journey.
Buy from local farmers (it’s cheaper than you think)
Start exploring your immediate area for people that grow locally. Shop at your local farmer’s market. You may be surprised by how many there are! Be sure to ask about what their growing practices are, what kind of soil they use, and when they picked their harvest they are selling that day. Look for farmers who use organic soil and do not spray chemicals on their food. If you can still see some dirt on their produce, and the produce looks imperfect, that is a good sign. Buying this food will make you feel amazing, and you’ll find it takes less to get full and feel satisfied - it goes much further than grocery store produce.
Grow your own garden
I’m not yet a gardener of my own, but aspire to be one this upcoming season! The only advice I have on this is to purchase organic soil, rather than synthetic, and I have heard that biochar is absolutely amazing for developing beneficial microbial populations and growing excellent produce.
If you buy from the grocery store, aim for non-GMO/Organic
If you are going to purchase produce from the grocery store, purchase foods that are labeled non-GMO or organic. Some studies have unfortunately shown that organic foods still contain glyphosate (herbicide) content, as this chemical is literally so pervasive that it has found its way into our groundwater, water supply, and our air. So it gets into organic crops too.
But, it is better that the food was not sprayed directly and that it was grown from organic soil, rather than synthetic. But honestly, if you can find other growers that you know or can trust, that’s better. If you’d like to learn how to detoxify your body of glyphosate, check out this article.
Forget about the label when it comes to independent growers
If you are buying produce local or from a small grower or independent business, develop a relationship with them and learn about their growing practices. If they seem legitimate, and you trust them, go for it. Non-GMO and organic labeling is flippin’ expensive, and most honestly, small growers cannot afford to purchase the certifications for these labels. So don't worry about it if they do not have these labels.
Become further educated on regenerative agriculture & how food impacts your health
To learn more about these topics, I highly recommend the documentaries Kiss the Ground and The Need to Grow. I also recommend the book Eat Dirt by Dr. Josh Axe and the book Regenerate by Sayer Ji.
Thanks for reading
For more on this topic, take a look at my article The Health of Your Brain Depends on the Health of Our Earth.