Mental Health and the Standard American Diet

chips, chips, and more chips

People are sick and getting sicker.

322 MILLION human beings have clinical depression. It’s the number 1 cause of disability. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in young people. Dementia is expected to more than double in the next 30 years. Prescription drug use for mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and psychosis has skyrocketed in astronomical fashion in the last several years. Politicians, celebrities, athletes, and public figures of all kinds have been preaching about destigmatizing mental health problems, yet it seems to be a train that can’t be stopped. Why?

Physical health is mental health.

At The Fittest, we surmise that it’s, at least in part, because we’re looking at it all wrong. Health professionals, and everyone else, tend to separate physical and mental health as though the head isn’t attached to the body somehow when, in all reality, one cannot possibly claim to be in tip top health if they’re riddled with anxiety, depression, or other mental health maladies. Yet… we continue to look at these things as separate and, in the case of certain dietary habits, what many people are led to believe to be healthy is actually incredibly debilitating to the brain and its numerous functions. This is aiding in the insane climb in mental health problems across the world.

Aside from genetic neurotransmitter deficits, brain trauma, and extreme stress, which are usually unavoidable and are incredibly rare, we believe the chief contributor to mental health deficiencies is the rubbish people are putting in their mouths and, just as important, the good stuff they aren’t putting in their mouths. This may be even more important for mental health than it is for physical health since the brain prioritizes itself when it comes to energy expenditure and the use of available nutrients essential to optimal brain function.

What diets cause mental health issues?

There are 2 diets (we'll discuss veganism in another article) that we believe to be the primary drivers of subpar brain performance. The first is self-explanatory. No one with half a brain in their noggin, no matter how poorly that brain is functioning, thinks the standard American diet (the initials of which aptly spell “sad”) is good for you. Everyone knows refined sugars and fats, that countless studies cite as contributors to ADHD, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar, and Alzheimer’s, are just plain terrible for you, even when those foods are fortified with vitamins and minerals. 

No one in their right mind thinks that because Fruity Pebbles have added calcium that all of a sudden it’s a healthy breakfast choice. The standard American diet is garbage. Everyone knows it. 

A lot of people aren’t aware of how these things affect more than your waistline, however. How bad is this diet for the brain?

Your body AND your brain hate sugar.

What does refined sugar do, exactly? Well, a lot, and none of it is good. The quick answer is that it makes you fat and causes Type 2 Diabetes, but it wreaks havoc long before you end up with bigger trousers and a fridge full of insulin. 

Sugar puts you in an inflamed and oxidative state. Inflammation has been closely associated with depression and bipolar and oxidation has been linked to both of those as well as schizophrenia and OCD, which are clearly pretty serious. 

Beyond that, it’s the root cause of insulin resistance which is, of course, what we think of when we talk about Type 2 Diabetes, but insulin is also critically important in other functions. 

One of the functions of insulin plays an important role in is the production, regulation, and balance of hormones, including sex hormones. 

How does sugar affect your hormones and what does that have to do with mental health?

When you eat a meal high in sugar, your blood sugar spikes. Consequently, your insulin spikes, causing a rapid drop in blood sugar.  When this occurs, your body thinks there’s a literal emergency. This is an evolutionarily necessary function we typically call the “fight or flight” response. This signals the body to produce enormous amounts of cortisol and adrenaline. A constant neurological response like this causes insomnia, sugar cravings, irritability, anxiety, low testosterone production due to a lack of cholesterol synthesis, and eventually… insulin resistance as your body tries to protect you from constant neurological panic. Once you become insulin resistant, 3 things happen:

  1. You get fat. 
  2. You get physically and mentally sick. Since we’re talking about mental health, insulin resistant people are twice as likely to be clinically depressed, 300% more likely to suffer from bipolar and schizophrenia, and 80% more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s, which is a result of insulin resistance at the blood brain barrier, meaning your brain can’t convert glucose to energy, which means that the functions that require the most energy, like memory, suffer tremendously.
  3. You get Type 2 Diabetes.

What about fat? 

We always talk about how important dietary fat is, but not all fat is created equally. The refined fat in the standard American diet is primarily from linoleic acid-heavy seed oils that are overabundant in Omega 6s, which compete for absorption with the anti-inflammatory Omega 3s, especially EPA. This causes inflammation, the consequences of which we’ve already discussed. Read more about Omega 3s here, and the perils of seed oils here.

The solution

Clearly the standard American diet isn’t good for you for a veritable plethora of reasons, but how should we eat?

At The Fittest, we know that a proper nose-to-tail, bones-to-blood, horns-to-hooves diet is the most nutrient dense option with the necessary bioavailability to deliver those nutrients to the brain and body. An animal based diet that prioritizes meat and organs contains every vitamin, mineral, and amino acid you need in abundance without the pile of garbage found in the American diet, including seed oils, refined sugars, and artificial, chemical poisons pretending to be food. 

Let us help

For a comprehensive understanding as to how to integrate a nose-to-tail diet into your life, email our well-fed performance experts.

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