Our ancestors used to roam the earth, living in harmony with nature. They nourished their bodies with whole foods, free from artificial ingredients and preservatives. They toiled under the sun, engaging in strenuous physical activities that kept their minds and bodies sharp. A world far far far away from our contemporary lifestyle, our forebears were intimately connected to the world around them, and this connection fostered a pristine mental and physical health.
In the name of progression, we now find the average person shackled to a desk, drowning in a sea of artificial lights and screens, vending machines, fast food, artificial flavoring. We consume garbage on the regular and have become so detached from our roots, losing the essence of what it actually means to be healthy.
An alarming statistic reveals that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases, a significant increase from the mere 2 times a year just a century ago. This deterioration of our collective health is a direct result of the unhealthy trinity: poor diet, lack of physical activity, and bad mindset.
Scientists have studied the pernicious effects of artificial lights on our well-being and warned us of the blue light emitted by screens and how they can suppress melatonin production, leading to sleep disturbances and numerous health issues. Dr. Andrew Weil, a renowned physician, cautioned us with his words,
"The more easily you get and stay connected to the natural world, the healthier and happier you're going to be."
Our ancestors were no strangers to putting in the work, unlike today's world, where inactivity plagues more than a quarter of the global population. This laziness has given rise to a significant increase of health problems, such as obesity and heart disease.
I don’t know when we will realize that our bodies are akin to intricate machines, with each part very carefully connected and reliant on the fuel we provide it. The nutrients we consume serve as the building blocks for our mental and physical well-being, while toxins, unfortunately, wreak havoc on our systems.
Our brains, the control centers of our bodies, require specific nutrients to function optimally.
For example, omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in maintaining the structure and function of our brain cells, which results in the promotion of cognitive function and emotional well-being. Foods rich in omega-3s, such as fatty fish, walnuts, and chia seeds, provide our bodies with the essential tools to support mental health.
B vitamins, particularly B6, B9, and B12, are vital for producing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which regulate mood, motivation, and cognitive function. By consuming foods rich in B vitamins, such as leafy greens, whole grains, and lean meats, we can help maintain a healthy balance of these vital brain chemicals.
On the other hand, certain toxins in our diets can harm our mental health. For example, excessive consumption of processed sugar can lead to inflammation, insulin resistance, and imbalances in neurotransmitters. These factors contribute to mood swings, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
Artificial additives, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame, can also have detrimental effects on our brains. Studies have shown that these substances cause headaches, mood swings, and even cognitive impairment in individuals.
Our ancestors' diets were significantly different from our modern-day meals. The precise components of their diets varied depending on factors such as geography, climate, and cultural practices. But, the common thread I have found among ancestral diets is that they were all nutrient-dense and devoid of artificial additives and preservatives.
While it is nearly impossible to detail every regional variation, here is a general overview of the types of foods our ancestors consumed and the nutrients they provided:
Protein sources: Relied on locally available sources of protein, such as wild game, fish, and poultry, as well as plant-based sources like legumes and nuts. These protein-rich foods provide essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of our muscles, tissues, and neurotransmitters.
Fruits and vegetables: Consuming a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables provides a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, essential for overall health and well-being. Eating seasonally also allowed our ancestors to benefit from the natural nutrients cycling of the soil, as different plants absorb and release different nutrients, ensuring a balanced and nutrient-rich soil for future harvests.
Whole grains and tubers: Depending on the region, our ancestors consumed a variety of whole grains and tubers, such as millet, barley, wheat, or potatoes. These complex carbohydrates provided a steady source of energy and were rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Dairy products: Products like milk, cheese, and yogurt were essential components of the diet. These foods provided a source of protein, calcium, and beneficial probiotics, which support a healthy gut microbiome.
Healthy fats: They consumed healthy fats from sources like nuts, seeds, fish, and olive or coconut oil. These fats provide essential fatty acids, such as omega-3s, which are crucial for brain function and cardiovascular health.
Herbs and spices: The use of region-specific herbs and spices not only added flavor to dishes but also provided various health benefits due to their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties.
By consuming region-specific foods and eating according to the natural rhythms of the seasons, our ancestors ensured that they were nourishing their bodies with the nutrients they needed at the right times. This way of eating allowed the soil to replenish its nutrients, resulting in a sustainable and health-promoting food system.
In contrast, our modern food system prioritizes convenience and year-round availability of produce, often at the expense of nutrient quality. By revisiting the ancestral wisdom of eating locally and seasonally, we can reconnect with the natural cycles of the earth and enjoy the benefits of a nutrient-rich, diverse, and healthier diet.
In a time where mental health concerns are on the rise, it is more important than ever to understand how our dietary choices impact our minds and emotions. Each bite we take is a powerful tool to enhance our cognitive function, lift our spirits, and ward off mental health issues.
The Hidden Agenda of the Food and Pharmaceutical Industries: How do the industries create a cycle of dependency that negatively impacts mental and physical well-being? What is a scandal that exemplifies the dangers of corporate deception?
I want to unveil the modern food and pharmaceutical industries, taking the time to reveal a disconcerting cycle of dependency that has been carefully orchestrated to maximize profit at the expense of your health.
First you are sold shortcuts (processed food) that result in various health issues and then you are offered solutions in the form of medications and supplements, these industries have ensnared you in a relentless loop that undermines your mental and physical well-being.
Did you know more than 70% of the US population consumes fast food regularly, with 36.6% indulging in it on any given day? Even though we know just how bad fast food is because of its high content of unhealthy fats, sugars, and artificial additives, which contribute to obesity, heart disease, and mental health issues.
In turn, it is then reported that nearly half of all US adults have used prescription drugs in the past 30 days. This statistic highlights the growing dependence on pharmaceutical solutions to manage the health issues stemming from poor dietary choices.
The global dietary supplements market was valued at $151.9 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $306.8 billion by 2028. This rapid growth shows the level of reliance on supplements as a “perceived solution” to the deficiencies caused by unhealthy diets. I’m going to be honest, supplements are a band aid solution. Real results require food intake with the required nutrients and a healthy choice of lifestyle.
And the thing is, I would not even be critiquing any of this if these companies had even the slightest bit of remorse over their actions, were careful in their testing procedures and had the general public’s well being in mind.
Don’t know what I mean? I want to talk about this one specific incident from 2004 when a shocking case of corporate deception came to light when pharmaceutical giant Merck was found to have concealed information about the dangers of its arthritis drug Vioxx. This drug was aggressively marketed and widely prescribed, and was later discovered to increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
During the Vioxx scandal, it was also revealed that Merck had not only downplayed the risks associated with the drug but also actively promoted it through misleading advertisements and biased research. In an effort to salvage the situation, Merck then attempted to sell a follow-up medication called Arcoxia, claiming it would alleviate the side effects caused by Vioxx.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds a little bit troublesome. And obviously I am not going to leave you in the dark, with all the problems. That is not what we do here. I want to discuss some of the common issues people face and what change in choices can help with the symptoms.
How a carefully designed plan improves mental health for individuals suffering from mental health issues?
I have selected a few prevalent mental health issues many people face in today's world. We will do a brief exploration in the science behind the conditions and then develop a carefully designed lifestyle plan that will improve a person’s mental health. The illnesses we will be discussing include depression, anxiety, and stress.
Depression: Time to make some tough choices.
Depression is a mood disorder that affects how someone feels, thinks, and handles daily activities. It is persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest or pleasure in activities. Depression leads to various emotional and physical problems and decreases a person's ability to function at work and home.
During depressive episodes, there are alterations in the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which play a crucial role in regulating mood, motivation, and cognitive function. On top of neurotransmitter imbalances, inflammation, and hormonal imbalances have also been implicated in the development of depression.
There’s a lot of choices people make in the day to day that create an environment for depression to nestle. These include poor diet, lack of physical activity, inadequate sleep, and chronic stress. Consuming processed foods and refined sugars lead to inflammation and blood sugar imbalances, which end up exacerbating depressive symptoms. I view depression as a disconnection from one's inner self or a sense of purpose, which leads to feelings of emptiness and despair.
So how is depression conventionally treated? It depends on the severity but it’s treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and psychodynamic therapy are the most common forms of psychotherapy used to address the psychological aspects of depression.
Antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are also prescribed to regulate neurotransmitter levels in the brain and alleviate depressive symptoms.
So what are some ways you can fight off feelings of depression without medication and through lifestyle choices? I am so glad that you asked. I am going to share some recipes, nutrients to focus on and changes (dietary, physical) to implement in your life that will not only improve the quality of your life but help you with any medicated reliance you may have.
Recipes: Which nutrient-dense dishes can help combat depression effectively?
Remember that, it is extremely important to be diligent and punctual in repeatedly making these choices for maximum benefit.
Now I can not list all the incredible recipes that will provide you with sources of nutrients to help alleviate symptoms. But I can tell you which nutrients are crucial to keep in mind while deciding what to eat or cook.
Focusing on these specific nutrients will help your body get the nutrients it needs to support your body against depression:
- Omega-3 fatty acids,
- B vitamins,
- Vitamin D,
- Magnesium, and
Let’s move onto our natural battle against anxiety.
Understanding Anxiety: What brain mechanisms contribute to the development of anxiety disorders? How do lifestyle choices and dietary habits influence the severity of anxiety symptoms?
Anxiety is feelings of worry, fear, or nervousness. When these feelings become excessive and persistent, leading to interference with daily activities, it results in an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders and can manifest in various forms, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder.
During episodes of anxiety, the brain's fear-processing center, the amygdala, becomes overactive, leading to heightened emotional responses and a constant state of alertness. It then begins to cause imbalances in neurotransmitters like serotonin, GABA, and glutamate which contribute to anxiety disorders. The body's stress response system, involving the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, can also become dysregulated, causing increased heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension.
Anxiety is heightened from negative thought patterns, irrational fears, and distorted perceptions of oneself and the world. Consuming processed foods and stimulants like caffeine can worsen one's anxiety by causing blood sugar imbalances and increasing cortisol levels. Substance abuse increases the risk of developing anxiety disorders.
Recipes: What are some important nutrients to include in your diet to effectively fight against anxiety?
Focusing on these specific nutrients will help your body get the nutrients it needs to support your body against anxiety:
- GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid)
- L-theanine, and
Lastly, we will talk about stress. This is an underlying factor that (when aggravated) leads to worsened mental health battles. It’s important to nip it in the bud and the best way to do that is through being mindful in your diet and exercise.
CHRONIC STRESS: How does our "fight or flight" response affect our well-being in the long term? What lifestyle choices contribute to chronic stress, and how can addressing these issues help improve mental health?
Stress is a natural response by our body for threatening situations, it’s kind of like a biological alarm system that helps us survive. And while short-term stress is beneficial, improves focus and performance, chronic stress can have detrimental effects on mental and physical health, leading to a range of issues, including anxiety, depression, and weakened immune system function.
During periods of high stress, the body undergoes a "fight or flight" response. The release of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, results in increased heart rate, blood pressure, and heightened alertness. Prolonged exposure to these hormones leads to inflammation, impaired immune function, and increased risk of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Stress tends to sprout things like work-related demands, interpersonal conflicts, and financial concerns. The way we perceive and react to stressors plays a crucial role in determining the impact of stress on our mental health.
Several choices contribute to stress, such as poor time management, lack of physical activity, inadequate sleep, and an unhealthy diet. Consuming processed foods, stimulants like caffeine and alcohol worsens the symptoms of stress by causing blood sugar imbalances and increasing cortisol levels. Sedentary lifestyles and insufficient sleep can also contribute to hormonal imbalances and poor mental health. Additionally, unresolved emotional issues and lack of social support can increase the risk of chronic stress.
DISHES: What are some recipes that are nutrient-rich to help you fight against stress?
Focusing on these specific nutrients will help your body get the nutrients it needs to support your body against stress:
MAKE YOUR CHOICES WISELY: How can incorporating certain changes improve mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress? What are some gradual changes that lead to lasting benefits?
As all these changes apply to all the mental health issues above, I thought to save it for the end.
- Aerobic exercise: Engaging in regular aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming, has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms by releasing mood-enhancing chemicals, such as endorphins, and promoting the growth of new brain cells. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise most days of the week.
- Resistance training: Resistance training, such as weightlifting or bodyweight exercises, can help improve mood and reduce depressive symptoms by increasing the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which supports brain health and function. Aim to incorporate resistance training exercises 2-3 times per week.
- Mind-body exercises: Practices like yoga, tai chi, and qigong combine physical movement with mindfulness and deep breathing, which help reduce stress and improve mood. Consider incorporating mind-body exercises into your routine 2-3 times per week.
- Limit processed foods: Reduce your intake of processed foods, which are high in added sugars, unhealthy fats, and artificial additives. These contribute to inflammation, disrupt blood sugar regulation, and negatively affect mood.
- Stay hydrated: Dehydration negatively impacts mood and cognitive function. Aim to drink at least 8 cups (64 ounces) of water per day, and more if you're physically active or in hot climates.
- Mindful eating: Practice mindful eating by paying attention to your hunger and fullness cues, eating slowly, and savoring the flavors and textures of your food. This helps improve your relationship with food and support overall mental health.
I understand that making such big changes in your life can seem daunting. But this journey is well worth the effort. And I’m not going to lie, in the beginning, making conscious, healthier choices each day will be challenging. But as you start to experience the positive impact of these changes, your motivation to maintain and expand them will grow.
The key to successfully adopting a holistic approach to mental and physical health is to start small and take one step at a time. You don't have to overhaul your entire life overnight. Begin with implementing incremental changes to your diet, exercise routine, and daily habits. Gradually, these positive choices will become an integral part of your life, and you'll find it easier to maintain them.
As you start feeling the benefits of a cleaner diet and more fulfilling lifestyle, you'll notice improvements in your energy levels, mood, and overall well-being. This newfound sense of vitality and balance will reinforce your commitment to making healthier choices, ultimately making it a natural part of your everyday life.
It's also really important to be patient with yourself and recognize that change takes time. There may be setbacks along the way, but staying steadfast and maintaining a positive mindset is crucial. Celebrate your progress, learn from your experiences, and remember that every small step brings you closer to achieving better health and breaks.