Eating is likely now a century-old pastime in America that people are so infatuated with it that they may not even question what is in their food. It is done to satisfy hunger and cravings caused by personal experiences ranging from trauma to ideas from peer circles. Sadly, however, eating has driven America to be the elite in a maligned area as the most obese industrialized nation on the planet and, based on recent studies, the greatest cause of death to Americans.
The knowledge of America’s obesity epidemic and domination might be as synonymous as Coca-Cola domestically, but food’s impact on mental health may not have gained the traction it deserves. After circulating articles, interviews, podcast episodes, and news segments about food linked to mental health and longevity, it led me to write a post that would be advisory to those not just looking after their physical health but mental as well.
Processed food, sugar, alcohol, food additives, and other contaminants cause inflammation to the brain and thus induce people to be more depressed and make poorer decisions. This has been observed by several doctors and scientists ranging from Daniel Amen, Mark Hyman, Eva Selhub, and Shebani Sethi Dalai to Rhonda Patrick and Alan Kazdin to the extent where we now have nutritional psychiatry.
Despite such developments, American civilians continue to disregard processed food’s effect on mental health, and its dismissal should no longer be an excuse amid the COVID-19 pandemic. There is an increase of people being isolated thanks to the pandemic, and when isolation can lead to a type of devastating personal discord caused by others’ celebratory or gregarious form of togetherness in-person or online, eating unhealthy foods is not the best thing to do.
According to psychiatrist Daniel Amen, loneliness creates havoc on the brain in which the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG) becomes “overactive” and the person “can get stuck on critical or negative thoughts.” Negative thoughts can be so detrimental to brain health that they can lead to chronic stress that shortens lifespans and be linked to cognitive decline, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease.
No wonder people such as Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General from 2014 to 2017, stated that “Humans require social networks that range from intimate to peripheral” and, conversely, “loneliness can reinforce isolation by triggering hypervigilance and eroding self-image.” Loneliness is experienced by up to a third of Americans according to recent studies, and although he emphasizes that building a community involves structure and solitude can give a person a sense of renewal, Murthy has also been on the record of stating that, based on sicknesses ailing America such as addiction, loneliness was one of the root causes of both.
Unless one is able to handle life all alone, a sense of togetherness leads to more positivity and even greater longevity that can afford indulgences. As evidenced in Blue Zones, areas populated by centenarians and covered in books written by author Dan Buettner, the keys to regular indulgence-induced longevity involve putting family first, belonging to communities (typically faith-based), and “social circles that support healthy behaviors.” (21 Buettner) Consequently, most people in all Blue Zones Buettner covered would “drink alcohol moderately and regularly,” (21) specifically “one to two glasses per day with friends and/or food,” (21) and even combine that with foods such as sourdough bread, lard, and cheese (most notably feta and pecorino) while largely avoiding staples of the typical “Western” or American diet such as sugary and salty snacks and processed meats.
As a solution to deal with negativity caused by loneliness, especially with “overactivity in the ACG,” and the need to “boost serotonin,” doctors such as Amen recommend “consuming healthy carbs (such as sweet potatoes and hummus), salmon, turkey, eggs, nuts, and seeds; and taking supplements like 5-HTP and saffron.” Since 95 percent of serotonin, “a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain,” (Selhub) is proven to be produced in the gastrointestinal tract, feeding the gut, according to doctors Eva Selhub and Tara Narula, is a vital priority. To “soothe the brain’s anxiety centers,” Amen also states that it is also best to avoid “caffeine, alcohol, and sugary sweets.”
The United States of America has lost its moral compass when its indulgences correlate with poor health. As it has become one of the most stressed nations in the world, a domestic majority believing that this country is headed in the wrong direction, and cases of loneliness, depression, anxiety, suicide, expressions of anger, and other mental health problems escalating in correlation with America’s continuous rise and global industrial lead in poor nutrition and obesity and decline in metabolic health; following the regular staples of the American diet must cease. When people can feel lonely at any given time either inside a group of people or while isolated, there is little benefit in consuming food and beverages that are now the leading domestic killers in a nation that supposedly cares to be healthy. Not following a crowd or what is mainstream does not mean that one’s life is on the line. Except, when trying to fit in the crowd can make people’s clothes not fight right and ruin their health and sleep at night, lives will be on the line as crowds’ indulgences have shown to kill many despite there being better alternatives in sight.