Mental Health and Nutrition (Part 1)

Key Points:

  • The science shows clear links between certain nutrient deficiencies, such as magnesium, vitamin D3 and vitamin C and negative mental states like depression and anxiety
  • Lack of antioxidants, continued over time, cause irregular protein deposits called amyloid plaques that are associated with Alzheimer's
  • Many food additives known as excitotoxins cause inflammation in the brain, the key cause or mental health problems short-term and long term
  • There is a tricky feedback cycle where negative thinking affects the gut, whereas problems in the gut can cause negative thinking, leading to a vicious cycle
  • There are many, many things that you can do nutritionally to help your brain and as a consequence, your thinking


Finding the cause of mental issues isn't cut and dry, but statistics don't lie: mental health issues are rising across the board, regardless of age, race, sex, religion, political view, or anything else.  Something is going on in this country which is making people more depressed, anxious and generally less mentally healthy.

I'm here to bring a postulation that is shared by many in the nutrition and health community.  

When people ask me why I think this is going on, I reply very quickly.  Its the food.  There's something in the food that's literally making us crazy.  

Of course this is a vast oversimplification of the issue at hand, but I believe with all my heart that it is the truth.  Its not something, its lots of things.  It starts right from the very beginning of the food chain.  Its how the food is grown, whether its meat or vegetables or fruits.  Its how the food is cultivated by mass industrialized means.  Its how the food is processed before its shipped to the vendor.  Its how the soil that the food is grown in is tainted and nutrient deficient.  Its how we feed the animals with processed corn pellets instead of their natural diet.  Its how the fish are farmed using the same dietary method.  

The second part of my grand theory is the lack of information to the masses, and the incredible, simply mind boggling incompetence from government agencies which are supposed to make us feel safe about what we eat.  Its the corporate takeover of not only the food industry itself but the regulatory agencies that monitor the food.  One major culprit is the sugar industry, which does everything in its power to deny the fact that processed and nutrient devoid added sugars are among the chief plaintiffs in this mess.

So, as usual, we have to educate ourselves and make our own decisions based off the best information at hand.  We have to review the different opinions of professionals and of course those that the mainstream media call "quacks".  We have to listen to them all, and make up our own minds.  Reliance on the mainstream media for health information is a recipe for disaster.  Simply put, we have to expand our minds.

I have always held "self awareness" as the ultimate goal for health.  But what do I even mean?

I have noticed, for example, that when I eat an entire pepperoni pizza, as I am apt to do here and there like anyone else, that, low and behold, I don't feel good, mentally or physically.  Not only the guilt of knowing what just happened, but also just the feeling of lowered frequency.  Its like my body is telling me "what in the F*CK did you just do?" by making my thoughts more negative, my attitude more anxious, and my overall cognitive experience diminished.

On the other hand, when I am on a roll and doing what I can, taking my supplements properly, drinking tons of clean water, and exercising...magically, I feel better about myself.  And this isn't just psychological, this is a physical phenomenon.  This is my body telling me "good job" by the way of positive thoughts fueled towards creating and attacking goals, not feeling lethargic and hopeless.


The digestive tract is referred to as the "second brain" because it has an entire set of neurotransmitter receptors lining it.  That's right, its not just in your brain that these cells exist.  In fact, astonishingly, 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut.  So when you eat food, whatever it may be, your digestive tract will be the first thing that responds.  Either you're feel good hormones and neurotransmitters will go up, or they will go down. If you drink a giant soda, they will go down.  The satisfaction may hit you quickly, as sugar is meant to do, but it will drop even further than before.  What this means is that when you eat "feel good" food like those high in sugar and salt, you'll feel great, for a second.  But then you'll crash, and you're levels of endorphins will be lower than before.  So you eat more of it...get the serotonin hit, and then crash again.  And this vicious cycle continues with the binge eating that so many people suffer from.

Fast food companies know this science at the highest level.  Their objective is to fine tune their foods so that they can get as much of a serotonin spike from you as possible.  After all, then you'll come back.  Repeat customers are the best customers.

The key to this entire mess is our ancestral heritage, genetics and survival mechanisms.

Back in "the day" when there were no refrigerators, and no quality access to abundant food, our bodies were meant to literally salivate at the mere sight of high calorie, high carbohydrate foods.  These foods don't exist much naturally.  So when a tribal nomad who had been struggling for days with nothing but nuts, berries and other scraps, came across someone who had say, a pastry, the body was like "GIVE ME THAT NOW."  It was seen as a rare delicacy, and our bodies told us to eat as much of that food as humanly possible, because we didn't know when the next bonanza would come.

Nowadays our bodies aren't much different.  They still salivate at the sight of high carb, high calorie foods.  They don't know that we're in a society where we can go to the gas station and ingest 10,000 calories of shitty food for pennies on the dollar.  So our brains are still telling us to eat as much as humanly possible.  And we do, to our chagrin, gaining hella weight in the meantime.  And we sit there wondering what's wrong with us, why we would want to do this to ourselves.  But its not really our mind speaking to us, its the ancient genome, still searching for these delicacies.  

We live in a society where delicacies are eaten all day long.  And our bodies say "store that fat like nobody's business, we don't know when we'll get that again!" not knowing that we have 24/7 access to this type of food.

There's a reason we don't salivate over raw broccoli, or pecans.  Its how our bodies work.  And food companies have exploited this to an astonishing degree.  They only care about profits, as we see in an overwhelming obesity epidemic.  

Another aspect is that we are conditioned to think that every meal should taste like ice cream.  We have so much food available that we forget the fundamental reason for this food, which is to fuel our bodies.  So we give in to our instincts and binge on crappy, nutrient deficient foods that only have calories and sugar to offer.  

One thing I explain to my nutrition clients as best I can is that not all meals should taste like cake.  Food is fuel, it serves a purpose, and the more we think that way, the more we make healthy decisions.  We eat that broccoli not because it tastes like ice cream, but because we know that it is going to give our bodies tons of beneficial nutrients that are needed to repair broken tissues and keep the system running strong.  This is a paradigm shift in thinking.  What do I need, right now, and what is the best food that I can get to get the job done.

In part 2 we'll look at the practical ways to do this, and how to outsmart the food companies that seek to hit our serotonin and dopamine sensors, nothing more.

Eat for fuel and you will reap the benefits long term.

Ben Hetzel


Sports Nutrition Specialist



Benjamin Hetzel