It is becoming clearer, as more and more studies are done, that the western world is in the midst of an anxiety explosion, and the numbers of people diagnosed with anxiety disorders is increasing steadily year-on-year. There are certainly many reasons for this, and one of them could admittedly be because the line of diagnosis for anxiety disorders keeps moving, but presuming that this could not be solely responsible for such a meteoric upturn, then we have to look elsewhere. There can be little doubt, however, that “elsewhere” is a place that is largely inhabited by the good folk in the food industry, as we really have to look little further than what they have been serving up and calling food for the past few decades.
What’s that now? Food could be contributing to our anxiety?
Well, there certainly seems to be no doubt now that our bodies, or more specifically our guts, can help produce or increase the anxiety in our minds. Through several different mechanisms such as bacterial imbalance, leaky gut, food intolerance, and inflammation, it has been shown that the gut can trigger the same chemicals in your brain that are released during high anxiety episodes. Now this doesn’t mean of course that a single bacteria in your gut is suddenly going to have you ruminating over that time you said that thing to that friend one time at that place…(remember that?). But it is going to get your brain in the right mood for ruminating, and I’m sure your brain knows how to do the rest. Much like a piece of gorgonzola before bed doesn’t specifically result in you dreaming about your cat murdering you with a butter knife, but it is does get your brain in that nightmare party mood where the scenario of your cat being a crazed butter knife killer is a much more likely prospect.
It is safe to say, then, that your gut can lead to excessive, or at the very least worsened, anxiety. And if this is true, it is clear that the people who create most of our food are part of the problem. Why do I say that? Well one of the biggest culprits in unbalancing the bacteria in our guts, and being all-round unhealthy for us, is sugar, and yet you only have to look at health foods, nutrition bars, and even children’s breakfast cereals to see that they are caked in the stuff. Everything these days has sugar, and even a yoghurt advertised as healthy because it is 0% fat is swimming in the stuff. Sure, sugar tastes good, there’s no getting away from that fact. But there’s also no getting away from the fact that it is extremely bad for us, and yet the big companies seem to want to overlook exactly that. We have become a society of sweet-toothed sugar addicts, and the food companies are only too happy to fuel the habit by heaping sugar into everything we eat.
It’s not only sugar of course. Our flour has been bleached, processed and fortified and now contains much more gluten than it used to, which has led to a metaphorical explosion of leaky guts. Our foods are processed to include trans-fats and other preservatives that lead to unsavoury bacteria and leaky guts, and then there is the high amounts of vegetable oils and soy oils in our foods which have created a massive unbalancing of fatty acids in our bodies in favour of omega-6 over omega-3 resulting in unprecedented amounts of inflammation. Our meat is full of hormones and antibiotics, our fish is full of mercury, and our ready-to eat meals are stuffed full of additives, preservatives, and flavourings of all kinds with names and numbers that you can barely pronounce. And I’m not just talking about Denny’s here.
You might of course say to me, “But Neil, maybe the food companies didn’t realise that these things are bad for us,” and I would look at you and nod my head and rub my chin, and then reply in a soft and patient voice “If that were true, then why would they leave these things in our food, but change the names so nobody knows? Hmmm?”
Of course companies didn’t do anything at all when they first found out that their food was bad for us. Oh no, they didn’t care about that. They changed things when they found out that people were no longer buying their food. When people stopped buying foods because they had too much sugar in them, companies changed the word sugar to “high fructose corn syrup” or “glucose” or “fructose” or “sucrose”, which are all basically kinds of sugar. Now, of course, people are getting smarter and recognising that words that end in “-ose” are usually sugar related, so companies are starting to use chemicals like maltodextrin so people don’t notice it. They can then say their product is sugar-free which is pretty much true as maltodextrin is not sugar, but it is in fact much, much, worse. It’s also not even that sweet, so they need to pour it on by the trowel load.
Then there is the great Trans-fat caper. Once people started to realise that trans-fats were bad for them and stopped buying foods that contained them, did food companies take them out of their produce? Err no! They just renamed them to their more scientific names like “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil”. If they could pull the wool over our eyes, then they could keep their crap in our bellies and our money in their pockets. If they could call trans fats unicorn tears and get away with it I bet they would.
Food today is made to be as cheap, as filling, and as tasty (read sweet, fatty and greasy) as it possibly can be, and our health doesn’t even get a look in. Look at the number of fast food places on every street corner of the World. They’re quick, their easy, they’re inexpensive, and (sometimes) they even taste good, but you and I both know they are never going to win any nutrition awards, and they will more than likely be playing havoc with your anxiety.
So does this mean that I think we should all sit back and blame the food companies, and sue them for our sickness, disease, and anxiety? No it does not!
Although the food companies, and the crap they serve that they apparently call food, are certainly culpable for a lot of the sickness and mental health issues in the western world today, there is no point blaming them from this point on. Sure, they have consistently lied to us over the years with their own interpretation of “health food”, but we have to take responsibility for what we put inside our own bodies from now on. We know that there will always be unethical and dishonest people in this world that will take advantage of others in the race for a quick buck, but we have to make sure that we make an effort to make it as difficult as possible for them. We must refuse to buy their wares, and believe their lies, and we should be responsible for finding out for ourselves what is good for us and what is not.
From there it is a simple progression of eating what is good for us and leaving what is not. Whether that means cooking more food yourself, or being more careful where you eat, is up to you, but swapping out deep-fried sugar burgers for something a little more natural could never be a bad thing and is a choice that is completely within your power to make. Of course there is nothing wrong with a purposefully eaten slice of chocolate cheesecake brownie with double cream every now and then. This is one of the joys of life. But joys of life only remain joys when they are experienced sparingly. Stuffing burgers down every afternoon is a habit, not a joy.
It is up to us to decide what goes in our, and our children’s, bodies. It is up to us to make our guts healthy again and keep the bacteria friendly, the gut less leaky, and the inflammation less inflamed. It is time we made more of an effort, and put more importance, into exactly what we call our food. Our minds will thank us for it.