America has some funny values. Heart Disease kills 647,457 people per year; cancer from smoking kills 480,317 per year, alcohol consumption an additional 72,558 per year, and consumption of rich foods (sugar, fat and salt typically found in processed food) consumed in excess, drives obesity, diabetes, and heart failure. The medical journal, The Lancet reports that, globally, poor nutrition is responsible for more than half a million deaths per year, and 233 million lost years of "healthy" life in disability-adjusted- life-years or DALYs (Vol 393 May 11, 2019).


According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), America has the highest percentage of adults with obesity, diabetes, and heart attacks. Forty-one countries live longer than Americans do. Think of that … 41 countries have a longer life expectancy at birth than America!


A virus comes along and kills 150,000 people but more importantly shuts down parts of our economy, and we throw trillions of dollars at this "deadly disease". In America you are allowed to kill yourself slowly, you just can’t do it all at once. In fact, we will help you by making cigarettes, alcohol and processed foods ubiquitous, cheap and available on every corner!


What is all this discussion about physical health have to do with our mental health? Do you really believe that having a chronic disease does not affect our brain and mental health? According to Statistical Brain Trust Institute, America has the highest rate of depression of the 18 countries surveyed. Each year 67,000 US citizens die of drug overdose. Suicides reached 47,173 in 2017.


The USDA estimates that the typical Standard American Diet consists of 25% saturated fat from animal products and 63% of added fats, sugar, salt, and refined grains from processed foods. The appeal of rich foods, like drugs, stems from its activation of the brain reward circuits. Therefore¸ once a rich food habit develops; increasing quantities are required to obtain the same reward (dopamine pulse). Withdrawal from a rich-food habit causes dysphoria resembling drug withdrawal. Research on a rich-food diet is associated with contributing to depression, anxiety, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, and aggressive behaviors.


Individuals struggling with mental health issues are less likely to benefit from counseling without an understanding of how their lifestyle choices (smoking, drug use, lack of exercise, and desire for rich foods) directly contribute to their illness. A wise man once said, "take care of the present and you automatically take care of the future". The same may be true for your physical health: take care of your physical health and you automatically take care of your mental health. To quote the New England Journal of Medicine, "A healthy diet, rich in fruits and vegetables and low in sugar and calorie-dense processed foods is essential for health.


Jim Runnels is a retired Licensed Professional Counselor and advocate of evidence-based education and supporter of the health benefits of a whole food plant-based, active lifestyle, to achieve optimal health. He is the administrator of Eat Healthy-Texoma Facebook page. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.