When it comes to the field of nutrition and health it seems to be full of mythology, politics and a lot of grey area instead of simply being straight forward science and black and white recommendations. Part of the reason for this is not only that much of it really is political but also studies are not only expensive but can be slanted towards a researches bias. Since Ancel Keys[i] vilified saturated fat and cholesterol in the 1970s people have been afraid to eat meat, especially bacon and anything high in fat. Now we know this has been a completely false recommendation and concern as it has been shown that there is no association between saturated fat and CVD.[ii][iii] Just this last week Dr. Oz to my surprise admitted he was wrong on the topic of saturated fat.[iv]
With all the myths and confusion out there I want to get back to the basics and give you a short list of the most important factors effecting our health that the vast majority of authorities all agree upon.
1. Water Consumption: Everyone knows that the body is made up of mostly water and you will very quickly die without it…so drink your water! Evidence has not shown that drinking a ton of water will improve health[v], however its clear that dehydration is always detrimental to health. You can get away with a surprising little amount of water if you are sedentary but I hope that’s not my audience, so my recommendation will be largely exercise specific as the more you sweat the more fluids you need. It has been shown that weight loss of more than 4% of body weight during exercise may lead to heat illness, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke[vi]. To make up for this loss of fluid, the athlete should consume 0.5 to 2 L/h of fluid.
Summary: Don’t stress out about drinking a lot of water, but rather use thirst and exercise as your guides to water consumption. My recommendation is to consume a tall glass of water first thing in the morning, another 1 liter within the 60min. following the average CrossFit workout, and for the rest of the day use thirst as your guide.
2. Sleep: Perhaps more then anything else in life by which you have control over, the quality of your sleep has the biggest impact on your health and longevity. A bad or missed nights sleep makes the following worse:
- Immune function[vii]
- Workout Recovery[x]
- Cognitive Function[xii]
- Weight Gain & risk for Diabetes[xiii]
A lack of sleep as you can see literally makes everything in life worse. There is literally no good excuse for continued missed sleep. If you have come to me asking about supplements to increase your exercise performance, you should take a step back and realize improved sleep will do way more for your health and performance then any (legal) supplement. New research has actually shown something that is completely unique to sleep, which is that fact that our brain cells actually shrink allowing our cerebral fluid to flow more easily. This increase circulation helps clear out toxins while we sleep, which again makes sleep absolutely critical. You can listen to a short NPR piece on this topic – http://goo.gl/BQn5ad[xv]
Summary: Getting 8-9hrs. of sleep is critical for your health, likely more then anything else including the best possible diet. The following are my top 6 recommendations for improving sleep quality:
- Decrease exposure to LED light 2hrs before bed.
- Install https://justgetflux.com onto your computer asap!
- Buy Blue Light blocking glasses – http://goo.gl/SdFLNM
- Sleep in a cold room between 60-70°F
- Sleep in a completely blacked out room – You can’t see your own hand.
- Supplement with a 200-400mg of chelated magnesium 30-60min before bed.
- Don’t be completely full or hungry: Eat dinner a few hours before sleep and if you are on a low carb diet, 1-2tsp. of honey right before bed can be beneficial.
- Perform 10-15min of foam/lacrosse ball rolling before bed – How do you feel after a massage? Like you’re ready for a fight or ready for a nap?…Exactly
3.Go Outside: Getting outside in nature is one of the most primal things you can do and anecdotally its one of the most therapeutic and stress relieving activities. Save a few bucks on a therapist by simply taking a hike. This may sound tongue-in-cheek however spending at least some of your day outdoors could save your life or at minimum raise your overall mood. The biggest mechanism is by the production of vitamin D via the exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D is perhaps the most deficient nutrient, especially among northern Americans. Its likely the closest thing to a “Super Nutrient” that we have partly because so many people are deficient but mainly because of all the mechanisms its involved in such as: gene expression, hypertension, mood/depression, sex hormones, bone health, inflammation, oxidative damage, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and the list continues. New research is indicating that super doses or high levels of vitamin D may not be healthier and could be detrimental, however the consensus still seems to be to aim for a minimum of 30 ng/ml.[xvi][xvii][xviii][xix]
Summary: Leave your phone at home or turn it off and get into nature to distress your life. If you are fair skinned getting 20 or more minutes at peak sunlight could give you as much as 10,000IUs of vitamin D, however this exposure time increases with darker skin. My recommendations is the following:
- Get your Vitamin D levels tested
- Spend 1hr. or more outside in the sun everyday.
- Throw away your sunscreen as it can block the production of vitamin D, or apply only after an initial >20min. of exposure.
- Supplement with 2-4,000IUs of vitamin D each unexposed day
- Supplement with up 1tsp. of Green Pastures Cod Liver Oil, as it’s the best possible food source of Vitamin D with optimal levels of Vitamin A and K2 combined together – http://www.greenpasture.org/public/Home/index.cfm
- Other food sources of Vitamin D are: Seafood, Eggs & Beef Liver
- Whenever possible walk barefoot or use “earthing” sandals such as these ones – http://www.pluggz.com/Mens-Flip-Flops-s/1816.htm
4. Movement: “Sitting Is The New Smoking”
Answer the following questions:
Do you spend the majority of your day in some kind of movement? Or do you spend the majority of your day sitting? Not only does sitting effect your postural health as well as give you a tight Psaos because your glutes and abs are relaxed which can decrease exercise performance. However beyond that long term sitting greater increases weight gain and new research has shown that despite any physical activity done, if you sit for more then 6 hours per day you have a 40% greater risk of death over the next 15 years. In fact marathon runners and exercisers alike are even more likely to follow up their day with sitting, which will not buffer the negative impact of hours of sitting.[xx][xxi]
Summary: If you spend multiple hours sitting per day try the following changes:
- Take Breaks – Simply stand up for 2min. or more every 1 hour.
- Use a standing Desk – http://goo.gl/sNfzu4
- Use a treadmill Desk – http://www.treaddesk.com
- Active Sitting: Stability Ball or Yoga Block.
5. JERF: Just Eat Real Food
One of the primary reasons I support the Paleo approach to eating is simply because across all civilizations and even diets the primary cause of health decline among all of them is not high carb, low carb, high fat or low fat but simply when the food has been messed with by modern man and in turn becomes less and less “real”. In my understanding even though you can find many health benefits from dairy, legumes and dare I say wheat more so when its fermented, the Paleo approach offers an eating approach that is the least messed with by modern processing techniques. Since “Paleo” is a branded term and comes with its own baggage I often use JERF instead to simply refer to “Real Food”.
When I use the word “Real” I am meaning it’s not processed or if it has been processed, you are either the one who processed it or you can actually speak to the person who processed it and the food has not been drastically changed from its original creation. To quote John Durant, “to eat fewer processed foods actually means eat fewer industrial foods”. In contrast real food is “grown on a farm or herded on a ranch” or gathered from the wild while industrial food is an invention of the Industrial Age and often developed in a laboratory.[xxii] To know whether what you’re eating is an industrial food or real food often doesn’t need to be explained because you simply know for obvious reasons. My favorite non-Paleo Nutrition writer is Michael Pollan, and here are his obvious Rules for Real Food[xxiii]:
- Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food
- Avoid food products that contain more then five ingredients
- Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce
- Avoid food products that make health claims (on the actual product)
- Avoid food products that say “lite”, “lowfat” or “nonfat” in their names
- Avoid food products that are pretending to be something they’re not (margarine)
- Eat only foods that will eventually rot
- Eat foods that have been cooked by a human being
- Don’t ingest foods made in places where everyone is required to wear a surgical cap
- If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t
- It’s not food if it’s called by the same name in every language (cheetos, Big Mac)
- Its not food if it arrived through the window of your car
- Eat animals that have themselves eaten well
- When you eat real food, you don’t need rules
Summary: Unless you have some kind of unique intolerance or allergy, as long as you eat “Real Food” and cut out “Industrial Food” it doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s a JERF diet and you will be healthier.
[xxii] Durant, John. The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health. 1st ed. New York: Harmony, 2013. 103. Print.
[xxiii] Pollan, Michael. Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. New York: Penguin, 2009. Print.