Whole Foods or Supplements, Habits for Optimal Health, and Green Powders — Q&A
Q: Isn’t it better to get nutrients from real foods rather than supplements?
In a perfect world, we would not need supplements. I would love to be able to get all of my nutritional needs met from the Earth and the animals. In 2019, however, I believe this to be nearly, if not entirely, impossible.
Problem #1: Loss of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in our fruits and vegetables.
Throughout the last tens of thousands of years, humans have been incidentally stripping away essential nutrients by breeding more palatable fruits and vegetables — increasing sweetness and removing bitterness from our diets. The fruits and vegetables we know today are much lower in vitamins, minerals and healthy fats than wild fruits and vegetables, and significantly higher in sugar. For example, the wild plant purslane has six times more vitamin E and 14 times more omega-3 fatty acids than spinach, and seven times more carotene than carrots. The reality is that most of us don’t have access to wild plants like this, hence why supplementation is a good idea. Here is my favorite book on this topic.
Problem #2: Chemical farming has destroyed our soils.
Healthy soil puts the medicine into food. Chemical farming has left our soils so depleted that the nutritional value of the foods grown in it are a mere fraction of what they were before chemical farming. Ergo, the fruits and vegetables we’re eating are usually not providing our bodies with what we think they are. Especially in non-organic, conventionally grown produce. Some of these foods, like non-organic strawberries and kale, are actually harmful to our health due to the egregious amounts of pesticides used today.
Problem #3: Environmental conditions, toxins and pollutants.
Our nutritional needs have never been higher due to pollutants in our air, water and food supply. Fluorescent lights, high-stress, lack of sunlight and our general disconnection with nature affects our bodies in countless ways. With so much detracting on a daily basis, our bodies need maximal nutrition in order to be able to heal from these unnatural conditions and substances — hence a heightened need for many important nutrients via supplementation.
In conclusion, eating whole foods and supplementing is important to do together — especially to the extent that eating whole foods is preventing you from eating processed, inflammatory foods. Hiking trails often have signs like “do no harm” or “leave no trace”, because when left alone, nature can take care of itself. Our bodies are the same in many ways, and for that reason, I propose that removing unhealthy foods is more important than the addition of superbly healthy foods or supplements. Inflammatory foods such as pizza, cheeseburgers and soda, all of which are within the top 10 sources of calories in the American Diet, cause so much damage that it doesn’t really matter what foods or supplements you are consuming on top of that.
Q: What are the top 5+ daily habits for optimal health and performance?
I think about healthy habits a little like a business looks at it’s financials. We have line items that are fixed and others that are variable. There are things we need to do everyday no matter what, to “keep the lights on” as they say. And then there are others that we do not need everyday, or perhaps we cannot afford to do all the time.
Ergo, this question to me was not about how many days per week you should do high-intensity exercise or lift heavy weights, this was about fixed habits: the five things that need to happen everyday, no matter what day it is, in order to lead a sustainable, optimal, healthy, and happy life.
So here we go:
The importance of nose breathing cannot be understated. In fact, it could be the most powerful way to improve your health. For starters, consider the fact that your sinus cavity consumes nearly as much space inside your head as your brain. By-passing this massive cavity that filters, detoxifies, warms, and sends the air you breathe through a pressurized world of cells that increases oxygen uptake by up to 20% [compared to mouth breathing] would be non-sensical. The sinus cavity is also where nitric oxide, a vital gas for cardiovascular and sexual health, pools every time you exhale, where it can be circulated throughout the body with the following nostril inhalation.
20 Minutes of Sun Exposure and/or Earthing
Our near complete disconnection from nature is at the core of our current health crisis. For millennia, humans lived in intimate contact with the Earth. We spent the vast majority of our time outdoors hunting and scavenging our food, we slept on the ground, and led lives free of chronic stress that were emotionally rich and extremely physically active. This “mismatch” with today’s existence — spending the majority of each day sedentary, consuming calorically-dense foods beneath fluorescent lights, sleeping on the second floor or higher — shows how far we are from our roots.
Today, nearly 70% of the Americans and over 80% of the Europeans are deficient in Vitamin D — a nutrient-hormone derived primarily from sunlight that helps optimize every single physiological system within us. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with all-cause mortality, increases in cardiovascular incidence, mood disorders, and sexual health problems. Additionally, spending time each day in direct contact with the Earth can have profound impacts on our physiology. This may sound a little “tinfoil hat” to you, but the truth is that we are electrical beings — just look at any EKG for proof. Our heart specifically is an electrical conductor that, just like any other electrical system, must be grounded. Otherwise, in electrical terms, the energy has nowhere to go and the system can break down. This is another simple, no-cost intervention that we can do to radically improve our energy, vitality, and health.
Light is a powerful evolutionary signal to our brains that keeps us alert by increasing our “day time” hormones, which include our stress and hunger hormones. The more intense the light, the stronger the signal. TVs, cell phones, and other LED lights common today emit extremely intense blue-light. This light can be even more powerful than sunlight to our physiology and therefore inhibit “night-time hormones” like melatonin from rising, and keep our stress and hunger hormones high. The result is a restless, light sleep that leaves us waking up feeling tired and in need of stimulants and sugar to get moving. Blackout curtains are one of the best investments to make in this area along with ensuring that all of your light-emitting technology is off during the nighttime hours.
Walk 10,000+ Steps
Humans are engineered to lead very active, mentally stimulating lives with a lot of low-level physical movement and scavenging. The combination of movement with focus is key to understanding how the brain has evolved to perceive energy expenditure. In other words, throughout evolution we often needed to “invest” calories in an effort to scavenge for our next meal, and in order to feed our families. Ergo, the human brain is naturally vigilant as to whether or not the current investment of energy is worth the cost, and has evolved to hang onto its hard-earned energy reserves.
Consider that the most intense physical demands present in the lives of our ancestors were hunting large prey and battling neighboring tribes for lands and freedoms — both were only sporadic with very strong upsides for the brain that would ensure its full resources and participation. In contrast with today, most exercise happening in gyms is likely being perceived as a negative stressor, “a war with yourself” and an expenditure without merit. This would result in the brain not willingly participating in the activity and often releasing even more-fat storage hormones — sound familiar? The best form of exercise is lots of low-level physical activity, ideally outdoors. For most living sedentary lives, 10,000 steps per day with as many as possible being uphill or up stairs, while keeping your focusing on the destination and the purpose of the activity, will do more for your health than a gym membership.
12-16 Hour Daily Fasts or a Weekly 24 Hour Fast
Periods of scarcity used to be part and parcel with human existence, and are an integral part of our evolutionary makeup. Fasting is included in some form within nearly every major religion on the planet. Mild long-term caloric restriction, which is often goes hand in hand with fasting, is one of the only proven singular methods to extend lifespan — apart from NOT smoking or killing yourself. The reason fasting and caloric restriction work is that they keep your blood glucose stable and low. On the flip side, chronically elevated or fluctuating blood glucose levels resulting from eating too often or too many calories, shuts down a person’s innate ability to access their fat stores for energy. Their bodies will instead preferentially seeks outside energy and blood glucose to conserve fat stores presumably for an emergency — like food scarcity.
You may be connecting the dots here. Our lifestyles today involve bottling up energy and never letting it out, and the electric system never gets a chance to “ground”. The result is a chaotic state of impossible fat burning and chronic metabolic reactivity. It’s no wonder we’re so sick.
Do No Harm
The most important thing to keep in mind. Don’t make it harder on yourself! Skip the inflammatory foods, don’t smoke, move purposefully throughout the day, explore nature! And when it doubt — do the opposite of what everybody else is doing.
Q: Does everybody need a “Greens Supplement”?
In today’s world, I do believe the case can be made that everybody should have a go-to, high-quality “greens” supplement. While I do not necessarily believe everybody needs to consume such a supplement every day, I do see high-quality, organic greens powder as a pretty low-cost, high-value nutritional “insurance policy” for busy moms or business folks, frequent travelers, or those living in areas where local, wild greens may be less than easily accessible.
Many of these powdered greens help us detoxify. Chlorella, popular in many greens powders, is an algae that helps remove toxins from our bodies by binding to heavy metals. Others, such as nettle and dandelion greens, are bitter to the taste and rarely found in your grocery store, yet contain high amounts of hard to find vitamins and a plethora of phytonutrients that boost health and vitality. Ironically, you can probably find some dandelion greens and other vital “weeds” in your backyard — a great reason to avoid chemicals at home!
Here is the fully organic greens supplement that I use and recommend to my close friends and family.
Q: Do you have a sleep routine?
Yes, as should you! Sleep has been referred to as the “ultimate performance enhancing drug” by exercise scientists, and for good reason. Our sleep quality has as much to do with maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding disease as our exercise habits or nutrition. Yet, in our modern world, maximizing the quality and depth of our sleep is a problem area for many of the people I’ve coached over the years. A few of the easiest interventions to support improvements in sleep are:
Blackout your bedroom. This is the single most important thing you can do to improve your sleep. Consider that for 2.6 million years of evolution, “light” has been a signal to “rise” — not to sleep! In fact, the intense light emitted from TVs, cell phones, and even your neighbor’s floodlights illuminating your bedroom window can impede your melatonin from rising and prevent deep, restorative sleep from taking place.
Turn your wifi off at night. Reducing EMF exposure as much as possible during the 10-12 evening hours can give your body an edge when it comes to rebooting your systems. The easiest way to do this is to simply plug your wifi router into an outlet timer like this one. It goes without saying that your phone should be off as well.
In terms of my sleep routine, here’s the long and short of it:
6-8 hours before bed, and generally after 1-2pm, I avoid any and all caffeine, chocolate, B-vitamins, or stimulants of any kind.
4-6 hours before bed, I begin to switch from the built-in lights in my house, where I have “normal” bulbs, to lamps in each room that have these amber bulbs. This reduces the “blue” spectrum of light that’s most suppressive of melatonin production.
3-4 hours before bed, I stop eating. Having a stomach full of food that needs to be digested when you hit the hay is subtracting, not adding, to the resources available for muscle repair, neurological restoration, and all of the other critical roles that sleep plays. Don’t go to bed hungry, but don’t go to bed full.
2-3 hours before bed I aim to cut screen use. This is not always 100% possible, but it is always the objective. On days when I do stay on my laptop or phone later that I should, I have apps installed (one of which is F.Lux), that reduce the blue-light slowly starting at around 3pm. On my iPhone, I activated this little known hack!
30-60 minutes before bed I take sleep supplements. Usually 400mg magnesium, 30mg of Zinc, and 100mg of 5-HTP. I’ll also add in 3-6mg of melatonin, 30mg CBD, or 500mg GABA on occasion when I really want to zap myself out.