Throughout history, new discoveries have revolutionized the way societies of the time regarded meal times. First, the discovery of fire changed a predominantly raw ancient diet to one of cooked foods, which some believe gave humans the extra calories they needed for their brains to get bigger, ultimately allowing for the use of tools and the creation of art and religion.
Much later, historically speaking, the relatively new invention of the fork altered the way we eat and chew our food, such that it changed the structure of the human jaw.
In the modern day, you may think there's not much new to be discovered when it comes to eating and drinking, but science is still uncovering all kinds of wondrous information that can help you to live healthier.
In some cases, the tips that follow may challenge you to step outside your culinary comfort zone; in others, they may take you on a trip to the past to embrace culinary techniques of generations past. In any case, there's a good chance you might learn something new about food, drinks and how to structure your diet.
1. Eat Fermented Foods
The process of fermentation can transform ordinary vegetables into superfoods, a "secret" that has been embraced by many cultures for thousands of years. The culturing process increases the presence of beneficial microbes that are extremely important for human health as they help balance your intestinal flora, thereby boosting overall immunity.
Your gut literally serves as your second brain, and even produces more of the neurotransmitter serotonin — known to have a beneficial influence on your mood — than your brain does, so maintaining a healthy gut will benefit your mind as well as your body.
Fermented foods are also some of the best chelators and detox agents available, meaning they can help rid your body of a wide variety of pernicious toxins, including heavy metals.
Ideally, you'll want to include a variety of cultured foods and beverages in your diet, as each food will inoculate your gut with a variety of different microorganisms. Fermented foods you can easily make at home include the following, and you can find detailed instructions for how to ferment vegetables here:
- Cultured vegetables (including pureed baby foods)
- Condiments, such as salsa and mayonnaise
- Cultured dairy, such as yoghurt, kefir, and sour cream
- Fish, such as mackerel and Swedish gravlax
2. Include Sprouts in Your Diet
Sprouts are another superfood that can contain up to 30 times more vital nutrients than even raw organic vegetables. When seeds are sprouted, the protein and fiber content increases, as does the content of vitamins and essential fatty acids. Minerals such as calcium and magnesium also become more bioavailable. In general, sprouts have the following beneficial attributes:
- Support for cell regeneration
- Powerful sources of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and enzymes that protect against free radical damage
- Alkalinizing effect on your body, which is thought to protect against disease, including cancer (as many tumors are acidic)
- Abundantly rich in oxygen, which can also help protect against abnormal cell growth, viruses and bacteria that cannot survive in an oxygen-rich environment
Sprouts are incredibly easy and inexpensive to grow at home, making them a nutritional powerhouse that virtually everyone can enjoy. I used to grow sprouts in Ball jars over 10 years ago but now I am strongly convinced that growing them in soil is far easier and produces far more nutritious and abundant food. It is also less time consuming. I am in the process of compiling detailed videos to explain this process for future articles but you can see some of my preliminary sprouting photos now.
3. Rethink Your Breakfast
If you're still eating a sugar-filled, grain-heavy breakfast (bagels, pancakes, toast, cereal) this is among the worst choices for the morning. A recent study found that eating a breakfast high in protein, such as eggs and meat, makes you less likely to binge on junk foods later that night,1 but even this may not be the best breakfast choice.
However, omitting breakfast entirely, as part of an intermittent fasting schedule (see tip #4 below), can actually have a number of phenomenal health benefits, from improving your insulin sensitivity to shifting your body into burning more fat instead of sugar for fuel. This is because eating first thing in the morning coincides with your circadian cortisol peak, that is, the time of day when your cortisol (a stress hormone) levels rise and reach their peak.
The circadian cortisol peak impacts your insulin secretion, such that when you eat during this time it leads to a rapid and large insulin release and a corresponding rapid drop in blood sugar levels, more so than when you eat at other times of the day.
If you're healthy, your blood sugar levels won't drop to a dangerously low level (such as can occur with hypoglycemia) but they can drop low enough to make you feel hungry. So, although skipping breakfast goes against the conventional idea that you should not skip meals, omitting breakfast could actually make it easier for you to control food cravings and hunger throughout the day.
4. Intermittent Fasting May Help You Achieve Optimal Health
Intermittent fasting, also known as "scheduled eating," does not necessarily mean abstaining from all food for extended periods of time. Rather it refers to limiting your eating to a narrow window of time each day. Simply eat all meals or snacks during a limited window of time.
Ideally, you'll want to limit your eating to a window of about 6-8 hours each day (say from noon to 6 p.m.), which means you're fasting daily for 16-18 hours. This is enough to get your body to shift into fat-burning mode, and applies whether you're restricting the number of calories you consume during this time or not.
Typically you start by not eating anything for three hours prior to going to sleep. This will give you a head start to the fasting process so if you sleep for 8 hours you've already fasted for 11 hours when you awake. The next step is to wait as long as you can before you start your first meal or "break" your fast. You can gradually extend the time that you have your first meal by 15 to 30 minutes a day. So after several weeks you will be having your first meal at lunch. Generally, the more your body uses carbs as its primary fuel rather than fat, the longer this will take. Once you shift to fat-burning mode, modern research has confirmed some of the benefits to be:
- Normalizing your insulin sensitivity, which is key for optimal health as insulin resistance is a primary contributing factor to nearly all chronic disease, from diabetes to heart disease and even cancer
- Normalizing ghrelin levels, also known as "the hunger hormone"
- Promoting human growth hormone (HGH) production, which plays an important part in health, fitness and slowing the aging process
- Lowering triglyceride levels
- Reducing inflammation and lessening free radical damage
5. Take Time to Chew Your Food
A good portion of your digestive enzymes is actually produced in your mouth, not in your stomach. Digestion actually begins in your mouth, and chewing your food longer allows the food to be broken down better. As you chew, enzymes from the salivary glands also begin chemically breaking down food molecules into a size your body can absorb.
If you often find your stomach feels like a big knot after you've eaten, you're probably swallowing your food in pieces that are far too large. Chewing your food properly has a number of additional beneficial side effects. For example, chewing your food twice as long as you normally would will instantly help you control your portion sizes, which naturally decreases calorie consumption. You're also likely to find that you actually enjoy the taste of the food more if you eat slower.
6. Eat Locally Grown and Organic Food as Much as Possible
There are a number of reasons why eating locally grown organic is better for you and the environment. Organic foods expose you to fewer pesticides -- about 30 percent on average while organic meats also reduce your risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria by an average of 33 percent.2 Plus, research has shown that organic fruits and veggies can be more nutritious and better at fighting off diseases like cancer.
For instance, one recent study showed that fruit flies had greater fertility and longevity when fed organic food.3 Another major benefit of organically grown foods is the reduction in your toxic load through reduced exposure to agricultural chemicals, such as synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, which can cause a wide variety of health problems.
From an environmental standpoint, organic farming is far better for the health of the planet and the animals being raised for food. If you're on a tight budget but want to improve your diet by shopping organic, animal products like meat, raw dairy, poultry and eggs are the place to start. Since animal products tend to accumulate toxins from their pesticide-laced feed, concentrating them to far higher concentrations than are typically present in vegetables, I strongly recommend you buy only organically raised animal foods, ideally from a small farmer or food co-op in your community.
7. Your Diet Can Dictate Your Mood
You may turn to junk food when you're feeling stressed out, bored or lonely, but doing so is likely to make your bad mood worse.4 Sugar is one of the worst offenders, and is known to suppress activity of a key hormone called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is critically low in depressed patients. It also promotes chronic inflammation, which is thought to be a primary cause of depression.
The secret to improving your mood is also in your gut, as unhealthy gut flora can impact your mental health, leading to issues like anxiety and depression. In fact, the greatest concentration of serotonin, which is involved in mood control, depression and aggression, is found in your intestines, not your brain! My free nutrition plan can help you choose the right foods to support a positive mood.
8. Too Much Alcohol Can Make You Fat
Alcohol is high in empty calories, of course, but it can add extra inches to your waistline through another mechanism as well. When you drink alcohol, your body stops burning fat and calories in order to break down the alcohol first. This means that what you ate recently is likely to be stored as fat. Drinking alcohol also impairs your prefrontal cortex, which is related to impulsivity, making you more likely to binge on unhealthy foods.
When it comes to alcohol, I generally define "moderate" alcohol intake (which is allowed in the beginner phase of my nutrition plan) as a 5-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce beer or 1 ounce of hard liquor with a meal, per day. As you progress further, I do recommend eliminating all forms of alcohol.