By Dr. Mercola
To help commemorate 20 years of offering the most up-to-date health information we can, here are 20 tips to help you on your journey. The topics are all-encompassing, so while you may not be able to do all of them right now, beginning with a few will improve your overall health, as well as your sense of well-being.
What to Do More of or Get More of to Optimize Your Health
1. Get eight hours of sleep every night.
You’ve heard it since you were a kid but that eight hours of shut-eye is serious business. Believe it or not, adequate sleep can make you smarter, skinnier and happier; it helps you assimilate and deal with the ins and outs of life and process information on multiple levels.
You end up consuming more calories when you don’t get enough sleep. Your memory suffers and your risk for depression increases because your brain hasn’t had enough time to sort out what is and isn’t important. Your risk of anxiety rises, and with it, coping mechanisms that often involve food. Even your immune system takes a hit. Protect your hours of sleep like you do your bank account. You’ll be richer for it.
2. Get adequate vitamin D and omega-3s, and test your levels.
Deficiencies in these two essential nutrients are causing untold damage to the health of millions of Americans. In fact, 85 percent of Americans aren’t getting enough “D” to help fight bone loss, cognitive decline, rheumatoid arthritis and abnormal cell growth, which are just a few of the functions vitamin D helps with. To figure how much you need, have your levels tested and be sure they are maintained at between 40 and 60 ng/mL year-round.
Regular sun exposure is your best source of vitamin D, but supplementation may also be necessary for some people. Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which you need for healthy digestion, blood clotting, memory, muscle strength, vision, heart health and so much more.
A deficiency is implicated in cognitive decline and may be a factor in 100,000 premature deaths each year. The Omega-3 Index Test1 can help you determine your level (ideally it should be above 8 percent) and is available from several labs. Excellent sources of animal-based omega-3s include wild-caught Alaskan salmon, sardines, anchovies and krill oil.
3. Get moving.
Sitting is a huge part of modern life. In fact, the national median of adults with little to no physical activity other than their jobs is 22.6 percent, according to the United Health Foundation.2 More than 10,000 studies attest to the fact that sitting is a big risk factor for not just illness but premature death.
Walking just one hour a day, the equivalent of about 3 miles, will go a long way (pun intended) toward optimizing your health. You’ll gain greater stamina, more energy and even more confidence, along with cutting your risk for several types of disease. Ideally, aim for 10,000 steps a day and cut your sitting time to three hours or less daily.
4. Grow your own food.
The best way to guarantee you’re eating truly healthy foods like vegetables, herbs and seeds is to produce them yourself. You may be surprised how easy it is to start with organic tomato, beet or lettuce seeds for growing food right at your fingertips. It’s very satisfying, plus you don’t have to worry about genetically engineered (GE) foods laced with harmful pesticides.
5. Get adequate sun exposure.
Humans make thousands of units of vitamin D within minutes of whole-body exposure to sunlight,3 but, unfortunately, 9-to-5 jobs keep most people indoors. Regular sun exposure is important not only for adequate vitamin D production but also much more, including boosting your immune system, regulating your circadian rhythm, lowering high blood pressure, improving your mood and even lowering your risk of many cancers, including skin cancer.4
Safe exposure to sunshine is possible by understanding your skin type, the UV strength at the time of exposure and your duration of exposure. Always avoid getting burned, but do make sure you spend a sensible amount of time with your bare skin exposed regularly.
What to Eat More of to Optimize Your Health
6. Eat more fiber.
It may not make sense until you think about it, but when the foods you eat hang around in your system (aka colon) for too long, it begins accumulating toxins that can potentially end up causing colon cancer. The foods you eat provide needed nutrients for your body’s health, but then they need to move through and out of your system.
That’s where fiber, especially from vegetables, nuts and seeds such as flax and chia seeds — not grains — come in handy. Fiber “sloughs” your intestinal walls to speed up movement. Drinking adequate water helps the process, as well. Fiber is not only beneficial for lowering your cancer risk but also reduces your risk of chronic disease like diabetes and heart disease. It’s even good for your lung function. How much fiber do you need? I believe about 50 grams per 1,000 calories consumed is ideal.
7. Eat more fish.
As you may know, protein is essential for health. You only need to eat 10 percent to 35 percent of your daily calorie intake from protein, however, and many Americans consume much more than that. Trading out some of the beef you eat for fish is an excellent way to get adequate protein without getting too much, which can be worse than a deficiency.
However larger fish are nearly always contaminated with mercury and other toxins. Exceptions would be wild-caught Alaskan salmon, sardines, anchovies and herring are cold-water fish that offer healthy fats, including omega-3s, without high levels of pollutants. Make sure the fish you eat is wild-caught, not farmed, low in mercury and other pollutants and responsibly harvested.
Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification5 and Fishwise help eliminate guesswork on what’s healthy and sustainable. If opting for a supplement, krill oil offers many of the same benefits as eating fish, and even more benefits than fish oil.
8. Switch to American grass fed certified.
That goes for milk and butter as well as meat, so when you buy these products you know, as studies have indicated, you’re getting optimal essential minerals and antioxidants, as well as fatty acid composition. Organic grass fed foods are also free of antibiotics and other drugs used in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
Antibiotic-resistant disease has become a major public health hazard, so buying organic meats is should something you take into consideration. The Grassfed Exchange has a list of producers who sell organic and grass fed meats across the U.S.
Also, check out RealMilk.com and the Cornucopia Institute's egg report and dairy scorecard. 6 Certification by the American Grassfed Association is the highest assurance you can have that the food is authentically raised to the highest standards. In addition, support U.S. grass fed producers.
9. Make fermented foods.
Fermented foods provide your body with beneficial microbes, counteract inflammation and control the growth of disease-causing bacteria. All you need is a Mason jar or two to get started.
Your gut houses about 85 percent of your immune system, mainly because 100 trillion beneficial and pathogenic bacteria live there and play important roles in your body’s functions. When your GI tract is not properly balanced, a wide range of health problems can appear, including allergies and autoimmune diseases. Here’s a tutorial to start you on your way to better gut health.
10. Grow sprouts.
If you haven’t heard about the incredible health benefits of eating sprouted broccoli, bean or sunflower sprouts, it might be helpful to learn that, compared to the considerable vitamins and antioxidants in full-grown vegetables, the micro version (i.e., sprouts) is like veggies on steroids. Sunflower seed and pea shoots are about 30 times more nutritious than organic vegetables.
Best of all, growing your own is super easy, quick, cost effective and doesn’t require a lot of space. For instructions that will help you start on the fun and nutritious journey, be sure to read sprout-growing 101.
What to Avoid or Reduce to Optimize Your Health
11. Avoid lectins.
Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins you find in many plant-based foods, such as wheat and other grains, beans and similar legumes, and nightshade veggies such as tomatoes and peppers. Many are proinflammatory and neurotoxic, and may increase blood viscosity, interfere with gene expression and disrupt endocrine function. That’s why dried beans must be carefully cooked, and never eat them raw. Sprouting and fermenting will also dramatically reduce the lectin content of foods.
12. Avoid fluoride.
In the U.S., 57 percent of youth between the ages of 6 and 19 years have dental fluorosis, a condition in which your tooth enamel becomes progressively discolored and mottled due to overexposure to fluoridated drinking water. Dental fluorosis is an outward sign that fluoride is damaging the body.
A forethinking chemist asserted that water fluoridation was tantamount to committing “public murder” back in 1937, sadly confirmed with a sharp rise in cancer deaths implicating fluoride soon after the practice started. Choose non-fluoridated toothpaste and consider a fluoride-removing water filter. The three types of filters that can remove fluoride are reverse osmosis, deionizers (which use ion-exchange resins) and activated alumina.
13. Avoid microwaves, especially with plastic containers.
Depending on what product you’re using, your plastic might contain phthalates, a type of “gender-bending” chemical causing males of many species to become more female, along with many others. Microwaving food in a plastic container puts your food in contact with phthalates and other chemicals that have leached out during the heating process.
Instead, use a glass container and cover your food with a paper towel, a coffee filter or a glass lid set on at a slight angle for steam to escape. Even better, banish your microwave altogether. Microwaves heat food by causing water molecules in it to resonate at very high frequencies and eventually turn to steam, which heats your food. While this can rapidly heat your food, it also causes a change in your food's chemical structure and destroys many vital nutrients.
14. Limit your protein intake.
Protein is essential for health because it helps build muscle, maintain healthy cells and regulate your metabolism, to name a few of its many functions, which is why it’s called the “building blocks of life.” But Americans consume the most meat per capita in the world — more than 175 pounds of pork, poultry and beef per year, which exceeds what is wise for optimal health.
People whose protein consumption is 20 percent or more their total caloric intake have a 400 percent higher cancer rate, and a 75 percent higher risk of mortality. Protein is important, but balance is important, too. For optimal health, I believe most adults need about 1 gram of protein per kilogram of lean body mass (not total body weight), or 0.5 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass.
15. Reduce EMFs.
No doubt about it: Exposure to EMFs, or electromagnetic fields, is a given if you use a cellphone. One study showed that those who logged the most time on their cell phones were twice as likely to develop glioma compared to those who used them the least.7 Learning disabilities, altered brain metabolism and DNA damage are some of the hair-raising outcomes.
Lower your exposure to all electronics whenever possible, but use particular care with your cellphone, portable phone, Wi-Fi router and modem. You can reduce your exposure by shutting off your Wi-Fi at night, keeping cellphones in airplane mode unless using them, using the speaker phone and using a selfie stick when talking on your cellphone.
Things to Eliminate to Optimize Your Health
It’s hard to eliminate things from modern-day life that are so ingrained into society that getting rid of certain unhealthy factors are not just inconvenient but impossible. But when you understand the toll hanging on to certain unhealthy things and how it can (and does) negatively impact your life, it often becomes more doable, and even imperative, such as the following:
16. Give up nicotine for life.
You probably already know smoking causes cancer, and other forms of nicotine and tar are every bit as dangerous. But did you know it is one of the factors in the development of Alzheimer’s? In fact, one study showed smokers to have a 45 percent higher risk of developing dementia than nonsmokers.8 Show this study to your kids and grandkids.
17. Get rid of nonstick cookware.
Here’s why: poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) used to create these surfaces are toxic, both in your body and in the environment. You may have noticed bits that come loose when you’re stirring, and realized they’re going into someone’s body, and toxic fumes, even if you can’t smell them, are, too. Instead, use ceramic or enameled cast iron pots, pans and skillets to do your cooking.
18. Consider getting rid of your mercury fillings.
But maybe you should first consider what mercury fillings may be doing to wreck your health. The amalgam fillings put in place by dentists in the U.S. are 50 percent mercury, the vapors of which pass through cell membranes, across your blood-brain barrier and into your central nervous system. Studies show they cause serious psychological, neurological and immunological problems. You can have mercury fillings removed by a biological dentist and find more information here.
19. Give up soda.
Countless individuals are making strides toward a healthier lifestyle, but one of the smartest things you can do if you haven’t already is ditch soda. There’s a link between soda consumption and obesity, as well as liver damage, heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. Making the switch to water could be the most influential health decision you’ve ever made.
Whatever you do, don’t start drinking diet soda, as it’s even worse. It’s linked to stroke, dementia, depression and neurological disorders due to the aspartame content, and it may make you gain weight instead of lose it. Be informed about what you’re really putting in your body. You won’t believe how much better you’ll feel.
20. Avoid sugar.
Evidence suggests excess sugar is a foundational cause of diabetes, obesity and most chronic degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, not just an exacerbating factor. You can lower your risk of premature death simply by limiting your intake. Once you more fully appreciate the dangers of sugar, you may finally be more motivated to mostly eliminate it from your diet.
It may be difficult in the beginning, but once you cut down on added sugars and other net carbs (total carbs minus fiber), which will allow your body to start burning fat as its primary fuel again, the sugar cravings will disappear and you will not have to struggle to abstain from junk foods any longer. Research stevia as an alternative.
What’s in It for You?
It’s unfortunate that along with all the options we’re offered in grocery stores, many of them are manufactured with something else in mind besides your health. Our aim is to expose corporate, government and media misinformation that diverts you away from what’s truly best for your health.
Unless you actively pursue alternative answers for health and well-being, you’ll most likely be swept into corporate America’s loudest, most persistent answer to every problem, from headaches to obesity to cancer: drugs and medical procedures. We’ve partnered with key organizations also dedicated to educating the public on important health issues, and even push for initiatives that will better public health and the environment while helping you improve your health, naturally.