One of the functional medicine guys I follow once said that our genetic code is hard-wired for a specific environment. When that environment changes faster than our genes can evolve, a mismatch occurs. This mismatch is the primary driver of the chronic disease epidemic and the ridiculously high rates of heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and neurological issues like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
In other words, our bodies were built for an environment that no longer exists. That makes it incredibly difficult to stay healthy. And sometimes, I get frustrated by the realization that everything is stacked against us.
Just think about it for a moment. Artificial sources of light disrupt our circadian rhythm. Processed foods cause inflammation. Our day jobs make us sedentary. Our schedules and to-do lists induce stress and anxiety. And it’s nearly impossible to get truly clean drinking water.
I could go on.
It’s a mess. And it makes many people throw their hands up in the air, arguing that there isn’t much we can do to avoid the hazards of this modern life without making significant (and difficult) sacrifices.
Here’s the good news: there is hope, because there are individuals and small businesses (as well as some larger ones) who have realized that what we’ve been doing over the past decades clearly isn’t working.
Chronic disease and obesity rates are skyrocketing, young girls enter puberty way too early, and testosterone in men keeps declining — just to name a few of the implications of our modern lifestyles.
The question is this:
What can you do to improve your and your family’s health and well-being?
In this blog post, I’ll try to answer that question and offer tips and tricks that you can start implementing today.
Note that I’ve already covered many of the topics I’ll be discussing below elsewhere on the blog, and will link out to more information. So consider this blog post your entry point that ties together the most important aspects of living a healthy lifestyle.
In a nutshell, you can dramatically improve your health and well-being by following these five recommendations:
- Make sleep your #1 priority. If you don’t sleep well nothing else matters. So take care of your sleep hygiene first.
- Feed your body the right food. Stick to a simple diet that humans and our ancestors have eaten for millions of years.
- Be physically active. The human body wasn’t made for sitting in front of a computer all day. You gotta move, lift heavy and break a sweat. And you have to do it every day.
- Manage your stress. While acute stress can be a literal lifesaver (for instance, when a sabertooth tiger is about to attack you), chronic stress can make you sick and age faster by altering your epigenetics.
- Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins. There is a 99% chance that the water you drink and the deodorant you use every day contains estrogen-like chemicals that disrupt your endocrine (hormones) system.
Let’s dive into these five categories a bit deeper so you can broaden your understanding of the problem. I believe by doing so, it will be easier for you to identify and implement the improvements that will have the most impact, based on your current lifestyle and individual circumstances.
I strongly believe that sleep is the foundation of a healthy life. In other words, if you don’t sleep well, your health suffers — regardless of what else you do. Much like you can’t out-exercise a bad diet, you can’t make up for poor sleep by eating well.
While there is a lot that scientists don’t yet know about sleep, what they do know suggests that sleep is a highly complex yet crucial process that influences how well the body functions.
Many people are under the misconception that not sleeping enough is a sign of strength. Somehow being able to “get by” with only a few hours of sleep is considered a badge of honor. I think it’s a badge of ignorance and a practice that leads to decreased mental and physical performance in the short-term and chronic disease in the long-term.
Top Tips to Improve Sleep
Sleeping well is supposed to be easy. After all, it’s something humans and our ancestors have done for millions of years.
Unfortunately, modern humans have a very hard time doing it.
According to one study, 30% of the population has difficulty initiating and maintaining sleep.
That’s crazy, and a clear indication that the environment we live in isn’t conducive to achieving high-quality sleep.
So here are a few general tips that have helped me fall asleep quicker and stay asleep better. I’ll go into more details down below.
- Maintain a consistent bed and wake time to support your circadian rhythm.
- Avoid certain foods and drinks close to bedtime.
- Expose yourself to natural light and reduce your exposure to artificial light in the evening.
- Consider sleep technology and supplements that may help you fall asleep quicker and get more restful sleep.
- Read a book and avoid social media and other sources of information that might stimulate your brain.
So let’s dive into more details of each of those recommendations.
1. Maintain a Consistent Bed and Wake Time
Your body has a built-in clock, known as the circadian rhythm, that governs the release of hormones and countless other chemical processes in your body.
The more consistent your circadian rhythm is, the better your body functions.
One of the best ways to support your circadian rhythm is to go to bed and wake up at a consistent time. If you do, you’ll be able to fall asleep quicker (due to the timely release of melatonin and other sleep-inducing hormones).
And you’ll enjoy better sleep with more regular (and longer) phases of deep and REM sleep.
2. Avoid Certain Foods and Drinks Before Bedtime
One way to disrupt your sleep routine and reduce the quality of your sleep is by consuming stimulants, drinking alcohol and/or eating a large meal too close to bedtime.
For example, caffeine can linger in your system for 7-8 hours, thus disrupting both sleep onset and deep sleep. While there are certainly differences in how sensitive to caffeine people are, drinking a coffee after dinner is just a recipe for poor sleep.
My recommendation is to stop drinking coffee after lunch.
Alcohol is another beverage that most people misunderstand, at least as far as its impact on sleep is concerned.
While it’s true that alcohol makes you feel sleepy, it actually acts as a stimulant in the second half of the night (based on how the body metabolizes it), thus impacting your REM sleep. If you want to sleep well, don’t consume alcohol at night.
Eating food before bedtime can also negatively impact your sleep because digestion requires energy and resources that your body can’t use for other things (e.g., repairing muscle tissue after a strenuous workout).
That’s why I recommend avoiding food for four hours before bedtime.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that eating too much protein makes me urinate more frequently. So if you have to get up at night to pee, try reducing your protein intake in the afternoon and evening and see if that helps. It has helped me!
3. Expose Yourself to Natural Light and Reduce Your Exposure to Artificial Light In the Evening
Sunlight has a major influence on our circadian rhythm and we can easily disrupt that with artificial light. That’s especially true if we expose ourselves to light frequencies that don’t exist in nature after sunset, such as the blue and green light in the 400-495nm and 500-550nm ranges.
Light in those frequencies only occurs in nature while the sun is up. The absence of these frequencies (after sunset) sends our bodies a signal that it’s time to get ready for sleep. If we bombard ourselves with those unnatural frequencies after sunset, we send our bodies the wrong signals.
To combat that, I recommend wearing blue light blocking glasses after sunset. Check out my review of BLUblox — the best blue light blocking glasses on the market, in my opinion.
On the flip side, make sure you expose yourself to sunlight as soon as the sun is up and throughout the day!
4. Consider Sleep Technology and Supplements
While good sleep should come naturally, we live in an environment that looks nothing like the one our Paleolithic ancestors lived in. Unfortunately, that means we (sometimes) have to use technology to mitigate the issues introduced by other factors associated with our modern lives.
For example, we no longer sleep on a cold cave floor covered in animal skin, but rather in comfortable beds. While most of us would consider that an improvement, modern mattresses and bedding have issues. For example, they tend to trap heat, making it more difficult to sleep cool. And as you may know, sleeping in a hot environment can impair sleep quality.
That’s why I recommend considering a temperature-controlled mattress, a breathable pillow, a heavy blanket* and other gadgets that can mimic the sleep environment humans evolved in. My wife and I love the Pod Pro by Eight Sleep. Since we got it, we sleep much better (and cooler) than before.
I also encourage you to experiment with natural sleep aids that can help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often. While I’m a fan of using melatonin in low dosages, it can be habit-forming and consistent use can prevent your body from producing its own melatonin. So I’ve backed off on using it.
Right now, I’m experimenting with a melatonin-free supplement from Equip*, and it’s been working really well to help me get sleepy.
5. Read a Book and Avoid Social Media
There is nothing worse than hearing, seeing or reading something that gets you all riled up right before bedtime.
For me, that usually happens when I decide to “quickly” check on or reply to comments associated with social media posts or YouTube videos.
It only takes one stupid or inflammatory comment to make me angry or cause racing thoughts. That’s a recipe for a poor night’s sleep, and it’s happened to me several times in the past.
As a result, I avoid consuming content on electronic devices after dinner. I’m even careful about what I watch on TV. My wife and I usually stick with light entertainment — nothing that we could potentially lose sleep over.
Learn More About How to Improve Your Sleep
If you want to learn more about sleep, I encourage you to read the following blog posts:
- How to Sleep Better and Fall Asleep Quicker
- Review of the Best Sleep Trackers
- The Five Best Natural Sleeping Aids
- Review of the Best Bed Cooling Systems
The human body is a piece of incredibly complex machinery that has evolved over millions of years on a simple diet consisting predominantly of animal fats and proteins, as well as some wild-growing seasonal plants (to fill the gaps in case of unsuccessful hunts).
Based on everything we know about the human digestive system and the increase in brain size throughout the course of evolution, it’s safe to assume that humans are carnivores who retained the ability to eat plants as survival food.
While that makes us omnivores by definition, I intentionally use the term carnivores because the human diet is supposed to consist predominantly of animal organs, meat and fat.
Also, no living entity (including plants) wants to be eaten. Animals can fight or run away, but plants cannot. Instead, they have toxins (in the form of phytoestrogens, antinutrients and other chemicals) to defend themselves.
As a result, you can die if you eat certain plants (e.g., raw beans); negatively impact nutrient absorption via antinutrients (nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, leafy greens); cause low-grade inflammation or damage the lining of your intestinal wall (nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, leafy greens); or trigger an immune response (gluten, nightshades, etc.).
The only part of plants that nature intended to be eaten are fruits, because doing so supports the spread of their seeds. However, historically, fruits weren’t available year-round and they weren’t as large and sugary as the genetically-modified and selectively-bred fruits we find today in grocery stores.
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The optimal human diet is incredibly simple, but trying to follow it with modern foods is incredibly difficult.
Still, it is possible to take steps in the right direction. Below are my top tips for how to improve your health and well-being through your diet.
- Buy food from local farms and businesses to support regenerative agriculture.
- Learn about the differences in food quality, and buy the highest-quality food you can afford.
- Eat animals from nose to tail to mimic the eating habits our ancestors had for millions of years.
- Keep your intake of (processed) carbs low to mimic the relatively small carb loads our bodies evolved on.
- Eat more animals and fewer plants. Plants can’t run or fight, so they use chemicals (toxins) to defend themselves. Those chemicals can cause health issues.
- Avoid foods that are known to cause inflammation, massive spikes in blood sugar, or that disrupt your metabolism.
1. Eat Local
Our food system is broken because it incentivizes farmers to focus on producing as many calories as possible without worrying about nutritional content and quality.
That leads to nutrient-depleted soil, poor animal welfare, and the high rates of metabolic disease we see today.
The only way to turn that ship around is through regenerative agriculture that increases the nutrient density of the food we produce. That’s good for your health, good for the animals and good for the planet.
So I encourage you to eat local.
We try to source as much pasture-raised, wild-caught and organically-grown food as we can, primarily from local farms here in Georgia. Plus, we have our own veggie garden and beehives, and we plan on adding other livestock in the future.
Buying from small farms isn’t going to save you money. Usually, it’s the other way around. But you’re voting with your dollars about who should be producing the food we eat, so make your vote count!
We frequently buy from the following farms in Georgia:
- Big Hickory Farms: We usually buy a whole cow from Big Hickory once per year.
- Carlton Farm: We receive a weekly delivery of A2 cheese, cultured butter, pastured eggs, poultry and seasonal vegetables.
- White Oak Pastures*: We used White Oak for specialty items, such as a pastured Thanksgiving turkey or my beloved ground keto pork/bacon mix.
If you’re from Georgia and want to buy from these farms, let them know that I sent you.
2. Pay Attention to the Quality of Food
There are huge differences in the quality of food you can buy, and some (but not all) of those differences have a direct impact on the food’s nutritional content and inflammatory potential.
That’s why I recommend buying the following types of food if your budget permits:
- Pastured-raised and grass-fed. Animals that eat a natural diet are happier and healthier, and their meat, fat and byproducts (e.g., eggs) reflect that. A grain-fed cow is sick and overweight by the time it gets butchered. Do you really want to eat that meat?
- Wild-caught: Most farmed seafood gets fed a crap diet that contains chemicals that are toxic to the human body, which prevent the feed from going rancid. Those toxins transfer to the meat of the fish or shellfish, and end up in our bodies. That’s why I recommend staying away from farmed seafood unless you know what the animal was fed.
- Organic: Many of the chemicals that are used to grow plants are estrogenic. We’ll discuss what that means in more detail later in this article. But for now, you should know that estrogenics make you fat, sick and infertile. That should be reason enough to stay away from them.
In a nutshell, I recommend buying the highest-quality food you can afford and limiting your intake of lower-quality items.
If that means you can only have steak once a month rather than every week, so be it. If you love red meat as much as I do, stick to ground meat. That’s usually less expensive than a ribeye, but just as tasty as far as I’m concerned.
3. Eat Nose to Tail
Speaking of steak: have you ever watched a wild cat or polar bear kill another animal? Guess what predators eat first? It’s usually not the filet; it’s the intestines and other organs.
That’s because organ meat, and the liver in particular, is the most nutrient-dense food on the planet.
That’s why I encourage you to eat nose-to-tail; doing so is what it means to be a carnivore, and it’s the only way to get all of your nutrients from a predominantly animal-based diet.
I know that organ meat doesn’t sound very appealing, but you should know that heart tastes like steak and liver can be prepared to taste pretty good, too.
Case in point, my buddy Bryan and I ate raw turkey heart and liver on Thanksgiving Day. The former tasted like raw steak and the latter was more palatable raw than cooked (in my humble opinion).
4. Keep Your Carb Intake Low
The fun fact about carbs is that they’re the only macronutrient you don’t need to get from food (unlike fat and protein), because the body can make glucose from non-carb sources in a process called gluconeogenesis.
That means if you don’t eat fat or protein, you’ll eventually die. But you’d be perfectly fine without eating carbs.
However, that does not mean you should never eat any carbs at all. I just recommend staying away from highly-processed carbs, including sugar, flour and starches, and dramatically lowering your carb intake relative to what the USDA recommends.
As a general guideline, I recommend consuming 50 grams or less of net carbs per day, and getting them from fruits and veggies that have the least possible amount of toxins. I typically eat between 0 and 20 grams per day, but you don’t have to be that extreme to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
5. Eat More Animals and Fewer Plants
I know this might be controversial, especially if you’re a fan of plant-based diets. I won’t get into a carnivore vs. vegan discussion here, but I will encourage you to appreciate the fact that humans evolved into the badass predator we are because we stopped spending most of our day chewing plants in favor of finding more calorie-dense sources of food: animals.
That’s why I recommend getting most of your calories, protein and fat from animal sources. If you do — and if you follow a nose-to-tail approach — you’ll get all the nutrients you need without any of the toxins, phytoestrogens, antinutrients and carbs that are prevalent in plants.
In addition to that, you can include organic, local and seasonal fruits that are low in sugar and veggies that have the least amounts of toxins. My favorites include avocado, coleslaw, cucumbers, zucchini and peppers from our backyard.
Note that peppers are part of the nightshade family (along with tomatoes, eggplants and potatoes), which many people are sensitive to. I seem to be OK eating peppers, but you might not be. So listen to your body.
6. Avoid These Foods
Most of the food (and food-like substances) you can find at your local grocery store are junk products that our bodies aren’t equipped to thrive on. Unfortunately, the list of foods to avoid is long, and I can’t possibly cover them all in this article. But below are the most unhealthy foods that you should avoid.
- Anything that contains added sugar.
- Anything that contains high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) or trans fats.
- Anything that contains soy or soy byproducts
- Anything that’s labeled “low fat.”
- Fake meat and real meat replacements (Beyond Burger, etc.).
- Grains and legumes.
- Most processed foods that are shelf-stable (e.g., gluten-free cookies).
- Most products that contain flaxseed.
- Stuff that was shipped from another part of the world (e.g., exotic fruits).
- Vegetable oils, seed oils and margarine.
The good news is that if you eat local and cook your meals from scratch, you’ll automatically avoid most of the items on the list above.
Learn More About How to Eat Healthily
To learn more about the science behind the six tips above, check out the following blog posts:
- Paleolithic ketogenic diet – beginner’s guide: Get started with low-carb high-fat eating and all of its health benefits.
- Get started with intermittent fasting: Skipping a meal can have tremendous health benefits, especially if you combine it with a low-carb diet.
- Round-up of the best cooking oils: A comprehensive list of the best cooking oils with links to my favorite products.
- Keto meal inspirations: Not sure what to eat? I’ve put together a list of all the meals I ate during a 50-day period.
3. Physical Activity and Exercise
When you see someone with a six-pack and a well-defined physique, you may wonder what they’re doing to look so fit.
Without sounding arrogant, I’ve noticed that people look at me when I take my shirt off. Even at my local CrossFit box, several fellow athletes have approached me to ask what I do to look so ripped.
The funny thing is that “looking fit” is what humans should look like by default, if photos of indigenous people who haven’t been exposed to western diets are any indication.
Unfortunately, just like low testosterone levels in men and early puberty in girls is considered the norm these days, so too is having a beer belly or muffin top. But these physical states are not normal — we’ve just grown used to them because they’re so prevalent in our society.
We are a society of Obese, Bloated, Metabolic and Immunological Cripples. This is a direct result of our food, health care and pharmaceutical industries as well as a complete lack of personal responsibility.
Dr. Shawn Baker
The problem is that our modern lives don’t require us to walk for hours to find shelter and fight for our lives in search of food. As a result, we have to do other things to challenge our bodies physically.
To mimic the physical stress our ancestors were exposed to, I recommend doing some sort of functional fitness routine on most days of the week. For me, that’s CrossFit because it involves movements that I benefit from even when I’m outside of the gym.
Specifically, I like to stress my cardiovascular system with high-intensity interval training and heavy lifting. I also like to sprint, even though I realize the risk of injury increases the older I get.
What I’m not a huge fan of is jogging.
First, that’s because I get bored. And second, because from an evolutionary perspective, humans either walked or ran for their lives (sprint). There was no need to waste energy jogging.
I typically work out five to six times a week, and most of those workouts are pretty intense. While that doesn’t completely compensate for the countless hours I spend in front of a computer, it’s the best I can do.
If you don’t have a good fitness routine in place yet (one that makes you break a sweat every day), I recommend signing up for CrossFit, NCFit or some other type of functional fitness program that challenges you and gets you out of your comfort zone.
Here are my top tips to be more physically active:
- Move more by standing up at least once every hour, by parking the car in the farthest spot in the parking lot (e.g., when shopping for groceries) and by carrying your groceries by hand.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible.
- Go for a walk after lunch; it helps with digestion, lowers the impact of food on your blood sugar (even if you ate carbs), and helps you to be more active.
- Sign up for a functional fitness class, such as CrossFit.
The more you move, sprint and lift heavy weight as part of your regular life, the less time you need to spend in a gym or CrossFit box. Unfortunately, my life is relatively sedentary, which is why I try to compensate by doing CrossFit several times a week.
Stress is fascinating because while it can be incredibly good for your body it can also wreak havoc on your health, depending on the type of stress and how you perceive it.
If you’re in a life-threatening situation, the way your body responds to stress can mean the difference between life or death. So evidently, stress has an important role to play in certain situations.
But there are less-extreme versions of stress that are also beneficial to your health. For example, strenuous activity (such as a CrossFit workout), puts stress on your body, as does intermittent fasting or caloric-restriction.
But all of these examples make your body stronger and healthier by triggering certain metabolic pathways and chemical reactions that date back to the earliest life on this planet.
So don’t be afraid to expose your body to acute stress.
In contrast, chronic stress is a different ballgame. If you’re stressed 24/7 about factors that are part of our modern daily life — such as medical bills, your kids’ afterschool activities, or your job (just to name a few) — and your stress hormone (cortisol) levels remain elevated for extended periods, your health and well-being will suffer and you might get sick in the long run.
Chronic stress is also strongly correlated with altering your epigenetics and premature aging. The faster your body ages, on a cellular level, the higher your risk of developing a metabolic disease (and ultimately, premature death).
That’s one of the reasons why I follow a well-planned anti-aging regimen, in addition to everything else I’ve mentioned in this article.
While it’s difficult to avoid unhealthy stressors, you can influence how you respond to and perceive stress.
To help me respond to stress factors appropriately, I use the following techniques and tools:
- Sufficient sleep. The better I sleep, the better I manage stress.
- Fuel source management. I handle stress much better when my body is efficiently using the fuel I provide. That means I do really well when I’m running fully on carbs (which doesn’t happen very often) or fat (when I’m deep into ketosis). Sometimes, I eat just enough carbs (during “cheat” days), to temporarily kick me out of ketosis. During that time, I get irritated more easily — a condition that typically lasts for a few hours (until I’m back into ketosis).
- Physical activity. Working out helps me relieve stress and calm down.
- Deep breathing. Taking a break during the day to breathe deeply for a couple of minutes helps me relax and “flush out” some of the cortisol from my bloodstream.
- Use of neuroscience devices. I use neuroscience technology (such as Apollo) to help me relax.
- Going outside: During the warmer months of the year, I take a 20-minute break after lunch to go outside to disconnect from everything else that’s going on. Weather permitting, I take off my shirt and let the sun heat up my skin. During the colder months of the season, I take my MacBook, a blanket and a cup of coffee, and spend an hour on the porch, writing for my blog as I watch the sun rise.
While there are certainly countless other techniques that can help you reduce or better manage your stress, the strategies outlined above have worked well for me and I encourage you to give some of them a try.
To learn more about how stress can trigger and influence certain (autoimmune) diseases, check out this guest blog post by best-selling author Palmer Kippola:
5. Environmental Toxins (Xenoestrogens)
You might not be aware of it, but you’re likely exposed to high amounts of environmental toxins every day, stemming from common household products.
While the list of toxins is long, this section focuses on one particular type of toxins that has the potential to wreak havoc on your endocrine system (i.e., your hormones).
I’m referring to estrogenics — also known as xenoestrogens or fake estrogen.
Over the past few years, I’ve had a handful of “Holy shit, how didn’t I know about this before” experiences that dramatically and permanently changed the way I live.
The first was when my wife and I started cutting out all added sugars. Then came the paleo diet, intermittent fasting and the ketogenic (paleo) diet.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been learning about how most of the plastics we use in our household, skincare products and drinking water (even bottled water) contain chemicals that bind to the estrogen receptors in our bodies.
As you may know, estrogen is an important sex hormone that controls a number of chemical processes in the body in both females and males. Estrogen (and estrogen-mimicking hormones) are so powerful because virtually every cell in the body has an estrogen receptor.
When those fake estrogen molecules latch on to a cell, they wreak havoc in the endocrine system.
This can result in numerous issues, including:
- Infertility and low sperm count.
- Pregnancy complications.
- Low testosterone in men.
- Growth of male breasts.
- Impaired weight loss or fat accumulation.
- Increased risk of developing metabolic diseases (especially cancer).
- Increased risk of blood clotting (that can lead to stroke or heart attacks).
- Impaired immune system and increased risk to develop allergies.
- Increased risk of depression.
The problem is that estrogenics are everywhere — even in places where you would have never expected such toxins.
Don’t believe me?
Here are just a few of the items that contain these endocrine-disrupting chemicals, many of which are also in the products we used to use regularly in the Kummer household (I marked those items in bold):
- Drinking water (both city water and bottled water).
- Food (with artificial colors).
- Plastic food storage containers (including the ones labeled BPA-free).
- Skincare products (soap, lotion, kids’ toothpaste, sunscreen, deodorant, perfume).
- Wrapping and packaging of processed foods.
It’s obviously bad if the product you ingest, or rub or spray on your skin, is estrogenic. But it’s also important to understand that these chemicals can leach from plastic into whatever the plastic comes in contact with (e.g., food and beverages).
While that “leaching” is more prevalent at high temperatures, at least one study has shown that most plastics also leach estrogenics at room temperature.
I’ll go into much more detail in an upcoming article that explains the dangers of estrogen-like chemicals in our environment, and the effort my wife and I have been making to remove as many of them from our household as possible (which has turned out to be an expensive and time-consuming undertaking).
For now, here’s an overview of the actions we’ve taken so far:
- Stop using plastic food storage containers and water bottles.
- Swap out all skincare products that contain estrogenics, fragrances and other toxins.
- Stop using all products that contain artificial fragrances.
- Avoid soy, flax and lavender. All three are highly estrogenic and should be avoided.
- Buy organic fruits and veggies to reduce your exposure to estrogenic herbicides, such as Atrazine.
- Avoid grains, because they’re sources of estrogenic fungi.
- Don’t buy products that contain artificial food coloring, such as RED No.3 and RED No. 40.
- Consider non-hormone based contraceptives because the traditional pill is highly estrogenic by definition.
- Filter your drinking water.
Here is some more context around each of my recommendations:
1. Don’t Store Foods and Beverages in Plastic Containers or Bottles
Instead of using plastic (even if it’s labeled BPA-free), use glass, stainless steel or silicone.
We use glass containers with bamboo lids* for all food storage and have replaced all plastic water-bottles with stainless steel versions.
The challenge was to find bottles with lids not made out of plastic. We came across these* and are super happy with them.
The two big offenders in plastics are phthalates and Bisphenol A & S (BPA and BPS). The problem is that most BPA-free products use BPS, which isn’t any better than BPA. It’s just that nobody cares about BPS yet.
While the best solution is to get rid of all plastic containers, Ziplock bags, etc., actually doing so is a tough proposition. The good news is that products that are marked with recycling symbols #2 or #5 (which is usually located on the bottom of the product) are less-bad than those numbered #1, #3, #4, #6 and #7. So you can wait to replace #2 and #5 products.
2. Pay Attention to Skincare Products
Finding out that virtually every skincare product on the market has hormone-disrupting chemicals was disheartening.
But after getting over the initial WTF reaction and frustration, we found deodorants, sunscreens* and soaps* that are toxin-free.
Plus, we make our own body lotion so that we know exactly what it contains.
In a nutshell, skincare products are sources of numerous estrogenics, including triclosan and APEs (alkylphenols) [in soap], benzophenone (BP) and 4-methylbenzylidene (MBC) found in sunscreens, and parabens (found in fragrances).
3. Stop Using Products That Contain Artificial Fragrances
Did you know that there are up to 400 chemicals that hide behind the term “fragrance?”
The problem is that many of the chemicals in artificial fragrances are estrogenic.
So I recommend you stop using scented candles and skincare products that have artificial fragrances (unless you’re certain they’re free of toxins).
4. Stay Away From Soy, Flax and Lavender
Both soybeans and flaxseeds contain high amounts of phytoestrogen (plant hormones).
In fact, these two plants have 10,000 times more phytoestrogen than any other plant.
Lavender is also highly estrogenic, despite its popularity in beauty products and essential oils.
5. Buy Organic Fruits and Veggies
Conventionally-grown produce (especially corn) often contains massive amounts of atrazine (the second most popular herbicide, behind glyphosate). While atrazine is illegal in the European Union, the United States and China don’t seem too concerned about its endocrine-disrupting potential.
The good news is that if you cut out corn and grains from your diet (which you should be doing anyway), you’ll also limit your atrazine exposure.
6. Don’t Eat Grains
Aside from atrazine contamination, grains stored in massive storage containers are also often a breeding ground for zearalenone, a fungus estrogenic.
Anyone who consumes those grains, including humans and livestock, ends up being exposed to this chemical.
The simple solution, again, is to avoid grains.
7. Don’t Eat Food That Contains Artificial Colors
Some artificial (red) food colors, including Red No. 3 and Red No. 40, are estrogenic.
The simple solution is to not buy foods that have artificial ingredients, including artificial colors or sweeteners.
8. Consider Alternatives to Birth Control Pills
Birth control pills are, by definition, estrogenic.
The most popular birth control estrogenic is 17a-Ethinylestradiol (EE2).
As much as I endorse having sex, even if the goal isn’t to reproduce, I would highly recommend considering non-hormonal contraceptives to avoid the issue associated with the estrogenics I mentioned above.
But even if you’re not taking a birth control pill right now, you’re likely exposed to EE2.
Because it’s in our drinking water.
If you’re on birth control and you urinate, some of the synthetic hormones transfer into the sewer via your urine. And since most domestic water treatment facilities don’t test for EE2, you’ll end up being exposed to birth control hormones whether you like it or not.
For example, the North Fulton County water treatment facility (that serves the area where I live) was last tested for EE2 in 2013.
9. Filter Your Drinking Water
The job of water treatment plants is to remove pathogens (viruses and bacteria) from the drinking water that have the potential to make you immediately sick. They usually do so by dumping huge amounts of chlorine (a disinfectant) into the water.
The problem is that hormones, herbicides, pesticides and other toxins aren’t removed through this standard treatment process. As a result, the tap water that gets delivered from your local water authority is full of toxins that might not make you sick immediately but will most certainly impact your health in the long run.
That’s why I recommend filtering your water. In the best-case scenario, that means a combination of a whole-house water filter (not a softener) paired with a reverse osmosis drinking water filter that has a built-in re-mineralizer. If the whole-house option isn’t in the cards for you, at least filter your drinking water using an under-the-sink RO system or less-expensive alternatives.
If you decide to use something like a Britta water filter that comes with a plastic decanter, make sure to transfer the water into a glass or stainless steel container immediately, instead of letting it sit in the glass container.
If you read the section about plastic above, I shouldn’t have to say it here: bottled water (if it comes in plastic bottles) isn’t a great alternative! If you want to buy your water in bottles, make sure it comes in glass bottles.
To learn more about the environmental toxins and ways to reduce your exposure, check out this blog post.
Frequently Asked Questions
I truly believe that sleep is the foundation of everything you do during the day. So I’d start by focusing on establishing a consistent sleep and wake time, and more generally on improving the quality of your sleep. I would definitely not cut my sleep short for other measures, such as exercise.
Being unable to stay away from certain foods, especially sugar, has nothing to do with willpower but with addiction caused by a complex interplay of chemicals in your body.
So don’t beat yourself up about it. Recognize the addiction and find healthy substitutes for the foods you can’t seem to live without.
As far as sugar and sweets are concerned, consider natural, non-caloric sweeteners for a while (such as monk fruit extract and stevia).
Check out the recipe section on this blog for some treats that we enjoy frequently.
No. Just because a product is labeled vegan doesn’t make it safe (or healthy). For a skincare product to be safe, it shouldn’t contain parabens, fragrances, lavender or anything that contains the words “phen,” “benz” or “oxy.” You’ll be surprised at how few products match those criteria.
Check out the Made Safe webpage and the Think Dirty smartphone app to find non-toxic products.
All plastics have been shown to leach estrogenic chemicals. But there are a few plastics that are better than others.
As a rule of thumb, stay away from all plastics that have the following recycling numbers: #1, #3, #4, #6 and #7.
#2 and #5 are less problematic. But that doesn’t make them safe — just less toxic.
Scientific research is an incredibly competitive field where bias and conflict of interest are difficult to avoid.
Additionally, the two major sources of funding for large studies are governments and private corporations. That means getting funded often requires researchers to play by the rules of whoever is funding the study.
That’s obviously a problem, and often results in studies that aren’t well designed, are influenced by interest groups (or have other flaws).
That means if you want to truly understand the results of a study (and the implications of those results), you have to read the full text (not only the abstract), figure out who would benefit from the results (i.e., is there a potential conflict of interest), and ask the right questions.
Most of us don’t have the expertise to do that. Certainly, the mainstream media doesn’t. That’s why I usually disregard headlines such as “low-carb diets might shorten your life, study says.”
In case you’re wondering, the claims made by the authors of that particular study have been debunked.
The bottom line is that I have done my best to present the best and most reliable evidence I can find. But I encourage you to do your own research, and to always ask questions if something doesn’t seem to make sense.
The best diet for humans is the one that we and our ancestors have eaten for millions of years, before we started thinking they could outsmart nature.
If you look back at how humans have evolved, you’ll realize that we’ve eaten a diet high in animal products (protein and fat) and low in carbs. Plants were a necessary survival food to fill the gaps between successful hunts.
I call this the paleolithic ketogenic diet and it’s more a framework than a specific diet.
Alcohol is a toxin, but I don’t think having a glass of wine every day is going to completely derail your healthy living efforts.
I do recommend leaving as much room as possible between alcohol consumption and bedtime, because while alcohol makes you sleepy, it actually disrupts your restorative stages of sleep.
I used to drink a glass of red wine every night because I enjoyed having that part of my wind-down routine. But a few weeks ago, when I started taking metformin (a medication I take as part of my anti-aging regimen), I lost the desire to drink almost entirely.
So these days, I don’t regularly consume alcohol anymore — and I sleep better as a result.
Probably not. Much like the reference values on your blood panel, BMI can be a useless metric to judge if someone has a healthy weight.
My BMI is 27.3. On paper, that means I’m overweight. If you’ve seen me in a bathing suit, you’d probably disagree.
I think doing so is a waste of time.
The concept of eating fewer calories than you burn to lose weight is flawed for several reasons. Plus, counting calories is cumbersome and unsustainable.
Instead, I recommend focusing on eating high-quality foods that are high in fat and low in carbohydrates. Of course, overeating can be a problem. But that doesn’t mean you have to leave the table feeling hungry. Just stop eating when you feel satisfied.
In some jurisdictions, including the European Union, many of the environmental toxins I mentioned above are banned or have low limits.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case in the United States, where there are either no such laws in place or where the limits are ridiculously high.
Maybe, but probably not. Most of the foods that are labeled as “healthy” aren’t, and many of the foods that are labeled as unhealthy are.
Examples of supposedly healthy foods that you should avoid include soy, whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, etc.), legumes and many other plants.
Examples of supposedly unhealthy foods that are, in fact, healthy include saturated fats, eggs and red meat.
They’re useless and a waste of time.
If you want to improve your health and well-being, you have to adopt healthy habits and implement lifestyle changes that last for as long as you live.
Of course, you can modify and adapt those habits over time as you learn and gain more information. But starting a diet on January 1st that lasts only 30 days is a waste of time.
Conclusion: How to Live a Healthier Life
If you’ve come this far, you’ve probably realized that living healthily isn’t easy. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to implement the recommendations I’ve laid out in this article, but even basic needs like having access to clean drinking water are difficult to fulfill.
At times, it might seem almost impossible to do the right thing as far as supporting our health and well-being are concerned. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.
That’s why I recommend taking small steps, attacking the lowest hanging fruits first, and doing it together with someone who shares your desire to improve. That could be your partner, your child or your best friend.
Now It’s Your Turn
Make a roadmap together that illustrates where you currently are, where you want to go, and how you want to get there — and mark all the milestones you want to reach along the way.
Let me know where you currently are in your journey towards better health, what your struggles are, and how I can help you move forward. Just leave a comment below or shoot me an email!
I’m a healthy living and technology enthusiast.
On this blog, I share in-depth product reviews, actionable information and solutions to complex problems in plain and easy-to-understand language.