As I emphasized in Level 1 of this Nutrition Plan, conscious lifestyle choices are essential in making sure all the hard work you put in to improve your health does not go to waste. Implementing certain healthy habits can greatly impact the outcome of your health journey.
Maintain a Positive Mindset
A tried-and-tested method to regulate anxiety and stress, removing feelings of doubt and negativity and reinstating self-control and peace of mind, makes a significant impact on your outlook in life.
Create a meditation or prayer routine that you can follow every day. Or, my personal recommendation is the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). This involves tapping the pressure points on the face and chest while saying positive affirmations to yourself. To see how it works, watch this video featuring EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman.
It’s Time to Stop Smoking
It’s alarming that there are still people who smoke, despite its powerful negative impacts on your health. Superficially, smoking causes bad breath, stains your teeth, gives you premature wrinkles, and may even lead to gum and tooth loss — but its damage goes way beyond that. Just check out some of the reasons why you should stop smoking:
Smoking worsens your cardiovascular health by damaging your heart structure and blood vessels. It speeds up your heartbeat, thickens the walls of your heart vessels and makes the space inside of them grow smaller, which leads to high blood pressure levels and blood clots. You also increase your risk for atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral arterial disease.
Your respiratory health is also affected when you smoke, as it slows down the function of small hairs called cilia in the lungs, which are responsible for eliminating inhaled contaminants.
As a result, it becomes progressively more difficult to cough, sneeze or swallow to rid yourself of these toxins Smoking also worsens asthma attacks and causes chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, such as emphysema and bronchitis.
Your reproductive health takes a big hit as well. Men experience erectile dysfunction and sperm defects, and have poor sperm quality, while female smokers have reduced fertility.
Pregnant women who smoke put themselves and their babies at risk for preterm or early delivery, low birth rate, miscarriage or stillbirth. Infants whose mothers were smokers are predisposed to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), ectopic pregnancy and orofacial clefts.
Some smokers develop stomach ulcers and experience a weakened immune system. Studies have also shown that smokers are at a higher risk of developing various types of cancers.
Despite all these ill effects, I didn’t recommend quitting smoking in Level 1 of this Nutrition Plan because too much change all at once can be overwhelming. Now that you have spent some time developing new eating habits, you’re more likely to have the energy to tackle this very important – and potentially challenging – health goal. EFT can also help with the cravings that come when you’re quitting smoking.
Do Not Microwave Your Food
Microwaves work by triggering the water molecules in the food to resonate at very high frequencies. This turns into steam and heats your food as a result. Unfortunately, this fast heat process then leads to a change in the food’s chemical structure, especially in the molecules, which may reduce your food’s nutritional value.
“Hot spots” in microwaved food can also cause burns or lead to a “steam explosion.” It was reported that babies were burned by an undetected, heated formula when baby bottles were heated in the microwave, which is why it is not recommended that you use microwaves to reheat baby bottles.
Plastic containers heated in the microwave are also known to disrupt your normal hormone function. Heating, such as in a microwave, releases more of these toxic compounds into the foods you eat. This is due to chemicals such as:
- Phthalates, including diisononyl phthalate (DNP) and diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP), bisphenol-A (BPA) and other chemicals: These are endocrine disruptors that have negative effects on the reproductive, immune, and nervous systems.
Phthalates are linked to testicular cancer and genital deformations in animals. Use by pregnant women could result in preterm births, neurobehavioral problems, high blood pressure levels, and high urinary levels of these toxins.
Meanwhile, BPA is linked to changes in gender-specific behavior, abnormal sexual behavior, increased fat formation, obesity risk, hyperactivity, increased aggressiveness, and impaired learning.
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC): this chemical, usually manufactured into commercial-grade cling wraps, is known to cause cancer, and can result in the formation of dioxin, another carcinogen.
- Styrene: found in Styrofoam food trays, egg cartons and takeout containers, styrene is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Keep Your Kitchen Clean the Non-Toxic Way
Using common kitchen cleaners may seem like a quick fix for your kitchen, but most commercially-available kitchen cleansers are loaded with harmful chemicals that may lead to endocrine disruption or worse. These include:
- 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxyglydicol (DEGME)
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)
- Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)
- Boric acid
- Brominated chemicals
- Isomethyl compounds
If you want to lessen your exposure to any of these chemicals, you can do so by switching to safe and natural cleaning products that may already be in your household, including baking soda and apple cider or distilled white vinegar. Remember these tips to reduce your chemical exposure at home as well:
- Opt for products in glass bottles or jars, rather than in cans or plastic containers to prevent chemicals from leaching out.
- Keep food and beverages in glass containers, instead of using plastic containers or plastic wrap.
- Use glass baby bottles instead of plastic bottles and sippy cups for young children.
- Purchase ceramic cookware instead of other non-stick options.
To know how to keep your kitchen clean – as well as your entire home – without the added health risks, read “Microwaves and Plastic: A Dangerous Combo.”
Monitor Your Salt Intake
Salt is vilified for its supposed link to heart-related deaths. But even just a pinch of salt can add flavor while providing you with two essential elements: sodium and chloride. Plus, if you make it a point to learn the difference between these two basic types of salt, you can choose the form that gives you to most health benefit:
- Natural unprocessed salt, like Himalayan Salt: comprised of 84 percent sodium chloride and 16 percent naturally occurring trace minerals, this is the ideal salt that you should use.
- Processed table salt: has more sodium chloride at 97.5 percent, with the rest being man-made chemicals and flow agents. The structure of this salt is also altered because of the processing involved. This turns it into a processed product that you wouldn’t want to use.
Current U.S. dietary guidelines suggest getting 1.5 to 2.4 grams of salt daily, while the American Heart Association (AHA) sets the ideal upper limit of salt intake at 1.5 g of salt per day. It’s important to meet these amounts without going above or even below these limits, as that can be dangerous. Results from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study revealed that people who had more than 6 grams of sodium or less than 3 grams per day had a higher risk for heart disease.
However, if you are in nutritional ketosis, you may need to increase your salt intake especially if you are experiencing leg cramps, as it is common for the metabolic effects to increase sodium excretion, thus requiring an increase in sodium intake. It would also be helpful to supplement with magnesium as this is typically deficient and can also contribute to leg cramps.
Maintaining an adequate sodium to potassium ratio is also crucial. Potassium can assist in the offset of sodium’s potential harmful effects, and an imbalance can lead to hypertension, heart disease, stroke, cataracts, kidney stones and memory decline, to name a few. For more details you can read my article on the sodium to potassium ratio.
Take Time to Chew Your Food
Chewing, or mastication, is the first step of the digestion process, and you can reap more health benefits when you thoroughly chew your food. It’s important to maintain good oral heath so your teeth are up to the demands of this important job. This becomes even more of a problem for older adults.
Digestion is a demanding process that requires energy, but if you chew your food properly, you essentially “predigest” the food into smaller pieces and partially liquefy them. This allows you to absorb more nutrients and energy from the food. The large particles are broken down into smaller portions, making it easier for nutrients to pass through from the intestines.
For this reason, chewing your food thoroughly protects against introducing improperly digested food into your blood and the negative effects that come with it. It also lessens the amount of potentially harmful bacteria residing in your intestines.
If large particles of improperly chewed food make their way into the stomach, that food may only be partially digested as it passes through the intestines. Bacteria will then begin to break down these particles, potentially resulting in gas and bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and various abdominal problems. You also run the risk of developing autoimmune diseases.
To know more about the benefits of chewing your food, check out this article: “7 Important Reasons to Properly Chew Your Food.”
Get The Best Night’s Sleep Possible
The amount of people who fail to get a good night’s sleep is increasing, and this is unfortunate because getting enough shut-eye protects your health is so many ways.
But how much sleep is ideal? The amount actually changes as you age, but according to researcher Dan Pardi, an average of eight hours of sleep is needed across a sample population. Factors such as stress, physical exertion and illness, play a role in knowing how much sleep you need. Pardi believes that duration, timing and intensity are three qualities that affect how much sleep you get. Watch my interview with Pardi below.
Optimal exposure to light is vital to improving your sleep, since it serves as the major synchronizer of your master clock, or a group cells in your brain called the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN). Once light enters your eye, this group synchronizes the light-dark cycle of your environment.
To maintain proper function of this master clock, you should strive to get as much bright outdoor light as you can during the day, the earlier the better. Light deficiency is a common problem nowadays because of the increased amount of time people spend indoors. Compared to outdoor light, indoor light is less intense, and cannot provide you with the optimal light you need to properly calibrate your master clock.
Aside from getting sunlight during the day, these five natural sleep aids can also help you on the road to better sleep:
- Darkness in the bedroom, bright light during the day: melatonin is produced roughly in relationship to the contrast of bright sunlight in the day to complete darkness during sleep. Sleeping in darkness not only gets your melatonin production back on track, but it also slows your metabolism, which in turn reduces body temperature and hunger. Optimizing your circadian rhythm (or your body’s natural clock) by sleeping in darkness improves gene expression and cellular growth and repair as well.
- Get the temperature right: studies have shown that the ideal room temperature for sleep is between 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperature control is a vital component for good sleep because of the strong link between sleep cycles and thermoregulation, or your body’s heat distribution.
Your body’s internal temperature drops to its lowest point about four hours after you fall asleep. Scientists believe a bedroom with a cooler temperature can be most conductive to sleep, given that it mirrors your body’s natural temperature drop.
Taking a warm bath 90 to 120 minutes before bedtime could also help you sleep. By doing so, you raise your core body temperature, and once you get out of the bath, the temperature drops, signaling your body that you’re ready for sleep. If you experience sleeplessness because your hands or feet feel cold, put on a pair of warm socks or place a hot water bottle at your feet.
- Exercise: a variety of studies have shown that exercise, regardless of the time you work out, contributed to better sleep. A 2011 study revealed that people who exercised vigorously 35 minutes before bed were able to sleep just as well as they did on nights when they didn’t work out.
Results from a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation showed that 83 percent of the participants slept better when they exercised. Further, more than half of people who performed moderate or vigorous exercise said they had better sleep during these days compared to days when they did not work out.
- Nap wisely: taking long naps during the day disrupts your body’s circadian rhythm, or your body’s internal clock. Ideally, adults should keep their naps timed to a maximum of 20 minutes, at least 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.
According to Dr. Rubin Naiman, a clinical psychologist and leader in integrative medicine approaches to sleep and dreams, humans are actually biologically programmed to nap during the day, typically in the middle of the afternoon. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) also mentions that short naps tend to make you more alert and energetic. (Pranayama — or yogic breathing exercises — may have similar effects.)
- Aim for eight hours of sleep: most adults need eight hours of sleep per night. Adjust your sleeping schedule by going to bed earlier, so you still wake up at your preferred time and get enough sleep. Turn off devices such as your TV, computer and/or smartphones and commit to a bedtime that allows you to get eight hours of sleep.
Here are other healthy sleep guidelines that can significantly improve your quality (and quantity) of sleep (check out the complete list here):
- Refrain from using loud alarm clocks: Being jolted in the morning because of the noise can be stressful. You might not even need an alarm clock if you get enough sleep.
- Establish a bedtime routine: it’s important to find something that relaxes you and repeat it nightly to help you relax. Some activities to consider include meditation, deep breathing, using aromatherapy or essential oils, or getting a massage from your partner.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule: make it a point to wake up and go to bed at the same times each day. By doing so, you help your body get into a sleep rhythm, allowing you to fall asleep and wake up easier.
- Avoid watching TV or using your computer or smartphone in the evening, at least an hour or so before going to bed: these devices emit blue light that tricks your brain into thinking that it’s still daytime. Blue light can hinder the pineal gland in the brain from secreting melatonin at an optimal time, usually between 9 and 10 pm.
- Refrain from eating for at least 3 hours before bedtime, otherwise the digestive process can interfere with your natural sleep cycles.
Understand that prescription sleeping pills, despite their widespread use and popularity, will not help you sleep well. In fact, there are health risks attributed to the habitual use of sleeping pills. Results from a 2012 study show that people who take sleeping pills are at higher risk for certain cancers and are four times more likely to die from all causes compared to people who don’t take them. Other health risks linked to sleeping pills include:
- Increased insulin resistance, food cravings, weight gain and diabetes
- Complete amnesia, even from events that happened during the day
- Depression, confusion, disorientation, and hallucinations
Incorporate Non-Exercise Movement Into Your Routine
While it’s true that exercise, especially high-intensity workouts, is key to improving health, what you do when you’re not working out at home or at the gym is important, too. There are many non-exercise movements that you can perform throughout your typical day, and they can make a major difference.
An example is grounding or earthing. This refers to the act of walking barefoot on the earth, allowing free electrons to transfer from the earth to your body via the soles of your feet. There are many health benefits associated with grounding:
- Provides protection against electromagnetic fields and radiation from cell phones or smartphones, computers and Wi-Fi
- Reduces inflammation by thinning your blood and infusing you with negatively charged ions
- Improves energy between the blood cells once blood is thinned
- Aids in calming the sympathetic nervous system and supporting heart rate variability.
Effective outdoor grounding surfaces include sand, grass, bare soil and unpainted or unsealed concrete and brick. Wearing leather-soled shoes when you walk on these surfaces also enables you to practice grounding.
You should also aim to spend most of your time away from your chair by standing and taking around 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day. Sitting too much can actually endanger your health.
A meta-analysis of 42 studies evaluating sedentary behavior in adults found that there was an increased mortality for all causes, as well as an increase in cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and type 2 diabetes incidence among people who were sedentary for prolonged periods of time.
To help you monitor your progress, use a fitness tracker. Personally, I use a Jawbone fitness tracker to record how many hours I sleep and the number of steps I take during the day. There are many brands nowadays to choose from, so look for one that you find comfortable and easy to use.
If you have a desk job, invest in a standing desk. Consider pitching this idea to your coworkers or supervisors.
Gardening is a non-exercise movement that can do wonders for you. The act of growing fresh food is an added benefit. In fact, during both World Wars, Americans were urged by the government to start Victory Gardens at home to ease food shortages. Gardening is also linked to various health benefits, such as:
- Stress relief: results of a study published in the Journal of Health Psychology revealed that people who performed a stressful task and had a 30-minute outdoor gardening session significantly lowered their cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
- Improve mental health and well-being: in a survey by Gardeners’ World magazine, 80 percent of gardeners said they felt happy and satisfied with their lives compared to 67 percent of non-gardeners. The presence of Mycobacterium vaccae in the soil is said to play a role in stimulating serotonin production, leading to happier and relaxed feelings among people. (That said, people with mold allergies should take special precautions to protect themselves from soil mold.)
- Increased nutrition for less money: the National Garden Association (NGA) says that the average U.S. family spends $70 annually on a vegetable garden while easily growing about $600 worth of produce, resulting in a $530 return on investment. Fresh produce is also likely to contain more nutrients and related health benefits, and people who grew their own vegetables ate more produce compared to non-gardeners. This also holds true with children--even those who haven’t yet developed a fondness for vegetables.
Look for a Biological Dentist
Next to tooth cleaning, root canals and mercury amalgam fillings are among the most common services offered by conventional dentists. However, while these are promoted as both safe and risk-free, they actually do you more harm than good by exposing you to deadly toxins and bacteria and raising your risk for other complications and diseases.
This is why I strongly recommend that you enlist the help of a properly trained biological dentist if you have any concerns over your dental health. They’re trained to remove dental amalgams safely. And unlike conventional dentists, biological dentists are also more likely to advise to inform you of the potential health risks involved in root canal treatments and/or mercury amalgam fillings
If you’re not sure how to find a biological dentist near you, these organizations can help:
Avoid Antiperspirants at All Costs
Antiperspirants work by using antimicrobial agents to kill odor-causing bacteria in your armpits. However, your health pays a price for this, as antiperspirants carry potential negative side effects due to their harmful ingredients.
Aluminum chloride, a common ingredient in antiperspirants, blocks the sweat glands, preventing them from doing their job of releasing sweat. This process leads to the elimination of the bacteria that don’t cause as much odor while allowing for the proliferation of pungent-smelling bacteria in your armpit. Studies have shown that there was an increase in Actinobacteria responsible for foul-smelling armpit odor among people who used antiperspirants.
Further, aluminum is a neurotoxin that can severely impact your brain, resulting in a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Aluminum salts can also mimic estrogen, with previous research highlighting that aluminum is being absorbed and deposited into breast tissue.
Frequent antiperspirant use can contribute to an increased cancer risk, because aluminum can act like an oncogene that triggers molecular transformations in cancer cells. This cancer link also applies to parabens, chemicals that act as preservatives in antiperspirants and other cosmetic products, especially when it comes to breast cancer.
To address the issue of smelly armpits, you can simply wash your armpits with a safe soap. Alternatively you can use aluminum-free deodorants in place of antiperspirants. You can also mix a pinch of baking soda into your bathwater for a natural way to keep smelly armpits at bay, producing an effective all-day deodorant. Sunbathing your armpits is also a good idea since the UV light helps in “sterilizing” the area. The only caveat about this method is that the effect does not last long and the bacteria repopulate in a few days unless you continue to expose your armpits to the sun.