By Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD
The Internet and social media are chock full of cutting edge (and often unproven) biohacks, designed to fast track wellness and accelerate longevity. But in reality, the most important and impactful biohack of all is basic nutrition.
Every meal, snack, and beverage you choose is an opportunity to enhance well being, or potentially set it back. Your nutritional status impacts your energy level, immune system, sleep quality, and digestive health. Research also shows that diet plays a strong role in mental wellness. A consistently healthy eating routine can positively impact happiness, productivity, and even creativity.
Some of the best ways to take care of yourself involve focusing on the basics. Prioritize the following five tried and true habits. The rewards include better everyday quality of life today, and science-backed health protection in the future.
1. Eat 7+ cups of produce every day
I advise my clients to aim for at least five cups of veggies, and two cups of fruit daily. Build your meals around produce, so it’s never an afterthought. Include at least one cup of veggies at breakfast, two at lunch, and two at dinner, and build one cup of fruit into breakfast, and another as part of a daily snack. For fresh produce, one cup is about the size of tennis ball. Whip a generous handful of greens into a smoothie, along with berries. Go for a salad at lunch, rather than a sandwich or wrap. Snack on fruit with nuts or seeds, and make veggies the main attraction at dinner, so they make up half of the bulk of your meal. Within 24 hours, this routine can shift the makeup of your gut microbiome — the community of microbes that live in your digestive tract — in ways that reduce inflammation, enhance mood, and strengthen immunity.
2. Eat more plant based meals
Researchers have discovered five areas in the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives. Referred to as Blue Zones, the regions include: Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, California. These localities have an extremely high percentage of nonagenarians and centenarians — people who live to be over 90 and 100, respectively. They also have low disease rates, and virtually no obesity. One commonality they share is the consumption of a primarily plant based diet. Pulses, the umbrella terms for beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas, are cornerstones, as are vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. In other research, a primarily plant based whole food diet has consistently been shown to reduce body weight, and decrease the risk of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Even if you don’t go vegan, set a specific goal tied to increasing your weekly number of plant based meals.
3. Snack strategically
A well-timed and well-chosen snack can help keep blood sugar and insulin levels balanced, support a healthy metabolism, and prevent rebound overeating. Snacking is also an important way to fit in key food groups or nutrients you might otherwise fall short on, like fiber. An estimated 95% of American children and adults do not consume the recommended daily target for fiber. Upping your intake can help improve bowel regularity, curb cholesterol, feed beneficial gut microbes, and support healthy weight management.
4. Drink plenty of H2O
Water is required for nearly every bodily function. We use water to support healthy digestion, metabolism, and circulation, and adequate fluid is needed to regulate body temperature, eliminate waste, lubricate joints, support organ function, and protect organs and tissues. Just a 2% loss of body fluid can negatively impact physical performance, and a 1-3% loss has been shown to impair mood, reduce concentration, trigger headaches, reduce working memory, and increase anxiety and fatigue. To stay well hydrated, aim for about 64 ounces of water, spread evenly throughout the day. If you dislike the taste of plain H2O, infuse flavor with all natural add-ins, like cucumber, mint, citrus, ginger, berries, or bits of in-season fruit.
5. Curb surplus sugar consumption
Too much added sugar — the kind added to a food or drink by you, or a food manufacturer — is linked to a number of health problems. Excess sugar fuels inflammation, can weaken immunity, and is tied to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and obesity. The American Heart Association has set recommended daily limits for added sugar intake. They advise a cap of about 100 calories worth per day for women (the equivalent of 6 teaspoons), and 150 calories worth (9 teaspoons) for men. On a Nutrition Facts label, 4 grams of added sugar equals one teaspoon. The goal isn’t to nix added sugar completely. It’s to limit your intake to at or below the advised maximum, which requires becoming more mindful of the amounts various foods provide. And when you do “spend” some of your daily added sugar budget, choose recipes or foods made with wholesome, recognizable ingredients, that satisfy your sweet craving, and offer vital nutrients. Win-win!
If you want to hear from Cynthia about her healthy eating tips, check out this video on our IGTV page.
Cynthia Sass is a New York Times bestselling author and plant based performance nutritionist in private practice in Los Angeles. Sass has consulted for five professional sports teams, and has privately counseled Oscar, Grammy, and Emmy winners, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and pro athletes in numerous sports. Connect with her on Instagram @cyn_sass.