Along with sleeping well, eating right is a basic need that if done correctly, the majority of the time, can elicit huge benefits to our mental and physical performance. It is also one of the areas of modern health practice that contains the most contradictions and confusions for the public. There are vast quantities of information a lot of which can be misleading and occasionally outright dishonest. So here I’ve put together my top 5 steps to making better food choices today that are easy to apply and stick to for sustainable smarter choices.

1) Eat real food – Real food doesn’t have ingredients. The food is the ingredient. The closer you can consume a food type to its natural state the better. Higher bio-availability means your body can use more of the what the food type contains in the way of proteins, minerals, vitamins etc. General rule of thumb if buying packaged food, look on the ingredients list, the fewer the better.

2) Eat better meat – Advocate of less dependence on meat. But as an important part of a human diet – buying less meat should mean that money can be saved and in turn when you do buy a joint of meat / fish you can make better choices for your health / performance and environment. Organic animal products give you more bang for your buck. They benefit from bioconcentration. This is a process that results in a living organism having a higher concentration of a substance than its surrounding media. When plants are sprayed with herbicides and pesticides some gets taken into the tissues. Animals eat the plants – they also eat some of the nasties. The majority of these chemicals are fat-soluble and will accumulate in fat. Since vegetables don’t contain a lot of fat, when you buy organic veg you are only avoiding a little nastiness. When you buy organic meat, you’re avoiding a lot. Animals bioconcentrate the minerals from grass and which the grass bioconcentrates the minerals of the solid the grass was grown in. Another factor making organic meat worth it is currently, organic animals cannot be given antibiotics or other drugs unless severely ill. Nor can organically grown animals be given growth hormone – fed or injected. Growth hormone has been shown to survive the cooking process and is believed to be adding to issues such as obesity and cancer. So, if you’re on a budget – skip the high sugar fruit and veg isle and head over to the butcher!

3) Don’t shop hungry – This just a common-sense note. If you go do the weekly shop the day after a few drinks the night before or in a state that is stressed and hungry your chances of making bad decisions and putting processed food in your trolley is going to go up. Step back and look at your week. When are you more time rich? Can you exercise beforehand. You know how you feel after exercising and the feel-good endorphins make it easier to stay on the path you want.

Other good rules to do your food shop with are:

Natural – If something couldn’t have existed 200 years ago – skip it
Variable – If all units (chicken, eggs, tomato’s, etc.) are identical in size and shape, that’s a bad sign
Seasonal – Avoid foods that are frozen or canned
Buy Local – Packages should identify the source of them

(Reference – Deep Nutrition-Why your genes need traditional food. Catherine Shanahan, M.D)

4) Control your environment – More steps between you and bad choices Fewer between yourself and good – Will power is not enough. Step back and examine how you position your food and drink in your kitchen. What is at eye-level in the fridge? Are the weekend crisps and biscuits at head height in the draws? Is that six pack in the kitchen fridge or are you lucky enough to have another fridge in the garage / annex. You won’t miss (as much) what you cannot see. Take control of your environment. Our living rooms encourage us to watch television because that is how the majority of households set up their living room. Does your kitchen encourage easier choices for real food or does it present opportunity to make decisions that are not in line with your health and well-being target?

5) Sleep – Leptin is a hormone involved in the regulation of appetite and metabolism. It’s a chemical that tells your brain when you’re full, when it should start burning calories and by extension when it should create energy for your body to use. During sleep, leptin levels increase, the brain saying you have plenty of energy for the time being – no need trigger the feeling of hunger or burning calories. When you don’t get enough sleep, you end up with too little leptin. Through a series of steps, your brain thinks you don’t have enough energy for your needs. So, you go looking for energy dense foods. It goes further and takes steps to store the calories you eat as fat so you’ll have enough energy next time you need it.

Ghrelin is basically the opposite to Leptin. Its function is to tell the brain when to eat, when it should stop burning calories and when it should store energy. During sleep, levels of ghrelin decrease because sleep requires less energy than being awake does. If we don’t sleep enough we end up with too much ghrelin, so the body thinks its hungry and needs more calories.

In short lack of sleep drives up your hunger but also, you’re your brain thinks it requires calorie dense foods. These are normally not the food stuffs that will help with body composition goals or that help with cognitive performance

Further reading: Deep Nutrition-Why your genes need traditional food. Catherine Shanahan, M.D)

James Clear: Motivation is overvalued. Environment often matters more.

Yours with Force and Grace,

Jake.