Getting a Head Start in 2020:

Everything I Learned About Health in 2019

As we head into 2020, I wanted to share everything I’ve learned about health this past year in hopes of saving you the time and energy of uncovering these yourself.

From working at a meditation company to starting my own certified health coaching practice,

Here is everything i learned about health in 2019.

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Contents

broccoli and a leaf

Chapter 1

Plants

chicken leg and cow

Chapter 2

Animals

fruit with an organic label

Chapter 3

Food Labels

stick-man meditating

Chapter 4

Mental

unicorn with a stethoscope

Chapter 5

Myths & More

CHAPTER 1:

Plants

Plants are misunderstood. 

We often think they don’t feel or think and are there solely for us to eat. 

But just like any other life on this planet, they’re fighting to survive.

Plants Don't Like to Be Eaten

Only a few plants want to be eaten (so animals like us can help distribute their seeds). But according to the World Health Organization (WHO), many plants have defense mechanisms, such as chemicals and toxins, to keep predators away.[1

It works well for bugs, but we’re bigger, so the poison won’t kill us.

Why Is This Important?

Even though we don’t die from eating most plants (unless one has a severe allergy, such as peanuts), some can and do make us sick over time from cellular damage. The WHO even warns of long-term health consequences, such as immune, nervous or reproductive system damage, and even cancer.[1

As we head into a new decade, more evidence is piling up, showing that our health crisis is in fact largely due to consuming the wrong types of plants. It’s about time we remember there are other living things still competing with us (but not nearly as dramatic as The Happening).

The Plant Paradox

In The Plant Paradox, Dr. Steven Gundry provides his research and peer-reviewed studies to help this approach to plant-consumption.

He outlines how our relationship with plants changed over the past century–from staying away from the harmful ones to inventing new ways to deal with their poisons.

Instead, if we eat something that doesn’t agree with us or makes us sick, we find or invent something–think Nexium, a stomach-acid reducer, or a drug such as ibuprofen that lessons pain–so we can continue to eat a substance designed to destroy, cause pain in, or at least weaken us.

Along with a history of how we got into this mess, Dr. Gundry’s The Plant Paradox shows how to counteract these plant poisons (one of which is gluten) and how to better navigate the food and health landscape.

Here’s a list of plants that Dr. Gundry, his research, and his patients have found to be harmful to health:

 

  • Legumes, such as beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts
  • Squash, such as zucchini and pumpkin
  • Nightshade vegetables, such as eggplant, peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes
  • Fruit, although in-season fruit is allowed in moderation
  • Grains 
beans and meds
Plants want to survive too. Chemicals, sap, and other mechanisms are used for defense. Instead of avoiding these plants, we create medicines to (unsuccessfully) counteract them.

Our ancestors had extensive knowledge about which plants to stay away from. We’ve since lost that ability and believe plants are made for simply for us to consume them, instead of having their own survival needs. 

In fact, we can be so wrong, that we even misclassify many of our plant foods.

Most Vegetables Are Actually Fruits

Seeds = fruit
If it has seeds, it's a fruit.

Tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkin, squash, peppers, eggplants, beans, and more are fruits.

We call these vegetables, but any plant which has seeds is a fruit.[2] Many of these fruits are also part of the nightshade family, which are suspected to contribute to high levels of inflammation.[3

Since inflammation is shown to be the main contributor behind making chronic health conditions worse, it might a good idea to learn more about these plants.[4]

For starters, not only do we still call these vegetables, but most were only found after the Americas.

16th Century Discoveries

Pizza and pasta might seem like they can be traced through Italy’s history, down to ancient Rome, but tomatoes, and the like, were only discovered by Europeans in the 16th century. [5]

Other plants discovered in the Americas include nightshade (such as peppers and potatoes) and other plants, including corn and peanuts. [6]

So, we really haven’t been eating these plants for that long. At least not nearly long enough to build up a tolerance to them.

Between nightshade fruits and other inflammatory plants, humans are notorious for eating food that causes cellular damage (alcohol, tobacco, etc). 

And trying to get fat from dry seeds seems equally as problematic.

tomatoes weren't ancient Italian as some believe; they were discovered along with the Americas.
Tomatoes aren't from ancient Italy as some believe; they were discovered along with the Americas.

Seed Oils and Inflammation

Canola (AKA rapeseed), corn, sunflower, soy, and vegetable oils can lead to inflammation.[7Since these seeds and grains aren’t naturally oily, like olives, they require solvents and heavy chemicals to have their fat extracted.

We’ve heard of omega-3 fatty acids. Found in fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds, omega-3s help our joints, organs, and our brains.* 

But we don’t usually hear about omega-6s.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, omega-6s can be high contributors to inflammation.[7] And the Standard American Diet (SAD) typically contains many omega-6s.

Which Oils are Healthy?

Simply put, the foods which are naturally oily, like avocados and olives, are perfect as edible oils. They don’t require heavy processing or solvents and oils such as coconut have a higher burning point, making cancer-causing carcinogens less likely.[8]

Here’s a short list of oils which promote health and can even reduce inflammation[9]:

  • Avocado
  • Olive
  • Walnut
  • Coconut
  • MCT (medium-chain triglycerides, AKA a tasteless coconut oil)
seeds need solvents where as oily fruits such as olives can just be pressed
Seeds oils need solvents whereas oily fruits such as olives can just be pressed.

Our knowledge of plants might not be as accurate as we thought, but over this next year, we can redefine our understanding of them and their potential effects on us.

CHAPTER 2:

Animals

corn and money traded for a cow and egg

We are finally starting to ask the right questions when it comes to health.

Questions that are focused on what we’re eating. 

We’re starting to see many chronic conditions reversed by simply removing just a few foods from what we eat[10]

But just like nutrients, toxins from plants aren’t gone when animals eat them. They’re stored in the bloodstream, muscle, and organs. 

 

We already know about mercury levels in fish. It’s a common topic, and many are conscious about not over-consuming high-mercury fish. 

So, why do we overlook the other animals that we eat? If we are what we eat, then we are what they ate too.

From Grass and Bugs to Corn and Soy

We know that corn isn’t a vegetable, and neither are soybeans. 

One’s a grain, and the other’s a fruit.

And from childhood, we know that cows eat grass, and chickens eat bugs in their natural habitat.

Why then are we feeding them grains and fruit all of the sudden?

To Turn a Larger Profit

After WWII, farmers found that almost all animals will grow fatter faster by feeding them corn. It was cheaper and safer than allowing them to roam for their food. 

Feeding them corn was so effective, that the cows’ age to slaughter was cut by half, from 2-3 years down to only 15 months[11]. 

corn and soy, and grass and hay
It's become standard to feed animals corn and soybeans instead of grass (and hay in winter months)

Even chickens used to take 84 days to reach full maturity. Now, it takes just 21 days.[12] That’s a 4x increase.

But this isn’t healthy fat. This is fat created from:

  • The Animals’ Intolerance to the Plants

  • Growth Hormones

  • Antibiotics

Growth hormones and antibiotics are used to shorten the time it takes to reach adulthood and keep the increased illness at bay, which results in major profit growth. 

Even the US government knows that fattening up animals faster is profitable. 

Take a look at these key statistics:

  • $77 billion a year is spent on corn subsidizations for American farmers [13]
  • 83 million acres of soybeans and 94 million acres of corn are grown in the US[14]
  • 90% of the US corn production is used for livestock, ethanol, or exported [15]

Why This Is Important

Pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones don't vanish when an animal eats them; they're stored in the meat and products.

Cows used to graze on grass and get plenty of sunlight, but now they’re confined and fed calcium carbonate (the active ingredient in Tums) to reduce the digestive pain and discomfort from their unnatural diet.[16]

Even free-range chickens are crowded indoors and require a minimum of a small hatch open a few minutes of the day.[17] I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like “free-range” to me.

The point of this is not to make you sad, but to share what I’ve learned–toxic foods and hormones don’t live and die at the factory farms, but can continue through animals’ meat and products.[18]

So, how can we help change the system to get better food and treatment of the animals?

There is an answer, besides going vegan–as getting the proper nutrients can be tough.

What We Buy Is How We Vote

You can opt-out of voting for government officials, but you can’t opt-out of voting for food

We often don’t think we can do anything to influence industries. 

But just like 1 vote can change elections, 1 vote (our vote) can influence better changes in the health and food industries.

how buying groceries is voting for food
Buying groceries is how we vote for food

For instance, for those of us who see nutritional value in meat, but want to change the system, buy 100% grass-fed beef or pasture-raised chicken.

It will help:

  1. The treatment of these animals
  2. Our overall health


And food industries have been paying attention. 

It’s why:

  • The organic section in grocery stores are larger than ever
  • There’s a bigger focus on fresher food
  • The treatment of animals is climbing higher on the list of priorities

Buying food that helps both our health and the animals is important for the future of food production.

Which is why it’s helpful to know more about what food labels mean.

CHAPTER 3:

Food Labels

GMO vs organic?

Your health nut of an uncle might know what all the food labels mean, but the majority of us still don’t.

Below, I’ve provided a simple table to show what each of them means and which ones are recommended by the experts.

But before we get to it, it’s best to understand more about why there is so much confusion around food labels.

Why Are Food Labels so Confusing?

There isn’t one organization that’s creating or even upholding them.

It’s a convoluted system.

Our current mess of food and nutrition information stemmed from:

  • Outdated Government Recommendations
  • Corrupted Industry Suggestions
  • Saturated Personal Opinions

Unfortunately, besides the animals, we’re the ones who suffer the most from this confusion. Our rising rate of overweight and obesity (now near 70% of the American population), and all the chronic conditions that follow, show that health needs to shift to individual responsibility.[19]

If you’re wanting progress with your health, there doesn’t seem to be a way around learning what food labels mean.

Labels are probably going to get more conflicting and complex as the organizations get less people-focused and more profit-focused.

The best thing you can do for your health (and the animals) is to take 1-2 minutes to understand a food label as you come across it. Odds are you won’t forget it and will use it anytime you’re in a grocery store.

To help you with this, here are the top 10 most used food labels, simplified:

Labels Winner Description Organic vs. Conventional Organic (or the Clean 15) No Pesticides, Synthetic Fertilizers, Sewage, GMOs, or Radiation. Animal Products That Do Not Use Antibiotics or Added Hormones Farm-raised vs. Wild-Caught Wild-Caught Seafood Not Raised With Corn/Soy or Antibiotics Found From Seas, Rivers, and Other Natural Bodies of Water Grass Fed vs. Vegetarian Fed 100% Grass Fed No Corn/Soy Feed Allowed to Forage and Graze for Their Own Food (Hay and Alfalfa During the Winter) Look for 100% Grass-Fed, Not "Finished" on Grains Like Corn Free-range vs. Pasture-Raised Pasture-Raised Free-Range = Requires a "Pop-Hole" for 5 Minutes a Day With No Full-Body Access Requirement to the Outdoors and No Space Requirement Pasture-Raised = 1000 Birds per 2.5 Acres, Outdoors Year-Round and Allowed to Feed on Insects (Their Natural Prey) GMO vs. non-GMO non-GMO Plants or Animals That Are Natural and Have Not Been Changed Genetically (Non-Gmo Foods May Still Be Non-Organic)

CHAPTER 4:

Mental

a man meditating with evil and good

The last job I had was at a meditation company. 

It was cool, and chill–as you’d expect. But it was still a company, and there was some irony that the added stress from the work meant I needed meditation that much more. 

So, it might be hard to believe that I stopped meditating. 

can sit still for 10 minutes to meditate if I try. But it’s so difficult. 

Why? 

My guess is that I have to be vulnerable enough to accept that I need help in my life, even if it’s coming from myself. 

Call it stubbornness. Call it ego. They’re both there. It’s not like I’m not working on them. But it’s less of climbing a mountain and more like getting lost at sea.

How Gratitude Became My Compass

A friend recently showed me a gratitude journal app after telling me how life-changing it was. 

I was intrigued, so I checked it out. 

It was $5. 

Fuck. That. I don’t pay for apps.

Setting aside my bias for free apps, I thought about it more. What could I gain from it? Even if it helps me become 2% happier each day, is it worth the $5?

The price of a coffee?

Gratitude has become a great add-on to mediation

So, I bought it and I’ve now used it for the past three weeks. I notice I’m calmer and less anxious than I’ve been all year. It’s become my center point. My compass. And I plan on continuing to use it as my guide into the new year. 

If you’re interested to know which app it is, it’s called the 5 Minute Journal. Here’s the link

It’s the best and simplest tool I’ve found to stay on track in 2020.

The Power of Both Meditation and Gratitude

Gratitude may be unexpectedly transformative, but combine it with meditation, and it becomes your one-two punch to knock out any obstacle. 

Meditation itself has commonly been found to improve:

  • Stress
  • Focus
  • Mood
  • Work
  • Compassion
  • And More [20]

A mind that’s consistently focused, calm, and largely positive? 

Just about anything becomes achievable.

I’m striving to add mediation back into my routine, but in the meantime–gratitude is a great placeholder with many similar benefits.

What We Do to Relax Often Isn't Relaxing

We often think that we’re relaxing when we’re on our phones or watching something, but most of the time, our minds are even busier.

Chronically busy minds are a recipe for reduced:

  • Energy
  • Creativity
  • Focus
  • Productivity
  • And even–Happiness (when it comes to social media, my girlfriend always tells me, “Comparison is the thief of joy“)

While meditation is now making some great strides in mainstream news, screen-time is something that has yet been taken as seriously.

As of the top contributors for maximizing screen-time, YouTube has plenty of mindless content

But there are some gems.

Nathaniel Drew

There’s a YouTuber who’s climbing through the ranks with great content. His focus is on productivity and minimalism. However, as a side-effect of those focuses, mental health can often benefit.

 

His name is Nathaniel Drew, and one of his most recent videos pulled me out of a slump, again.

Here’s his take on over-consuming content and what’s approaches he’s taken to legitimately relax in a digital age.

CHAPTER 5:

Myths & More

a unicorn with a stethoscope

I took a logic class in college and it was one of the best classes that prepared me for life. We learned all about logical fallacies. And one of them was called the argument of authority

If you’re not familiar, it’s when a person of higher authority is taken more seriously. And sometimes too seriously, where the audience can blindly accept what they have to say, without question

Listening to authority can work well in many cases. Professions such as doctors generally have much training and experience and are highly reputable.

But what happens when they’re wrong?

The Result of Not Asking Questions

rates of obesity from 1997 to 2018
Obesity rates in the US. Source: Statista

The result is our health crisis today. 

It’s no coincidence that both carb consumption and obesity rates are at an all-time high. There’s clearly a correlation there. 

So why are we trying so damn hard to invent new medications (which exacerbate the issue) when instead of looking at the source?

It’s like trying to put out an oil fire with water.

We’ve been trying the same approaches, and rates of overweight, obesity, and most chronic conditions have only been getting worse.

As Einstein once said, 

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

So, in an effort to try something different, let’s look at a perspective that doesn’t involve putting band-aids on the issue, and instead look towards one of the largest pieces of evidence which is often ignored.

When Did Fat Become the "Bad Guy"?

Fat wasn’t always marketed as bad for you. 

In fact, it’s vital to helping many health conditions such as epilepsy and autism.[21]

So, when did this all start?

According to the SF Chronicle

“The sugar industry was aware of evidence linking too much sugar to heart disease as early as the early 1960s. Its response was to embark on what a Sugar Research Foundation official called a “major program” to blame another culprit, namely fat.”

After the ’60s, food manufacturers started taking more fat out of products. Not only was the taste affected, but the products ended up spoiling faster. This is because fat is a known ancient and natural preservative [22]. 

The reduction of fat meant that along with sugar, preservatives and additives were also needed to stabilize the shelf life, structure, and taste of the products.

In summary–we’re leaning on old and even corrupt information on fat, which became the scapegoat for the sugar industry

It’s the reason why our overweight and obesity rates are still climbing.

We put too much faith in a health system that not only was created for profit (for-profit health insurance, Big Food, and Big Pharma) but one that also takes decades to correct any wrongful health recommendations.

The Main Takeaway?

Consider the professional’s opinion, of course. But also–think for yourself. Your life is literally in your hands, and despite what you may believe, you do have the power to create a healthier life.

Having an approach like this can benefit not only you and your health, but your family’s, friend’s, society’s, and the environment. It’s all about paying attention and asking why.

I’ve used this approach, and have found a number of health myths which we all too commonly believe, at our own expense.

Here are some of the best myths I’ve uncovered recently: back with studies*

  • Egg yolks aren’t actually bad for you [23]
  • Sunscreen isn’t healthy for your skin (With sunscreen, we tend to stay in the sun longer and it also blocks Vitamin-D–90% of it comes from our skin, not food like milk)[24]
  • Whole-grains aren’t good for you (as we discussed in chapter 1)
  • All vegetables aren’t good for you (also in chapter 1–we learned many are actually fruits and inflammatory)
  • Carbs and sugar aren’t different
  • Saturated fat likely does not cause heart disease (there’s more evidence that sugar and inflammation can cause it)[25]
  • Breakfast is the not most important meal of the day (intermittent fasting, AKA skipping breakfast, is proven to be healthier and extend lifespan)[26]
  • Non-stick (Teflon) pans aren’t safe [27]
  • Fat is bad for you (covered earlier in this chapter)
  • Dairy isn’t good for you (it’s inflammatory, other than goat/sheep’s milk and A2 producing cows, and given that 90% of Vitamin-D comes from the sun, it’s really not worth it)[28]
  • It matters what animals eat (covered in chapter 2)
  • The brain is the not the most important organ (your gut processes most of the nutrients and toxins first and provides around 90% of serotonin, the hormone which helps positive mood and energy)[29]
  • You don’t need more than 30 minutes of physical activity a day
  • You can opt-out of TSA body scanners (you can request a pat-down and skip the extra dose of radiation)

To End This Post

As we head into 2020, we can redefine what health means.

As part of our New Years’ resolution, we can start paying more attention to the plants, animals, labels and mental aspects of health. And we can still consider the qualified and authority figures in the medical and food worlds. But at the same time–keep an open eye to anything influencing them. Whether it’s profit or anything else.

Others may be accountable for our health, but we are ultimately responsible.

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