Low Hanging Fruit for Health and Wellness

Include in Diet

Fish or cod liver oil: excellent source of omega-3 fats which most people are severely deficient in, take 1-2 tsp/day.  These fats are fragile molecules and can go rancid easily, so store them in the refrigerator.  If you buy capsules, bite into one occasionally to test for bitterness.  I buy the oil in translucent glass bottles online, sealed with vitamin E and nitrogen – I recommend Carlson’s or Nordic Naturals, check before you buy!

Liver: the most potent single food in terms of vitamin and mineral content, in a form that is easily absorbed by the body (much better than a multivitamin).  Eat at least 4 oz/week for optimal health.  You can find grass-fed liver at local farmer’s markets, or frozen liver in most grocery stores.  If the taste of beef liver is too strong, switch to calf or chicken liver, or soak it in milk for at least 30 minutes before cooking.

Grass-fed butter: excellent source of healthy fats unique to dairy products, and fat-soluble vitamins.  Kerrygold is the most commonly-available brand of grass-fed butter.  Grass-fed ghee is often available in specialty ethnic stores.

Coconut oil: the medium-chain triglycerides are metabolized by the body in a unique way, and promotes cellular repair mechanisms.  You can buy in bulk online, for instance at Tropical Traditions.

Remove from Diet

Sugar: probably the least controversial thing on this whole list!  In general, cutting back on sweets means you will lose the taste over time.  Liquid sugars like soda and fruit juice are the worst offenders, drink coffee or tea or flavor water with fruit instead (diet soda may not have calories but it maintains that sweet craving).  Pure solid sugar like candy can be replaced with fruit, which has water and some vitamins in addition.  For replacements, try using the natural non-caloric sweetener stevia, or buy dextrose powder (a fructose-free sweetener) online.

Vegetable oil: primary source of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, unfortunately it is very common in the food supply.  First, avoid deep fried foods entirely, because heated omega-6s are highly unstable.  Avoid margarine or vegetable shortening, which contain trans-fats.  When eating out, ask for your food to be cooked in butter.  When eating salad, stick to olive oil and vinegar, as most dressings have a vegetable oil base.  Never use this in your own home!

Grains and legumes: your mileage may vary on these foods, if you want starch then try to mostly eat root vegetables like (sweet) potatoes.  Many people have problems with gluten, found primarily in wheat, barley and rye – stores will often have a gluten-free section with alternatives.  Most people tolerate rice and corn well, so substitute rice pasta and corn tortillas.  Opt for sprouted or sourdough-fermented bread over white or whole wheat.  With legumes, see how your GI tract responds.  Soaking, sprouting, fermenting and cooking all improve digestibility.  Soy is particularly bad since it has chemicals that mimic estrogen. Peanuts are also strongly immunogenic.

Non-Dietary Measures

Vitamin D: ideally produced from sunlight, but more practically supplemented.  To get enough from sun you need a UV index above 3, which happens in the tropics and during spring and summer noonday sun in temperate regions.  For someone with pale skin, 15 minutes front and back of full-body exposure between 10 AM – 2 PM gives you the maximum dose.  When not exposed to this amount of sunlight, supplement at least 2,000 IUs/day (and no more than 10,000 IUs). Ideally, get your blood levels tested regularly and find out what dose keeps you in the optimal range.

Sprinting: anaerobic exercise gives you all the benefits of aerobic exercise and then some, releasing beneficial fat-burning hormones and encouraging mitochondrial proliferation.  Sprinting requires no equipment, and only minutes of work!  Alternate 20 seconds of max-effort sprinting and 10 seconds of rest for 8 intervals, twice/week.  This will be very difficult at first, but it gets easier each time – if 10 seconds of rest is not enough, you can rest for longer periods between each interval and sprint harder.  You don’t need any more exercise than that to see benefits, unless you want to build muscle or have fun!

Sleep: the second-least controversial thing on this list, chronic sleep deprivation has numerous health consequences and acute sleep deprivation just doesn’t feel good.  Go to sleep early enough that you don’t need to wake up to an alarm clock.  If you are not getting tired at night, try eliminating sources of blue light from your bedroom (or wear Uvex orange glasses before bed), and take 300 mcg melatonin an hour before sleep.  If your mind is racing, try writing those thoughts down on a piece of paper, or go talk to a friend!

Intermittent fasting: useful to get your body into fat-burning mode, encourage cellular repair, and generally give your body a break from metabolism.  This will be much easier once you have transitioned to a high-fat diet, since fasting through hypoglycemia is unpleasant.  Due to the hormone ghrelin we get hungry around habitual meal times, but this effect fades within days.  The easiest way to create a longer fast is to skip one of the meals around sleep, either breakfast or dinner, whichever is easier for you.  Work your way up to a 16 hour window daily – and longer if you feel like it!

  • Awesome list! Do you have sources for these/pointers to where I can find them? This is on my list of “stuff to do more research on” but I’m not sure where to start.

    • Also, you didn’t list the benefits you expect from Vitamin D, but you may have some disagreements with Scott there: http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/01/25/beware-mass-produced-medical-recommendations/ If you differ, do you know why?

    • Also, you didn’t list the benefits you expect from Vitamin D, but you may have some disagreements with Scott there: http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/01/25/beware-mass-produced-medical-recommendations/ If you differ, do you know why?

      • WilliamEden

        I don’t disagree that much with Scott. He points out that the potential harm is low, so it’s a precautionary measure. In observational studies it does well, in RCTs it doesn’t seem to have much effect. There is also some chance that sunlight helps more/differently than vitamin D supplementation. For people who literally get no noontime sun exposure, without a strong dietary source (rare), you will definitely hit sub-optimal vitamin D levels. This seems to have a much bigger impact later in life, but do you really want to risk it now?

        My supplement strategy is mostly about trying to replace things that we don’t naturally get through our lifestyle – when I don’t regularly eat seaweed, I supplement iodine, for instance. I also use mineral-replacement drops in filtered water.

    • WilliamEden

      Unfortunately I don’t have all that written up. I first started investigating this stuff back in 2008, and have done a lot of successful self-hacking subsequently as a result. I have sometimes considered going back through and documenting all of my evidence, but at this point that would be a herculean task. I have bits and pieces scattered around in emails and such, I might locate them and post Q&As on some sub-topics here…

  • glennonymous

    Hey Will,
    Not asking you to document all your research (although 1 reference for each item would be hugely helpful), but for me, your confidence interval would be useful for the different items on this list. Are you equally certain all of your advice is correct? Or are you, say, 60% sure everyone should eat a lot of grass-fed butter and 85% certain we should all avoid grains and legumes, for instance?

    • WilliamEden

      Definitely not equally certain. The language in the grains and legumes section even begins with a caveat!

      From most to least confident assertions: more sleep, high-intensity exercise, fasting, avoid vegetable oil, eat liver, avoid sugar, eat coconut oil, supplement vitamin D, supplement cod liver oil, eat butter, avoid grains and legumes.

      Note that I consider this the low hanging fruit. There are components I think are vital for health, like maintaining a good social life and minimizing stress and time pressure, that are much more difficult to do unilaterally.

      • glennonymous

        Thanks Will! I wonder about the effect of meditation on health. I know there’s evidence it lowers blood pressure, and I think it lowers cortisol levels, so you would think that long-term meditation would have effects on overall health, prevention of certain degenerative diseases and reduced mortality, but I haven’t heard any claims to that effect.