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Why Rituals Work

With a multi-million dollar weight loss and fitness industry, plus thousands of apps you’d think it’d be easy for us to stick with a diet and exercise program.  It all starts with the best of intention, but then momentum starts slowing down and motivation dwindles until you’re left with another weight loss ‘’ notch on your belt.

Here’s the crux. Relying on motivation and willpower alone won’t work.

We are usually motivated by pleasure of what we want, or by the pain of what we don’t want. Over time, however, motivation subsides and you are then relying on willpower. If you have little motivation, a Tim-Tam in front of you with your work colleague enjoying one next to you, willpower can be tough.

You see, willpower on its own is a bit like petrol in your car. The more you use up, the less you have. If you keep saying no to something when all you want to do it say yes, your willpower becomes depleted. This is why we often give in at night. All our willpower is used during the day, so at night we are more likely to reach for the Tim Tam we didn’t have earlier. It’s even harder when we are tired and stressed out.

Setting smaller, shorter terms goals is a great way to keep our momentum going. This is because our brains are wired to seek pleasure from short term success, rather than a goal that seems an eternity away. Doing small, healthy rituals each day and ticking them off releases feel good hormones in the brain, so we end up wanting to do more. Overtime, these small rituals add to big changes. This applies to any area of our lives – the food we eat, our exercise and movement, sleep and how we think.

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Benefits of Basil
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Benefits of Basil

Adding herbs and spices to your dishes is not just about flavour.  There are a host of nutritional benefits and it’s a good idea to include them in your diet each day. Basil is one such example.  It evokes the aroma’s of Italian sauces and adds a perfect pop to a pizza.  It’s also really good for you.

One benefit is its anti-bacterial qualities, so much so that food scientists are currently looking at using basil oil in food packaging that will act as an antimicrobial agent, inhibiting the growth of food-borne bacteria. Another benefit is its anti-inflammatory properties, but what does this mean?  In general, eating food that inhibits inflammation is about reducing your risk of many preventable diseases in later life and improving your overall health.  It’s about using food as part of a disease prevention plan.  Basil has an active ingredient called Eugenol which has anti-inflammatory properties, so it can help reduce the risk of cancer and diabetes.

It also is a great source of vitamin K (a nutrient important for bone health) and a ¼ cup delivers nearly a 3rd of your daily intake.

A great way to get plenty of basil into your diet is by adding pesto to your meals.  Add it to fish or chicken, stir through pasta, add to tomato and serve on toast or add it your pizza. Yum!

Don’t refrigerate your basil. Store at room temperature in a glass of water.  It’s best used on the day of purchase, as it wilts very quickly and get depleted of nutrients.  If you have any left over, simply process with a bit of olive oil and freeze it in an ice-cube tray.  Better still, grow your own so you only pick what you need.

BASIL PESTO RECIPE

Benefits of BasilBasil evokes aroma’s of fresh Italian dishes and can be eaten cooked or raw.  Not only is is so delicious, it’s also incredibly healthy. Read about the health benefits of basil here and enjoy this simple pesto recipe.

Ingredients

3 cups well packed basil leaves
1 cup well packed fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to cover when storing
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese (leave out if you’re diary free)
Salt
Fresh ground pepper

Instructions

  • Combine all ingredients (except the cheese, salt and pepper) in a food processor or blender and whizz to a smooth paste.
  • Stir in the cheese and add salt and pepper to taste
  • Pour into an airtight container and add the extra olive oil to cover the surface (this prevents discolouration)
  • Store in the fridge for up to 7 days or freeze for 3 months

Tip: Great with grilled fish, chicken or lamb or stirred through vegetables

Power in Affirmations and Positive Thinking

We are often not aware that our mind can be trained to think positively, and positive affirmations are a great tool for re-training your own thought processes. Research is showing that positive affirmations do in fact rewire the brain.

While we are busy complaining about different things in our lives, like our jobs, our bank accounts, our mother-in-law, we are actually training our brains to be negative and see fault. By making positive affirmations a daily ritual, we can correct that negative mindset to realise we have ability and can take pride in ourselves rather than feel discontent.

Examples of some positive affirmations:

  • I am worthy
  • I am open
  • I am a loyal friend
  • I am a hard worker
  • I am fit and healthy

Choose affirmations that you think will help create a positive mindset and set you on a path to succeed in your goals.  You could write them on your bathroom mirror with a whiteboard marker, or on cards and post them somewhere you can see them everyday.

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Food Rituals for Everyday Life and Busy People

Being  busy often gets in the way of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  One secret to success in eating healthy while being busy is to keep it simple and create a ritual.  Thinking less and making fewer decisions.

If healthy food is there, you’re more likely to eat it. If you have healthy food available, you don’t have to decide to eat well… you just do it.

Given we love rituals at Ritualize, let us introduce you to the food ritual. Here’s a few choices depending on how you want to work it. Only you know what will work for your schedule, so read on and see if these will fit.

The Sunday Ritual

You don’t have to do this on Sunday, of course. You can choose any day you like.

It’s just that Sunday is often a time when people are more free, more relaxed, and more able to devote time to this type of task. And it’s a time when we’re usually thinking ahead to the upcoming week.

Set aside a couple of hours to do the following.

  • Look ahead to what’s happening in the upcoming week. Where might you not have time to cook? What are the quiet and busy times?
  • Come up with a general menu for at least the next few days. It doesn’t have to be anything in-depth. Just get a basic sense of what you might need to have on hand for the week ahead.
  • Build your shopping list from your menu. This will help you be as effective and efficient as possible when you tackle the shops, and you’ll be less tempted by spontaneous (unhelpful) decisions.
  • Hit the supermarket or grocery store. Stock up on what you need for the week. Consider grabbing a few extra “just in case” emergency items as well, such as canned beans, frozen vegetables, or other easily-stored healthy options that you grab at the last minute.
  • Once you’re back home, start prepping and cooking. Whip up a batch of protein — for example, by grilling or roasting several chicken breasts at once. You could try a casserole in a slow cooker or stews, curries etc, add your washed veggies then divide into containers and freeze or refrigerated.

Some people choose to prepare almost all their meals for the week on Sundays. Others prefer to figure out which meals will be easy to cook just prior to meal time and save them for later, preparing only meals that they might need for busy times (such as lunches at work).

Do what works best for YOU!

The Daily Ritual

You can combine the Sunday Ritual with the Daily Ritual — for example, by preparing your meat/protein on Sunday, and then adding some quick-prep veggies on the day of eating.  For example, you may have your chicken breast already cooked and sliced, ready for a quick stir-fry.

During the Daily Ritual, you can prep a few extra items to have on hand for later in the day, or the following day, like chopped vegetables.  Glass containers are a great way to store chopped up vegetables.

Try a Morning Ritual where you whip up a fast-cook bowl of rolled oats or a blender omelet.

  • Shake up your rolled oats with any other items (e.g. ground flax seeds, cinnamon, protein powder, other grains, etc.) in a large container.
  • In the morning, scoop out the dry mix, pour in some water, and pop it in the microwave. Top with fruit and Greek yogurt (see our recipe here) and enjoy a healthy breakfast that will keep you going all morning.
  • Whip up some eggs in a blender (with some veggies if you like) and keep in a container for the next morning. Just pour and cook. You can prep this egg mix a few days in advance so you have it on-hand for a quick, healthy breakfast.

It’s easy to prep a salad that won’t go soggy during the day. Try our Salad in a Jar recipe.

Or try a Dinner Ritual where you simply make extra portions and save the rest for tomorrow. Again, it doesn’t take much more time to prepare a few extra things, so cook in bulk where possible.

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Creative Ways to Eat More Vegetables

Including loads of vegetables in your diet is so important for your health. Vegetables are incredibly rich in nutrients and antioxidants, which boost your health and help fight off disease. Additionally, they are good for weight control as they have a low calorie content. Getting the required several serves of vegetables can be hard for some people.Some simply don’t like them while others are unsure how to prepare them so they taste good.Here are some unique ways you can incorporate vegetables into your diet, so that you never get sick of eating them.

Veggie-Based Soups

Soups are a great way to eat multiple servings of vegetables at once. You can make veggies the “base” by pureeing them and adding spices. You can also simple cook veggies in broth or cream-based soups. Adding even a small amount of extra veggies, such as broccoli, to soups is a great way to increase your intake of fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Try this easy Carrot and Ginger soup.

Zucchini Lasagna

Another creative way to eat more veggies is by making zucchini lasagna. Traditional lasagna is a pasta-based dish made by layering lasagna sheets with sauce, cheese and meat. It’s tasty, but it’s also typically very high in processed carbs. A great way to prepare this delicious dish so that it has a lower carb content and more nutrients is to replace the lasagna noodles with strips of zucchini.

Zucchini is a rich source of B vitamins and vitamin C, in addition to trace minerals and fiber.

Experiment With Veggie Noodles

Veggie noodles are easy to make, and a great way to get more veggies in your diet. They’re also an excellent low-carb substitute for high-carb foods, such as pasta. They are made by inserting vegetables into a spiralizer, which processes them into noodle-like shapes. You can use a spiralizer for almost any type of vegetable. They are commonly used for zucchini, carrots and sweet potatoes. Once the “noodles” are made, they can be eaten just like pasta and combined with sauces, other vegetables or meat.  Try this Pesto Zucchini Noodles with Prawns.

Add Veggies to Sauces

Adding extra vegetables to your sauces is a sneaky way to increase your veggie intake. While you are cooking sauce, such as a bolognese sauce, simply add some veggies of your choice to the mix, such as chopped onions, carrots, spinach or capsicum (peppers). You can also puree certain veggies with seasonings and make them into a sauce on their own.

Make a Cauliflower Pizza Crust

Cauliflower is extremely versatile, and there are many unique ways to include it in your diet. One strategy is to replace regular, flour-based pizza crust with a cauliflower crust, which is made by combining cauliflower with eggs and almond flour and some seasonings. You can then add your own toppings, such as fresh veggies, tomato sauce and cheese.

Substituting cauliflower crust for flour-based crusts is an excellent way to enjoy the delicious taste of pizza, while increasing your nutrient intake. A cup (100 grams) of cauliflower contains only 5 grams of carbs and 25 calories, in addition to lots of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which flour-based crusts lack.

Blend With Smoothies

Smoothies are great for breakfast or a snack. Typically, they are made by combining fruit with ice, milk or water in a blender. However, you can also add veggies to smoothies without compromising the flavour.

Fresh, leafy greens such as kale and spinach are common smoothie additions and a great way to get a serving of vegetables. Try this Breakfast Berry Smoothie. Just 1 cup (30 grams) of spinach contains 181% of your daily needs for vitamin K and 56% for vitamin A. The same serving of kale provides 206% of your daily needs for vitamin A, 134% for vitamin C and 684% for vitamin K.

Add Veggies to Casseroles

Including extra veggies in casseroles is a another great way to increase your veggie intake. Casseroles are a dish that combines pieces of meat with chopped vegetables and often potatoes.

Left-over Veggies with Scrambled Eggs

In the western world we tend not to think of eating vegetables for breakfast.  However, there are opportunities. Heating left-over veggies and pouring in some beaten eggs is a tasty, nutrient dense breakfast.  Find the recipe here.

Lettuce Wrap or Veggie Bun

Using lettuce as a wrap or certain veggies as buns in place of bread is an easy way to eat more veggies. Lettuce wraps can be a part of several types of dishes, and are often used to make low-carb sandwiches and bunless burgers. Additionally, many types of veggies, such as portobello mushroom caps, sliced sweet potatoes and sliced eggplant make excellent buns. Lettuce wraps and veggie buns are an easy way to reduce your calorie intake while providing you with extra nutrients.

 Grilled Veggie Kebabs

Veggie kebabs are a great dish to try if you want to increase your veggie intake. To make them, place chopped vegetables of your choice on a skewer and cook on a grill or barbecue. Capsicum, onions and tomatoes work well for kebabs. You can also use mushrooms and zucchini.

Add Veggies to Tuna Salad

Adding veggies to tuna salad is a great way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet. Try this Tune and Rice Salad.

Make Stuffed Capsicum

Stuffed capsicum is an easy and excellent dish to include in your diet if you want to increase your veggie intake. They are made by stuffing halved capsicum with cooked meat, beans, rice and seasonings and then baking them in the oven. Capsicums are a rich source of many vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin A and C. You can increase the nutrition content of capsicum by including lots of extra veggies. Onions, spinach or cauliflower all work well.

Add Veggies to Guacamole

It is fairly easy to add veggies to guacamole, and makes for a unique way to increase your veggie intake. Guacamole is an avocado-based dip made by mashing ripe avocado and sea salt together with lemon or lime juice, garlic and additional seasonings.  Try this Easy Guacamole recipe. A variety of vegetables taste great when incorporated into guacamole. Capsicum, tomatoes and onions are good options.

You can also make guacamole with roasted vegetables.

Make Cauliflower Rice

A unique way to increase your veggie intake is by eating cauliflower rice. It is made by pulsing cauliflower florets in a food processor into small granules. You can then use it raw or cooked as a substitute for rice.  This Cauliflower Fried Rice is delicious. Even the kids will love it!

Cauliflower is significantly higher in nutrients than rice. It is particularly high in vitamin C, vitamin K, folate and potassium.

To Summarise

There are many unique ways you can include more vegetables in your diet. Make “rice” and “buns” with vegetables, or incorporate them into common dishes, such as casseroles and soups. By making veggies a regular part of your food intake, you’ll significantly increase your intake of fibre, nutrients and antioxidants. Eating enough vegetables is also linked with a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, and may be beneficial for keeping your weight under control.

At the end of the day, you can’t go wrong eating more veggies.

Benefits Good Fats in your Diet
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Choosing the right olive oil for better health

Benefits Good Fats in your DietThe benefits of olive oil

We know the amazing benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), such as a huge array of beneficial polyphenols and fats that are good for your heart and brain. EVOO also has a high smoke point, so you can fry and bake with it, unless you’re cooking at very high temperatures (such as deep frying).

Not all oils are created equal

However – you may be surprised to know that know not all are created equal. When it comes to EVOO, you don’t always get what the label says.

There are beautiful EVOOs available in Southern Europe, but most of them don’t make it to Australia, and many export oils have been mixed with normal olive oil or even canola oil.

In addition, many small growers from the Mediterranean, who may have processed and bottled the olive oil themselves in the past, are now sending their olives off-site to a pressing plant.  This means olives may be left for several days waiting to be pressed, allowing the fruit to start fermenting, affecting the flavour and producing chemicals.

The oil from fermented olives needs to go through a process using chemicals, heat, pressure and filtering to be fit for human consumption. This removes many of the beneficial phytochemicals found in EVOO, which also reduces the health benefits.

Fortunately, there are now Australian Standards and testing procedures to ensure quality, and over 95% of the olive oil produced here is extra virgin. In addition, many Australian producers have a short processing time from harvesting the olives to turning them into olive oil, which is crucial to producing high quality oil.

Those EVOOs that pass the test will have a small certification triangle on the label, so an easy way to ensure that you get the best quality EVOO is to choose an Australian band with the symbol.

What is the best solution?

The best choice is a cold pressed, Australian brand in a dark bottle that has the certification triangle on the label. They do cost more, but in the case of EVOO, you are more likely to get what you pay for.  This will give you peace of mind that you are consuming a quality product with amazing health benefits for you and your family.

You may also be interested in reading our article on Good fats.

Micronutrients in Fruit
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Cooking Matters and the Benefits of Micronutrients

Micronutrients in FruitThe Benefits of Micronutrients

We know fruit and vegetables contain healthy micronutrients – vitamins and minerals, but did you know that different methods of food preparation can affect the levels of vitamin content and bioavailability (how well they’re absorbed).

It appears some micronutrients are most available and better absorbed:

  • eaten raw
  • if food is cooked
  • when foods are eaten with other foods
  • when their structures are broken down first (such as chopping or crushing)

For example:

  • The compounds in blue-red foods (called anthocyanins) such as plums or eggplant are digested relatively quickly.  Many types of anthocyanins, such as those in berries, are readily available and best eaten raw.
  • Water-soluble vitamins found in vegetables such as dark leafy vegetables and capsicum can be lost when cooked in water.  To preserve vitamins the best method is steaming, blanching, sauteing or roasting.
  • Micronutrients in tomatoes or many carotenoids in yellow, orange or red plants, are often better absorbed when cooked.

Micronutrients, such as those in dark leafy vegetables, become more (or less) available when combined with other foods.  Examples of this are:

  • Fat-soluble vitamins need fat to absorb them. So put olive oil, real butter, avocado or nuts with your salad or vegetables.
  • We need vitamin C to maximise iron absorption, so squeeze lemon juice over your leafy greens
  • Combining vegetables with extra virgin olive oil is the magic combination of the healthy mediterranean diet
  • Chopping or crushing garlic, then letting it sit for a few minutes before cooking, will release allicin, a powerful disease-fighting chemical.
Effects of antioxidant supplements
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Are Antioxidant supplements making you weaker?

Effects of antioxidant supplementsThe marketing of antioxidant supplements

We have been marketed to by antioxidant supplements for years, with their health and longevity benefits being touted no end. The theory goes something like this:

1. Free radicals, or reactive oxygen species, create oxidative stress and other cellular damage and accelerate the raging process.

2. Anto-oxidants neutralise free radicals and therefore protect against damage.

3. Therefore, if we consume anti-oxidant supplements it will enhance our disease protection and longevity.

Does the science reflect this theory?

Whilst there is good evidence for points 1 and 2 above, most of the studies in support of number 2 are performed in vitro, i.e., in test tube or petri dishes, and not in free-living humans. As for point 3, it may surprise you to discover that numerous clinical trials and metabolic studies show no benefit, or even harm, from using antioxidant supplements. Here are some examples:

  • A 2004 American Heart Association meta-analysis of 20 clinical trials showed no benefits for the use of Vitamins C, E and beta carotene in the prevention of heart attacks or strokes, and no reduction in mortality.  Importantly, the authors acknowledged that the scientific evidence from observational studies supports the conclusion that “a diet high in food sources of antioxidants and other cardioprotective nutrients” reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease, they found no support for any benefits from the routine use of antioxidant vitamin supplements. 
  • A 2008 Cochrane Institute meta-analysis of 67 randomised clinical trials on antioxidant supplements (beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium) found no evidence that antioxidant supplements prevent mortality in healthy people or patients with various diseases. The authors said that “treatment with betacarotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E may increase mortality” and that “potential roles of vitamin C and selenium on mortality need further study”. 
  • A 2001 University of Washington randomized trial showed evidence of positive harm from taking a cocktail of antioxidants in patients on statin niacin therapy. The supplements reduced levels of HDL and increased levels of coronary blockage . 
  • A study at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute showed that cardiac stem cells cells that were loaded with high doses of antioxidants developed genetic abnormalities that predispose to the development of cancer. 
  • A 2009 study by German and American researchers found that daily supplementation with 1000 mg Vitamin C and 400 IU Vitamin E  during a 4-week exercise program by healthy young men suppressed improvements in insulin sensitivity and suppressed production of other protective genes observed in the non-supplementing control group. 

How is it that administering the same antioxidant chemicals that we are commonly told that make fruits, vegetables and herbs “protective”, actually appears to be ineffective or even harmful when taken as dietary supplements?

A clue comes from the last study quoted above – the 2009 paper that was titled “Anti-oxidants prevent health-promoting effects of physical exercise in humans”. Exercise creates free radicals, which cause metabolic stress, and the body responds by up regulating powerful protective genes – this is a hormetic response (as covered in my last blog post). Researchers such as Edward Calabrese and Mark Mattson call these genes “vitagenes”, because they ramp up our own internal defences against free radicals, which are much more powerful that any pill that we can take.

By taking antioxidant supplements, we suppress the increase in our own internal defences that would otherwise occur in response to the exercise stress.

So, getting back to the antioxidant theory at the start of this post – what is missing in this theory is the role of our body’s own innate defences system for handling toxic chemicals like free radicals. While our immune system handles invading organisms and large proteins, another system is needed to deal with chemical toxins. It’s called the xenobiotic metabolism; and it’s broken into 3 ‘waves’ of protective enzymes – Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III, which act synergistically to protect against damage and disease.  

We must understand that the body is an adaptive system and it will adjusts to maintain a relatively constant state, known as homeostasis. The science of hormesis states that if you provide it with external “help”, it will reduce the effort in building its own internal defences.  Just as being sedentary results in muscle wastage and a decrease in fitness, it turns out that chronic consumption of exogenous antioxidants reduces the “pressure” on your adaptive stress response to ramp up its own endogenous antioxidant defence system.  In biological terms, taking antioxidants leads to homeostatic down regulation of the antioxidant response element.  This actually makes biological sense:  Why should the organism expend precious energy and resources building a defence system if the defence is provided for “free” through diet or supplements?

So it appears that, by consuming more antioxidants, we become dependent upon them and, perversely, we reduce our innate ability to detoxify.  So, now that we know that our endogenous antioxidant defence system is so potent, what steps can we take to build it up? We get the answers from the science of hormesis, and I will explore how to up regulate these powerful natural defences to disease in the next few blogs.

Sub-lethal poisons in food
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Get Your Daily Dose of Poison – Seriously!

Sub-lethal poisons in foodIn my last post I wrote about the fact that the marketing and hype around taking antioxidant supplements is not supported by the research – and that numerous research studies show that taking anti-oxidant supplements (especially individual supplements) may actually cause us harm – partly by down-regulating our own natural antioxidant defence system.

However, it’s important to differentiate between supplements and real food – fruits and vegetables contain an abundance of anti-oxidants, and they have them in a complex cocktail that is necessary to sustain life.

There are quite a few researchers who question whether the quantity of antioxidants in fruit and vegetables is enough to have a significant physiological effect in humans, and that the antioxidant defence model has been massively oversimplified. I (and many others) feel that we should be talking much less about anti-oxidants and much more about plant botanicals, or phytochemicals, in general.

Polyphenols are a sub-class of phytochemicals and some of them act as antioxidants (improving cell survival through complex mechanisms), whereas some act as pro-oxidants.

As we have over-egged (and over-simplified) the antioxidant story, I want to focus on the pro-oxidant story, which is really a story of hormesis in action. Remember from earlier posts that hormesis is the stress resistance that comes from sub-lethal exposures to toxins that would be lethal at higher doses.

It turns out that sub-lethal exposure to pro-oxidants in fruit & veg up-regulates protectives genes (increases gene expression), which not only increases our powerful anti-oxidant defence systems, but can also prevent tumor growth.

Let’s take the cells of our brain, known as neurons, and investigate how hormetic plant chemicals can protect against Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).

WARNING – geeky science bit inbound!! – It is known that Galantamine (from the snowdrop plant) increases levels of an important neurotransmitter, acetylcholine (which is reduced by AD). Cathechinsfrom Tea, Caffeine from tea & coffee, and Capsaicin from capsicums/peppers help this acetylcholine to release calcium ions in the other neurons (which is how the brain works). Inside the neurons, the plant TOXINS Sulphoraphane (from brocolli), Curcumin(from the spice tumeric), Resveratrol (from grapes – and wine!) and Allumin(from onions and garlic) all help to increase the expression of protective genes, which produce growth factors as well as our endogenous anti-oxidants that combat the cellular stresses that create the damaged proteins that are teh hallmark of Alzheimer’s Disease.

This is not a process that is exclusive to the brain – it happens in all of our cells and it turns out that the vast array of plant phytochemicals in fruit and vegetables play critical roles in cellular metabolism.

There are a long list of phytochemicals that have been broken down into numerous sub-classes (such as Flavenoids, isoflavones, Lignans and Cartenoids) and studies have shown that these plant phytochemicals protect us against Aging, Cardiovascular Diseases, Diabetes, Cancer and Brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases.

The bottom line – eat real foods that we have co-existed with for millions of years, rather than eating a diet with significant processed foods and trying to off-set it with chemically manufactured supplements.

Lastly, remember that hormesis is about a sub-lethal exposure and that although many plant phytochemicals are great for our health, overconsumption of some of these can have both beneficial and harmful effects – soy isoflavines being one example. Eating a varied diet rich in fruit and veg will help keep you healthy –partly by exposing you to small doses of poison!

Resilience of People
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That which does not kill us …

In the late 1800’s, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said

“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

It is a phrase often used to explain the resilience of people who have endured hardships. It turns out that it certainly contains more than a grain of truth.

My interest in this subject arose from undergoing a course called Air 427 in 1998, whilst serving as an officer in the British Armed Forces. The course was 10 days of rigorous combat survival and resistance to interrogation training, which involved walking 100’s of km over 10 days, with very little sleep due to sleeping rough in freezing conditions, and the only food over the entire 10 days was a chicken between 4 people – and it was alive when we got it. To ramp up the pressure, the final 5 days was an ‘escape and evasion’ phase, where we were to evade a Hunter Force that was equipped with helicopters, vehicles and dog teams.

At the end of the 10 days we underwent interrogation training, which consisted of alternating bouts of highly uncomfortable stress positions (blindfolded while exposed to very loud ‘white noise’), with interrogations of increasing intensity.

Once the course was over, the first thing that struck me was that I had a new-found appreciation for things that I took for granted – as well as the obvious such as food, shelter and warmth, there were lots of little things that I appreciated much more, such as a toothbrush, clean underwear and toilet paper!

It wasn’t until a few weeks and months later that I noticed something more long lasting – my view of what was stressful had completely changed and my resilience was greatly enhanced. I realised that this phenomenon was very well explained by knowledge from my first Masters Degree in Sports Science – that of training adaptation. Exposing the body to training stresses, such as sprinting or lifting heavy weights, induces changes in gene expression which result in a an adaptive response – and the body ultimately becoming bigger, faster, stronger.

This knowledge led to me reframing potential stress in my life as something that would make me stronger. When I left the Armed Forces and became more of an academic I looked deeper into the research in this area, and that is when I uncovered a topic that has real relevance to many areas of our life – that of hormesis.

Hormesis is a biological phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect results from low doses of a stressor or toxin that a higher doses is harmful or even lethal. As you will see over the next few blogs, we can harness this biological phenomenon in a systematic and deliberate way to improve many aspects of our health and move us beyond resilience to being what I call ‘stress adapted’.

If you choose to adapt the hermetic lifestyle, you will likely be changing how you eat, what supplements you take, how you exercise and your view of stress to enhance production of protective genes and enzymes that will protect you against disease and increase your lifespan.

I’ll explore how anti-oxidant supplements can be bad for you, the truth about why vegetables are good for you, and the best type of exercise for health.

This is not the lifestyle equivalent of a fad diet, but the application of years of research into areas as adverse as gene expression, exercise adaptation, dietary polyphenols, ageing, resilience, toxicology, radiation, immunotherapy and special forces training – all under the same fascinating umbrella called hormesis.