Hello! As the byline writes, my name is Joanna. You may already know me and some of my quirks. Quirk #1: If we’ve shared a dining experience, you’ve been victim to the following: it’s nearly impossible for me to order directly off of a menu without adjusting an ingredient or two (…or five) and without asking a question or two (…or five). I.e. What cooking oils do you use? Is it grass-fed, wild-caught, free-range? Antibiotic-free? Organic? Do you mind checking with the chef? Several back-and-forth visits between our table and the kitchen later, *waiter seeks answers to my questions from the chef,* I’m lucky if the waiter is still smiling at me as he or she jots down my final order…and just as lucky if my dining companion is still sitting across the table from me *insert their eye-rolling emoji.*
I’m fully aware of how these questions are received, and if you have indeed been an innocent bystander in these circumstances, I *laughingly* apologize. So why do I continue to ask these questions when I dine out? If you’re like me or my friends, you’ve experienced brain fog, bloating, poor sleep, anxiety, stress, *insert all symptoms relevant to you today.* Rather than accept these symptoms as the status-quo, I seek to discover methods that alleviate them entirely *cheers to biohacking!* A key life event showed me that this is possible if we focus on what is in our control, like the every-day choices we make regarding nourishment and lifestyle.
A few years ago, a close friend got sick. He had a mysterious illness affecting his day-to-day life. Symptoms included panic attacks, anxiety, brain fog, blurry vision, migraines, nausea and dizziness. We consulted hundreds of doctors in search of a diagnosis. Each expert had a different theory, and more often than not, addressed his symptoms in isolation. Along the way, we encountered a functional medicine doctor — let’s call him Dr. F for ‘functional’ (yes, my creativity just hit its peak). Ultimately, Dr. F diagnosed my friend with chronic neurological Lyme disease and a host of other autoimmune disorders, few of which have a conventional one-stop-shop cure. Dr. F designed a holistic treatment plan to help my friend regain his health, which included alterations in his lifestyle and diet. The approach entailed 80+ blood tests, food diary journaling, neural retraining therapy, environmental changes, and more. This experience marked the beginning of my friend’s healing journey, as well as my introduction to the world of functional medicine. From then on, I’ve looked at sickness and health in a new light.
So what is functional medicine? The Institute for Functional Medicine describes it as “a systems biology–based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease.” It is an integrative approach to medicine that merges conventional and alternative methodologies, ultimately empowering an individual to heal from the inside out rather than placing a band-aid over the topical issue.
During my friend’s healing journey, I spent most hours of the day researching this space. I encountered the likes of Cavin Balaster, Tim Ferris, Max Lugavere, Dr. Terry Wahls, Dr. David Perlmutter, Dave Asprey, Dr. Josh Axe, Dr. Frank Lipman, and Dr. Mark Hyman, who delve deep into the science behind how we can adjust lifestyle to promote health.
Fast forward to today: I want to shed light on practices that directly affect your health, for better or for worse, so that you can make more informed decisions. I will highlight research-backed information and make it digestible — actionable — for all of us. It’s hard to stay “healthy” when we’re dealing with constant life stressors. I myself struggle to make healthy choices while working 60–80+ hour weeks, managing my social calendar, and striving to reach personal and professional goals. So allow me to remove this one stressor for you (and me). I’ll start with three top-of-mind health hacks:
#1. OILS. Avoid processed seed oils to the best of your ability. If canola oil is sitting on your kitchen counter, please throw it out. These “bad” oils contain proven carcinogens. Want to learn more about why they’re no good? Checkout Chris Kresser’s article on How Industrial Seed Oils are Making Us Sick. Cold pressed organic olive oil is my go to. Avocado oil, coconut oil, and grass-fed ghee are healthy options for higher cooking temperatures (refer to Dr. Mark Hyman’s video on How to Determine the Healthiest Fats to Cook With).
A cautionary note: the “bad” oils sneak into our every-day foods. Checkout the ingredient label on your go-to protein bar or mid-day snack. I guarantee you will find canola oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, or another “bad” oil listed, which your body will not appreciate (look out for a future post on clean ingredient snack alternatives).
#2. BONE BROTH. I’m loving bone broth right now, especially given the season. If you’ve heard of it, you know the deal. If not, say hellllo to our new friend (any Scarface fans?) It makes for an unlikely hangover helper (my friends agree, and your stomach will thank you). The nutrients fortify your gut-lining (think every time you eat sugar, drink alcohol, or ingest anything else that’s not great for you…more to come on why this is so important) and the collagen-levels translate to glowing skin, strong nails, and luscious locks. That’s important for you too, boys ;).
If you’re feeling daring, grab yourself a cup on the next cool Fall day and reap the benefits. My go-to spots in NYC include Brodo Broth and Springbone Kitchen. Quality is key here, so if you’re trying out a new broth, I would address three questions: Grass-fed? Antibiotic-free? Organic?
#3. ORGANIC. It may sound overrated. You’ve all heard the spiel by now. But I can’t stress how important it is, especially for those of us in the US. As stated in the Environmental Health scientific journal, “pesticides banned in the EU account for more than a quarter of all agricultural pesticide use in the USA. The majority of pesticides banned in at least two of these three nations have not appreciably decreased in the USA over the last 25 years and almost all have stayed constant or increased over the last 10 years,” read more here. Each time you eat non-organic food, you’re consuming the chemicals along with it — chemicals that are linked to adverse health effects (checkout the PubMed Central scholarly article Chemical Pesticides and Human Health: The Urgent Need for a New Concept in Agriculture).
P.S. For this and future posts, I invite you to challenge my statements and dig into the research yourself — better yet, share your findings too!