Biohacking Nutrition — Key Takeaways from Helsinki Biohackers Conference
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. — Hippocrates (460BC — 370BC)
Three years ago a change of diet changed my life.
Going to a low carb, nutrient rich Paleo diet brought me energy, mental focus and removed many chronic issues (low energy, IBS, digestion issues) that had been getting worse over the last 20 years.
Before the paleo, my diet was processed food, loads of carbs, and too much alcohol. High stress and not enough exercise making everything worse.
But our modern environments doesn’t make it easy to keep healthy.
Our diets have changed hugely over last one hundred years
At the Biohackers conference, the authors of the ‘Biohackers Handbook’ were up talking just how much our diet has changed.
And it’s not just the obvious — the processed foods and sugar; it’s everything.
Take the variety of foods. Just 100 years ago, our diets included over 100 different foods. Now, just three foods feed 60% of the world population.
The nutrition value of plants has changed hugely.
Scientists have bred plants to taste good and be easily digestible — so more sugar, less fibre and less bitter. Bitter tastes in plants are from phytonutrients — key for health.
We’ve removed everything that’s good for us and replaced it with sugar.
Farming has changed — it’s profit over health
Modern farming brings fertiliser to keep fields productive year-on-year. No need for crop rotation. No leaving fields fallow to rest. No natural spring irrigation.
Plants are no longer getting complex nutrients from the soil.
Take magnesium. Plants no longer have magnesium in them. Doctors estimate 70–80% of people don’t get nearly enough magnesium in their diets. Low magnesium leads to sleep issues, nerve issues, restless leg, anxiety — the list goes on.
Selenium is another big one. More listed here.
Plants can grow and thrive on nutrients from just fertilisers. Human’s can’t
Meat eaters diets have changed radically also. We used to eat the animal nose-to-tail, organ meats are nutrient dense. Grass-fed livestock is healthier than factory farm animals.
How our food controls us — the science
The speakers each talked about how we’re starting to understand just how our food impacts our bodies in so many different ways:
- Sugar — in the short term, spikes in blood sugar lead to afternoon slumps and mood problems. In the long term, obesity and diabetes.
- Food intolerances — can lead to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), mood problems and brain fog.
- Missing nutrients — Magnesium, selenium and many other missing nutrients in the 21st century can lead to health issues.
- Gut bacteria –The microbiome, or gut bacteria create hormones that can cause IBS and impact our mood. Bad gut bacteria thrive on glucose. Good bacteria thrive on fibre. More linked to below.
- Genetic expression — Epigenetics is how our environments control how our genes work. Nutrigenetics is how our food controls our how genes work. Our food changes how we function in the world. More links below.
Much more in the Biohackers handbook for nutrition.
To Biohack our health with food — first, do no harm
With all diets — low carb, vegan, paleo, etc. — what’s key is not what’s in the diet, but what’s NOT in the diet.
Processed foods, high levels of saturated fats, trans fats, sugar.
The truth about supplements
Anthony DiClementi from the company ‘Biohacking Secrets’ was talking on stage about his experience with the supplement industry and what he recommends for his clients.
Better to get nutrients from our food than from supplements. Problems with supplements are most of them are poor quality, with some not even being absorbed by our bodies.
Many people tend to look for the magic pill. We can eat unhealthily, not get enough exercise, but as long as we take the multi-vitamin, we’ll all be OK.
Anthony recommends apple cider vinegar.
It improves digestion by increasing stomach acidity. Many of us have low stomach acid too low. We need stomach acid to digest protein. Note, this is the opposite of what we’ve been led to believe with the antacid and ‘protein-pump inhibitor’ drugs marketed heavily.
Functional medicine doctor Chris Kresser covers this in depth here.
Biohackers take the view that any system can be improved and modernised — or ‘hacked’.
Food is no different.
Ambronite is a Finnish food replacement drink. 100% natural organic ingredients and has all the calories and nutrients needed for a meal.
Compare that to the meal replacement drinks coming out of the states like Soylent, made up of unpronounceable chemicals and artificial supplements.
Mushrooms are huge in Finland.
Every market or shop you go into is selling a huge variety of them. Many mushrooms have medicinal properties.
These are not the magic types.
Jaakko, nutritionist and co-author of the Biohackers Handbook were on stage talking about health benefits of medicinal mushrooms and plants.
Medicinal mushrooms have so many benefits with zero side-effects. Benefits include:
- Boosts immune system
- Fights obesity
- Improves good bacteria in the gut
- Better mental focus
- Energy without the jitters of caffeine
Long used in ancient treatments in both Chinese medicine and locally. Now, over 40% of modern day pharmaceuticals use mushroom extracts.
Finish Biohackers take these mushrooms and hack them, to make them easier to take and still get all the benefits.
Move over bulletproof coffee, in Helsinki, they have mushroom coffee. Puhdistamo had a stand at the conference selling mushroom coffee for anyone brave enough.
What’s it like? Usually described as:
Looks like coffee. Tastes like tea.
Best food biohack is no food
“A little starvation can do more for the average sick man than can the best medicines and the best doctors.” — Mark Twain
There are so many benefits for fasting. It’s not just weight loss. Fasting helps with controlling blood sugar levels. For immunity. Even for improving mental focus.
Fasting is safe. It has a long history. Ancient Greeks were big believers. All major religions have a fasting as part of their practice.
Top five takeaways for biohacking with food
- Remove or reduce processed foods.
- Eat organic, nutrient dense foods.
- Apple cider vinegar with protein meals for better digestion.
- Try medicinal foods — Chaga mushrooms are a great place to start.
- Try intermittent fasting!
Many more tips are in the Biohackers handbook on nutrition.
Blog Post Series
Over the next few posts, I’ll dig into more of what I learned in Helsinki.
- The Biohackers Summit.
- Biodiversity of our food supply changing over time.
- How our food is less nutritious than it used to be.
- Our missing magnesium and how it can treat sleep disorders.
- Fibre feeds the good gut bacteria, leading to weight loss.
- The impact of diet on gut bacteria.
- Genetics, epigenetics and my own experience of analysing my DNA.
- How medicinal mushrooms boost good gut bacteria and can be used to reduce obesity.
- Tim Ferriss talks about mushroom coffee.
- Nutritionist Jaakko Halmetoja talking on the Flowgrade podcast about the power of medicinal mushrooms.
- Podcaster Ryan Munsey talks about the benefits of intermittent fasting.
- For comprehensive introduction to fasting, check out the book ‘The Complete Guide to Fasting’.