Sajeev Nair, bestselling wellness author, peak performance consultant and biohacker, explains how you can biohack your nutrition through smart food choices for healthy longevity, high productivity and peak physical and mental performance.
Nutrition may not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you consider biohacking. Yet, the fact of the matter is that along with exercise, sleep and mental attitude, nutrition is a vital pillar of health. The impact of a good diet or a bad diet also runs deeper than the impact of the other three pillars, as food is the only real external input to your body, whereas the other three are intrinsic to the body. This also makes nutrition more engineerable or biohackable for maximum impact, than the other three.
I will illustrate this with a simple yet perfect example. Your exercise regimen is important in your weight management. You have to burn calories by aerobics, and you also have to build muscle that burns calories even at rest by weight training. You also have to sleep optimum to stay slim. Even your mental makeup including your body positivity, your can-do attitude and your belief systems too are important in weight management. But are they as important as the quantity and quality of your diet? Absolutely not.
Two slices of your favourite pepperoni pizza can add 540 calories to your body. So can a chicken biriyani. To burn either of them completely you will have to jog on the spot for around one hour, or go for a two-hour long walk. You too will now agree that it is far better to limit yourself to one slice of pizza or half a biriyani. That much is the relative impact of diet in comparison with the other pillars of health. But speaking about biohacking, we won’t limit ourselves with basic stuff like calories, but go much deeper.
But before that a few words about nutrition. Nutrition has a big problem these days, which is that almost everyone seems to know everything about nutrition. I think that this is a clear danger signal. It is like that old joke in Dalal Street. Experienced investors know that it is time to exit the market when those who polish their shoes in Dalal Street also start recommending stocks to them! Similarly, the proliferation of health and diet tips have made most people superficial experts in nutrition in a most dangerous kind of way.
What is there so much to say about nutrition, you may wonder. Didn’t we learn most of it in high school? That there are macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals, and that we need all of them in a balanced kind of way. In addition, just watch your calories, and everything will be fine. But if you are an aspiring biohacker, or just someone who wants to take full charge of your health, you should realise that nutrition is one of the mighty ways to biohack your body and mind for not only your health and longevity but your peak performance.
While a lot can be said about biohacking your diet, I will stick to the most exciting developments here. For a full discussion on biohacking your diet, you can refer to my bestselling book, ‘The Making of a Superhuman’ which has hundreds of biohacks, many of them diet based.
The very first biohack regarding diet or nutrition is that it should be personalised for you. Modern researchers are presenting this as a new discovery, whereas in reality it is a millennia old practice, as can be seen in both the East and the West. Eastern medical wisdom like Ayurveda as well as Western pioneers like Hippocrates had observed that the same food doesn’t affect or benefit two persons in the same way, and hence your diet should be personalised. The Ayurvedic concept of eating only according to your ‘Prakirti’ (body constitution type) is one of the earliest implementations of personalised diets.
But thanks to modern research, science knows much better and deeper today. It might surprise you to know that your genes affect the metabolism of the foods you eat, and that the foods you eat affect your genes in return. This bidirectional impact or influence of diet and genes is called nutrigenomics, and a perfect personalised diet would be a nutrigenomic diet. Today, there are AI driven solutions like EPLIMO that will run a saliva based genetic test on you, combine it with your metabolic data, and deliver you a personalised nutrigenomic diet, which is the smartest choice that you can adopt.
Another great stride that researchers have made in nutritional science in recent years is the impact of your gut microbiome. You can eat the best of diets, but if your collection of gut microbes are not the best, you may still suffer from poor health. And in converse, even if your diet is not the very best, but if you have a good constitution of gut bacteria, you already have a headstart in warding off most diseases. The gut microbes are so powerful that almost every week a new study is coming out that discovers their link with another lifestyle disease, including mental conditions, as the gut microbes affect mental health too via the Gut Brain Axis. And the best discovery is that, while many things can affect your gut microbiome constitution, the most impactful is your diet itself, whether it has smart choices like fermented foods (probiotics) and fibre rich fruits and vegetables (prebiotics).
Again, even though it is presented these days as a modern discovery or biohack, Ayurveda knew about this from observational studies, millennia back. That is why Ayurveda regarded the gut as the origin of most diseases – both physical and mental – and it is no coincidence that Ayurvedic treatments for chronic or serious conditions often commence with a multi-day gut cleansing regimen, which is followed by Ayurvedic rejuvenative formulations that are rich in probiotics and prebiotics. Today, we have even more research-validated and smart formulations like Vieroots Intuit, Relax that are based on such natural probiotics and prebiotics that target the Gut Brain Axis for perfect physical and mental wellbeing.
(For more information on nutritional and other biohacks, read ‘The Making of a Superhuman’ by Sajeev Nair.)