It's not Only Your Tastes that Change

When I was a kid, I noticed that a whole lot of the books I read featured kids complaining about the taste of broccoli. They hated it. It was so bitter and disgusting! The worst vegetable ever.

The reason it stood out to me was that I didn’t hate broccoli… In fact, it was one of my preferred vegetables. I didn’t understand why all these kids hated broccoli. When I asked my parents about it they told me that maybe the authors knew lots of kids who didn’t like it so they made their characters like them. They said it was to try to make sure the characters were relatable.


But that didn’t explain why all these kids seemed to hate this vegetable that I liked… Eventually I started to think maybe I was just a really good kid who liked vegetables. A good boy.

I work in the agriculture industry now and I know a little better.

Even so, it didn’t occur to me until very recently that maybe I wasn’t a Good Broccoli Boy. Maybe the broccoli those (imaginary) kids were eating was different to the broccoli I was eating.

I asked a few of my friends in the business of growing vegetables about it. They’re also a decade or two older than me. They confirmed that when they were kids, broccoli was bitter and, they said, “disgusting”. Like all battle scarred kids, they told me my childhood must’ve been much easier with the lovely sweet varieties we have now.

It seems really obvious to me now, but it turns out that we’ve been systematically breeding things like bitter tastes out of our food. Consumers prefer sweeter broccoli, so breeding programs create sweeter varieties. Slowly but surely that’s all you can buy. It has been happening for a long time.

I have been wondering about whether this is a good thing. Sweeter broccoli tastes better, but what else has changed about it? My concern with this is that we humans are really good at making changes to things without considering all the consequences of our actions. We want a sweeter broccoli so we just select for the sweeter varieties. Things like health impacts are often only considered in the marketing of our food rather than back at the pre-breeding and breeding stage. I’m wondering what the impacts of this sweeter broccoli are - has anything been lost along the way?

The author of this opinion piece in the New York Times from 2013 has similar concerns to me:

Studies published within the past 15 years show that much of our produce is relatively low in phytonutrients [compared with non-domesticated plants], which are the compounds with the potential to reduce the risk of four of our modern scourges: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that there’s some great conspiracy here. I’m not suggesting that it’s somehow morally better to have worse tasting food. Why wouldn’t we try to make our food taste better? This reduction in phytonutrients isn’t on purpose, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t having an effect or that it doesn’t matter. The reason this happens is that phytonutrients tend to have a bitter flavour, which we tend to try to breed out, thus lowering the phytonutrient content. We also have tended to focus on foods that are energy dense to support a strenuous lifestyle. We’ve bred those foods to be more starch, oily, or sugary over time, seemingly at the expense of other advantageous compounds.

This isn’t even necessarily a problem with industrialised agriculture - recent sophisticated breeding is only a faster version of what we’ve been doing for a long time. From the same opinion piece:

The loss of these beneficial nutrients did not begin 50 or 100 years ago, as many assume. Unwittingly, we have been stripping phytonutrients from our diet since we stopped foraging for wild plants some 10,000 years ago and became farmers.

Phytonutrients are distinct from the vitamins and minerals in food. They’re chemical compounds found in plants, often unique to that particular plant. We know of over ten thousand phytonutrients so far and we discover new ones all the time. We don’t know what all of them do, but it is clear that eating a lot of different plants is good for us. Some of the things we know phytonutrients do are:

  • scavange free radicals as antioxidants
  • help with DNA repair
  • influence hormone function
  • help fight pathogens
  • lower inflammation

Some of them work by mildly stressing the cells in the body and causing them to get stronger. That process is called hormesis - like a microscopic workout!

Phytonutrients are pretty important. So it’s concerning that the plants we eat for food seem to contain less of them than other plants.

Were the people who foraged for these wild foods healthier than we are today? They did not live nearly as long as we do, but growing evidence suggests that they were much less likely to die from degenerative diseases, even the minority who lived 70 years and more. The primary cause of death for most adults, according to anthropologists, was injury and infections.

If the variety and number of phytonutrients available in food was so much higher than it is today, it’s little wonder that degenerative disease was less common.

But the problem with all this is that it doesn’t really matter for us day to day. How can you have any impact on this? How can you make a difference to something that started ten thousand years ago?

Given the complexity of how phytonutrients, how little we understand about how they work, and how little impact you can have on past events; all you can do is try to eat a variety of plants and lots of them. There are some plants around that have kept a relatively high phytonutrient content for various reasons, but it’s hard to say that those specific plants are better to eat than others. For example, herbs like parsley and rosemary have been valued for their strong flavours and thus have kept a high phytonutrient content despite being domesticated. So, adding lots of fresh herbs to a meal could be a good thing to do.

While this stuff is certainly interesting and is a good example of how bad humans are at understanding the impacts of our interventions in the world; it changes little about how I’d recommend you eat. Eat as many vegetables at every meal with a variety of vegetable choices and cooking methods. I don’t want you to spend time worrying about phytonutrients in your food.

If you liked this article, let me know in the comments below! Is there a vegetable you've noticed has changed in your lifetime? Brussel sprouts anyone??

A Newly Discovered Organ

The new organ, he explained, was a thin layer of dense connective tissue throughout the body, sandwiched just under our skin and within the middle layer of every visceral organ.

I love stuff like this. It reminds me that no matter how much we learn, there’s always stuff we don’t know. There’s always another way to look at something.

The organ also made up all the fascia, or the thin mesh of tissue separating every muscle and all the tissue around every vein and artery, from largest to smallest. What initially seemed to be a solid, dense, connective tissue layer was actually a complex network of fluid-filled cavities that are strong and flexible, yet so tiny and undiscerning that they escaped the attention of the brightest scientific minds for generations.

Despite not ‘knowing’ about it, it’s likely that this organ is part of the reason why things like acupuncture work. So we didn’t know about it, but we sort of did.

Delicious Homemade Chocolate

I’m about to make my first batch of home made chocolate.

Since I changed the way I eat a few years ago, I rarely eat sweets anymore. But I still crave chocolate on a regular basis. I eat it reasonably regularly, but I have worked hard to make sure that I don’t eat it as a reward.

For me, the darker the chocolate, the better. I make delicious fatty hot chocolate for breakfast (yes breakfast…) sometimes instead of a fatty coffee (or Bulletproof coffee).

I’m real excited about making this first batch. I’m going to follow this recipe:


The ingredients

  • 1 part cocoa butter
  • 1 part virgin coconut oil
  • 1 part (raw) organic cocoa powder

You can also add other dry ingredients like nuts, dried fruit or whatever. I’m not going to for my first batch, but I’ll do some experimenting and update this recipe when I find some good additions.

Step 1.

Grate the cocoa butter. It melts more easily when it’s grated. 

Step 2.

Place the cocoa butter and coconut oil in a water in a small, heat-safe cup or bowl. Then place the cup or bowl in a shallow pan containing a small amount of warm (not boiling, but nearly) water. You can also do this using a bowl over a very slightly simmering (just starting to bubble with some steam - definitely not boiling) saucepan. The idea is to apply heat indirectly and evenly - doing it this way means you won’t burn it or cook it too much.

Stir the oil and butter occasionally until it’s smooth. 

Step 3.

Measure out the cocoa powder. If you’d like to add any other dry ingredients, measure them out now and stir them together with the cocoa powder.

Step 4.

Pour the dry ingredients in the bowl with melted oil and butter. Stir continuously until smooth. 

Step 6.

Pour the chocolate into ice cube trays to set in nice portions.

Step 7.

Eat as you like! Go easy though - it’s very dark, very strong chocolate, so you won’t need much to be satisfied! ;)

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Don't let Cool Shit Distract you from the Human Layer

I first came across Ido Portal around five years ago when I found this article on hanging. I wasn’t exercising regularly at the time but I was convinced straight away that there was something to what he was saying. I went out and bought myself a door frame pull-up bar and started my own ‘hanging month’. Within a couple of weeks I had stopped. I didn’t complete the challenge, but I did keep up regular exercise from this point onwards.

During the hanging month, I began to use the Fitstar app to guide me. I loved it so much that it distracted me from the challenge. I didn’t care - the app was so cheap compared to a gym membership ($50 a year!). Not only could I do the workouts at home, but the stuff I was learning included things like handstand pushups. It was awesome. I decided I wanted to learn how to do a handstand and some other cool shit. Since then I’ve been working towards goals like a one arm chin-up, 60 second free standing handstand, and freestanding handstand push-up. I still sometimes hung on my pull-up bar, but the other movements were much more interesting so it wasn’t a focus anymore.

Years later, in February 2018, I attended a Movement X seminar in Melbourne. I’ve been working towards my “cool shit” goals and made a fair bit of progress. Go me! And yet, one of the things that struck me about the seminar was our conversation about the purpose behind the hanging challenge.

We talked about the fact that to hang from a bar isn’t a special thing. It’s not something that should be difficult for you to do. It’s not “cool shit”. I certainly don’t mean to shame you if you aren’t able to hang from a bar. But to put it in perspective - to be able to do the hanging challenge you don’t need to be a specialist athlete or even a movement enthusiast. You only need to be human. Even though it might seem ‘normal’ that most people can’t do this, it’s definitely part of the human set of skills.

The Human Layer forms the base of all your skills. Movement is the more complex stuff, like perhaps pull-ups or dancing. Most people can do things in this layer too, but it will require some attention. Specialist skills are things you need to devote a lot of time and become an expert in before you can learn the skill. Think things like handstands and one arm chin-ups. Or even just specialising in a specific sport - the specialist layer is a narrow set of skills built on the other foundational layers. 

The Human Layer forms the base of all your skills. Movement is the more complex stuff, like perhaps pull-ups or dancing. Most people can do things in this layer too, but it will require some attention. Specialist skills are things you need to devote a lot of time and become an expert in before you can learn the skill. Think things like handstands and one arm chin-ups. Or even just specialising in a specific sport - the specialist layer is a narrow set of skills built on the other foundational layers. 

A lot of people neglect the human layer. It’s easy to ignore because you can learn movements and even specialist skills like olympic lifts without addressing issues in your human layer of skills. If you’re like me, you might focus your training on the “cool shit”. But when you neglect the human layer, you limit the possible size of your pyramid. You can build a much more stable pyramid with a bigger base.

In my years of movement practice, I have noticed this effect even though I didn’t understand it. I have been trying to improve my pull-ups for years. I’ve seen some progress in that time, but things sped up considerably when I started working on the basic hanging and scapular strength suggested by Ido. My capacity and general shoulder stability has increased drastically.

So, don’t neglect the human layer. Practice your hanging. Practice your resting squat. Practice things like throwing and catching. Practice moving your spine. Practice walking. These skills are not “cool shit”. They’re part of the human layer that will serve you well in everything you do. Get better at these things and you’ll get better at most other skills. You’ll learn things you can bring to other skills either at the human layer, or further up the pyramid.

Since the seminar, I have decided to have another go at the hanging challenge. I’ll approach it a bit differently this time with a different perspective. Want to do it with me? Have you tried hanging before?

PS - yes, I do find it funny that I seem to keep using pyramids as models for things. What can I say, I seem to be thinking in triangles lately.

What are you Hiding from Yourself?

Very early in 2018 I had a super weird realisation: I’m a details person. I delight in details. I get sucked into and lost in details.

Time and time again in 2017 I noticed people saying things to me like “thanks for all the detail you put into this” or “you spent way too long on this, it’s only a small detail for this report!” or “you’re a great [physiotherapy] client because you’re always asking so many questions and pay attention to all the details” . I kept putting it out of my mind, but I could feel a little pull that there was something important here. It took me almost all year, but eventually the common theme got through to me: on things that matter to me, I go into lots of detail.

This was a mind blown moment for me. For some reason I’ve always thought of myself as a big picture person who stayed up in the clouds and didn’t like detail. When I heard descriptions of ‘dreamers’ and ‘details’ people, I always identified so much more with the ‘dreamers’. I think part of it is also that somewhere deep inside, I feel that it’s somehow ‘better’ to be a dreamer than a details person so I willed myself to be a ‘dreamer’ so I could be better. Pretty dumb right? Talk about a [story I’ve built my identity on].

I asked a few of my close friends about this and they were all surprised I didn’t realise I was a details person. They told me that the difference with me and a ‘classic details person’ is that I tended to start big picture, then sink right down into the detail to get something done. Apparently other ‘details people’ always start in the detail and have trouble ever coming up to big picture.

All of a sudden I’m free of this story. I’m not a dreamer. I am capable of getting into details (so capable that I do it all the time without even meaning to!) I’m not just a slow worker - I’m getting bogged down in detail. Now that I realise that’s what’s happening, I’m able to catch myself much sooner than before. I’m able to use my details-power for good! It’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do with this new knowledge.

All this got me thinking. What long-held truths about you aren’t true? Is there anything pulling at your awareness right now that might change your story of who you are?