Keeping fit isn’t just about pacing the treadmill and managing weights. The secret to looking good on the outside is managing what goes inside. I’ve always found it amazing that many people will be more careful about the grade of fuel they put into their vehicles than the quality of food they put into their mouths.
Anna Winek is a London based nutritional therapist with a passion for food and healthy eating. We caught up with her to try and find out a little more information around the importance of diet.
Can you tell us when you first became interested in health and diet?
“I was brought up on the principles of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) diet: fermented foods, raw milk, organic fruits and vegetables, walking barefoot by the river, foraging, outdoor activities and watching my cousins having their cupping done.
“Back in Poland where I come from, I started reading books on detoxification. I followed some of the cleansing programs and started juicing, inspired by The Gerson Therapy book. I think my interest grew from there.
“Nine years ago, when I moved to the UK, I started working in health food stores – which is how my nutrition and health journey started. I was continuously expanding my knowledge of nutrition, physio-therapy, different type of foods and sports nutrition. I was fortunate to be able to attend various training courses and seminars provided by the company. My job became my passion and my lifestyle.”
How important is what we eat to our health?
“Good nutrition is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. As Ann Wigmore said, “The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison''.
“Nutrients and other food components influence the function of the body, protect against disease and restore health. Under certain circumstances and in some individuals, diet can be a serious risk factor for a number of diseases. The degree to which diet influences the balance between healthy and disease states may depend on an individual’s genetics.”
Are there any common symptoms people can identify when assessing when a condition could be more about diet?
“Malnutrition and Over-nutrition. Malnutrition is a serious condition that occurs when a person's diet doesn't contain the right amount of nutrients. It refers to undernutrition – when you don't get enough nutrients. Over-nutrition is when you get more nutrients than you need.
“Malnutrition is caused by having an inadequate diet or a problem absorbing nutrients from food. There are many reasons why these might happen, including having reduced mobility, a long-term health condition, or a low income. The most common symptoms are: weight loss, weak muscles, feeling tired all the time, low mood or an increase in illnesses or infections.
“When it comes to over-nutrition the main sign is being overweight or obese. However, people with undernutrition can also be overweight if they eat a diet high in calories but low in other nutrients. Over-nutrition can increase serious and potentially life-threatening conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, some types of cancer such as bowel cancer or stroke. Over-nutrition and obesity which comes with it can also affect the quality of life (mobility) and can lead to psychological problems, such as depression.”
Do you feel the food we consume has also changed?
“Yes, absolutely. Foods, we eat today are not the same as foods of 50 years ago. Modern agriculture, factory farmed animals, use of growth hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified feed were never fed to animals.
“Conventionally farmed fruits and vegetables contain far fewer vitamins and minerals than they did 50 years ago. The health of the soil is crucial to its fertility. Healthy soil is full of life but with chemical sprays being used and intensive farming the soil is damaged. Healthy soil not only helps to prevent flooding but can also store water so that crops have a longer life. Every time you shop you make choices not only about your dinner but the future of the planet. I would always recommend purchasing soil friendly, organically grown products. To eat like our grandparents, we must look for organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed meat, eggs and dairy.”
How do you go about treating a client who comes to you?
“Before the first consultation, I provide a health and nutrition questionnaire for the client to complete. An initial consultation typically lasts 60 minutes where I ask detailed questions such as: current health concerns, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, medical history, family history, lifestyle, levels of physical activity, use of medication and diet supplements.
“I use functional tests (blood, urine, saliva) to assess a client's imbalances that could be at the root of their health issues. Follow up consultations are generally after four weeks in order to monitor progress and make any necessary adjustments. Further follow-ups may be required depending on each individual situation.
“I consider each person to be unique and recommend personalised nutrition and lifestyle programmes. I never recommend nutritional therapy as a replacement for medical advice and I always refer any client with ‘red flag’ signs or symptoms to their GP.”
Diets can often seem quite short-term. How can you encourage clients to stick to a regime?
“Firstly, I never promote fad diets, especially when it comes to weight loss and people wanting to see quick results. Often, restrictive diets only focus on short-term results, so you eventually end up putting the weight back on.
“I promote a balanced diet and healthy eating so it keeps people satisfied. (Take a look at the healthy plate British Association for Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy BANT http://bant.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/FIGHT-THE-FAT-IMAGE.jpg).
“I educate my clients about healthy food choices, I consider it to be more about a lifestyle than the short-term diet. However, I use short term diets to help with specific health conditions. If I witness my client having a difficult time making healthy changes, we go back and review it. If the client is able to make only one small change at a time, we follow that. The whole process may be too difficult to handle if the client attempts too many changes at once.”
The New Year is often a time when people decide to make changes to their lifestyle. How are you able to help in this regard?
“Working with a nutritional therapist can help people make long-lasting lifestyle changes in how they approach what foods work best for their body. Whether they are looking to resolve a specific health issue or want to optimise their current state of health I can help them get to the root cause of any concerns so that they can feel more energised. I can educate them about healthy options, food alternatives, mindful eating and I offer a full range of diagnostic testing, including Food Intolerance testing, and individualised treatment plans to help address any underlying issues.”
Is the modern world and the problems we associate with it often more about just than diet?
“Modern-day cooking allows far less time than we used to enjoy years before. Convenience food have become much more popular, with people reaching for microwave meals several times a week. Many people in the modern world don’t make time for food, often because they see it as being too time consuming but cooking fresh food doesn’t have to take hours.
“We spend a lot more of our days dining out at restaurants than we did in the past. We consume more calories when we dine out in comparison to when we eat at home. Modern life is all about the sedentary lifestyle – many of us drive to work, sit at a desk all day, drive home and then sit in front of the TV, computer or indulge in console gaming until we go to bed. This applies to eating dinner in front of the TV or while using a smartphone which may increase our appetite so we're more likely to snack later. We know from several studies that distraction can increase the amount that people consume in a meal.”
What is your opinion on technology in this area?
“Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic field (EMF). Many microwavable foods are processed and in packaging that contains an assortment of chemicals, for example BPA. At high temperatures, it is likely that chemicals can absorb into the food. BPA disrupts normal hormone activity. Instead of microwaving when you do cook, try steaming and baking as your main cooking methods.
“Swiss clinical trials have found that microwaving food increases cholesterol levels. It was also found to decrease red and white blood cell counts. Some studies have found that microwaving destroys nutrients. A study in 2003 broccoli cooked in the microwave with a little water and it was found to have lost up to 97 % of its beneficial antioxidants. By comparison, conventionally steamed broccoli lost only 11 %. Another study showed that 60 seconds of microwave heating was enough to inactivate the alliinase in garlic. Microwaves also cause a higher degree of "protein unfolding" according to another study.
“In 2010, another study documented immediate changes in heart rate caused by microwaves and radiation emitted by Wi-Fi routers. Excessive free radicals triggered by low-frequency microwave exposure from mobiles and Wi-Fi networks have been linked to chronic diseases such as cardiac arrhythmias, anxiety, depression, autism, Alzheimer’s and infertility.”
Clearly, not only are we what we eat but our digital consumption also appears to have a worrying effect on our state of health. Anna confided in me that she switches her phone to flight mode and turns off her Wi-Fi router overnight.
Are there any specific food products you feel we need to moderate more?
“Sugar - it is the substance that humans ingest that has no nutritional value, no essential fats, no protein, no vitamins, no minerals. Other foods we need to be aware of include:
Processed food such as ready meals, microwave food which I have already explained. The danger of packaging that contains an assortment of chemicals eg. BPA. At high temperatures, it is likely that chemicals can absorb into the food.
Canned food - decreased nutritional value, most of the canned vegetables are stripped of fibre and other nutrients and loaded with sodium. If you need the convenience of canned vegetables, opt for frozen instead. Canned fruits loaded with heavy syrups should be another no-no.
Processed fruit drinks loaded with sugar, empty calories and artificial sweeteners.
Refined grains—which include white bread, pasta, rice—the bran and germ are stripped away. This type of grain has a higher glycemic index, meaning the sugars can be absorbed into the bloodstream faster, often causing a spike in blood sugar levels.
Processed meat like deli meats, hot dogs, sausages tend to be high in sodium, preservatives, and saturated fats.
Processed cheeses are high in sodium.
Trans fats are found in fried foods, baked goods, and processed snack foods. Trans fats raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels while lowering your HDL (good) cholesterol and eating lots of them increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Britain has been identified as having one of the fastest growing rates of obesity? What would you attribute that to?
“The cause of rising obesity in the UK has been blamed on our modern lifestyles, including our reliance on the car and very limited activities. We can probably also look to TVs, computers, longer working hours and desk-bound jobs, that all contribute towards us consuming high-calorie foods.
What food groups should we look to consume more of?
“Our healthy plate should consist of 1/4 of leafy greens and salads, 1/4 of other vegetables such as onion, cauliflower, zucchini, 1-3 palm size portions of fruit a day (choose different colour and eat locally and seasonally). 1/4 root vegetables and whole grains (like wild and brown rice, whole oats, quinoa). 1/4 protein like wild fish, organic free range poultry and eggs all of which should be your principle source of protein. Eat pulses (lentils, beans, chickpeas) and nuts and seeds as vegetable protein. Limit dairy to a small matchbox of cheese, half a cup of live unsweetened yoghurt or a small glass of milk a day. Use olive oil as your everyday fat for seasoning, and clarified butter (ghee) for cooking. Eat raw nuts, seeds and avocado. (See healthy plate by British Association for Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy BANT http://bant.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/WELLNESS-SOLUTION-IMAGE.jpg).
Is there any advantage to either a vegan or vegetarian diet over an omnivore one?
“Humans are natural-born omnivores, but some people choose to become vegetarian or vegan. There are pros and cons to each diet. There is a protein difference as meat is a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids. Most plant-based foods have some essential amino acids but not others, so vegetarians may need to combine plant-based protein foods - for example, legumes and grains or seeds -- to get the essential amino acids available in meat, eggs and dairy. Vitamin B-12 is generally found only in animal products, so supplementation is necessary for a vegan diet and in some vegetarian diets.
“Trans fats and saturated fats are present in some meat and dairy products and can cause high cholesterol levels and lead to possible heart problems. Vegetable-rich diets, however, offer antioxidants and other health benefits such as reduced risk of the following conditions: atherosclerosis, cancers (colon cancer or breast cancer), coronary artery disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Whether you choose vegan, vegetarian or omnivore diet it's valuable to make vegetables a priority. Complement that with about 25 percent whole grains and 25 percent healthy proteins.”
Do you feel there is a growing interest in food from the general public?
“Yes, definitely. Public concern about pesticides in food has increased dramatically. People are looking into healthy options, ordering their seasonal fruits and vegetables or organic grass-fed meat from local suppliers.
“I see a growing interest in the food shows such as ''VegFest'' in London - one of the biggest vegan festival in Europe. There is also the Free From and Allergy show in London and other big cities in the UK, which are only growing in popularity. People are more aware and better educated. Health food shops, juice bars and healthy dining are booming in London and this is simply because there is a demand for them.”
What advice would you give to anyone looking to change their eating habits?
“Changing eating habits can be hard and may take time. Think about the long-term health benefits and long-term changes. If you intend to do this then make a plan, with a list of new foods you are going to introduce. Start with small changes.
Eliminate sugar and processed foods for 2 weeks and keep food log wherever possible.
Never go grocery shopping when you are feeling hungry and don't skip breakfast. If you ignore feelings of hunger, you may end up eating too much or choosing an unhealthy snack.
Focus on adding healthy foods to your diet, rather than just taking unhealthy foods away.
Buy a healthy-recipe book or app and cook more food yourself.
When you are cooking dinner, grill or bake one extra serving of protein at dinner and throw on a salad for lunch the next day.
Pack a healthy lunch and snacks for work.
Drink water instead of high-sugar drinks, you can infuse it with fresh fruits.
Consider booking an appointment with a nutritional therapist it can help you make long-lasting lifestyle changes in how you approach what foods work best for your body.
All good advice and certainly something to focus on for the New Year. If you would like more information on Anna Winek then visit her website here.
George R Vaughan