Everyone has an opinion on nutrition these days but rather than fighting about who's right, it's far more important for us to find out what is right. What's right for one person may also be wrong for another as we increasingly understand just how individual we are when it comes to nourishing our bodies.
With that said, keep an open mind and be prepared to venture on a nutrition odyssey, as we ask four different panellists involved professionally in nutrition, eleven fundamental questions.
Will they agree or will their answers vary wildly? First up, meet the participants:
The founder of the Monkey Nutrition movement, Chris has been the driving force behind the high standard of Monkey Nutrition supplements, never accepting anything less than exceptional. Many athletes and customers have benefitted hugely from Chris' invaluable knowledge since Monkey's inception in 2011.
A qualified microbiologist, Keith was called to work as a shaman the night his wife died. He now combines science with spirit to awaken and heal people. His practice has a meticulous focus on nutrition as a source of medicine for the human body.
Founder of Blueberry Nutrition, Ben holds a masters degree in Nutritional Biochemistry and works with a range of celebrities and sports people including One Direction and James Haskell.
For more information visit Blueberry Nutrition
Ayurvedic practitioner, Anna Dale, has over thirteen years training in holistic and Ayurvedic therapies. Anna completed her Masters degree in Ayurvedic Medicine at Middlesex University. Anna's expertise and insight into Ayurvedic Medicine has been further enhanced by her clinical internship spent at Indian clinics and hospitals.
Anna's role as a practitioner is to facilitate and promote the body's own healing process by using natural therapies that do not harm the body.
For more information visit Natural Ayurveda
1. What’s the biggest mistake people make regarding their nutrition?
Chris: Underestimating its importance. This often leads to people taking drastic cuts in calorie intake, replacing real food with poorly processed meal replacements (MRPs) and generally eating incorrectly for their body’s chemistry.
Keith: The biggest mistake with nutrition is not listening to the body. When it asks for a food it's needed in some way. If you are in alignment then what it asks for will assist it. Habitual sugar consumption dulls the judgement and it becomes unclear what the body requires. This marks the beginning of problems with nutrition.
Anna: The primary problem which is seen in different nutritional approaches is that they are not orientated towards the individual using them. Modern nutrition uses a ‘one size fits all’ approach to people of all different sizes, shapes and cultures. The Ayurvedic approach to nutrition is very simple. Food should be consumed according to our basic constitution, which can be determined by observing certain physiological and behavioural patterns.
Ben: One of the biggest misconceptions that I see on a regular basis is the belief that many people carry – thinking that being slim means that you are healthy. This does not mean that it is desirable to be overweight or obese as we know this can lead to many health complications, however looking good on the outside in no way means everything is working well on the inside. When people focus on ‘being slim’ they tend to not consume enough calories, by not eating the optimum amount of macro-nutrients for your body there is a tendency to be deficient in one or several micro-nutrients (usually more) which over a period of time can lead to undesirable conditions. It is very feasible to be slim and still contract diabetes (type2) or suffer a stroke or heart attack.
2. If you were to remove one food or substance that people regularly consume or are exposed to, what would it be and why?
Keith: Sugar, refined. It destroys intuitive judgement as to what's right to eat. Depletes the body of essential minerals, and it weakens the constitution.
Chris: There are many, but if I had to choose, then I suppose it would be refined sugar. Without going too much into this, refined sugar offers you no nutrition whatsoever! It has been so highly processed, any life force it once had is no longer, and what is left over, is pure refined carb, which the body cannot utilise because the elements required to do so have been depleted. The resulting poor metabolism of this little nasty, results in the production of toxic metabolites, which then take a hold of the cells and literally choke them out! Needless to say, over time, the cells die and degenerative disease sets in. Oh, and did I mention sugar stimulates the same reward centres in the brain as certain class A’s?!!!
Ben: If it were possible to remove fizzy drinks from the market place it would be a step in the right direction on addressing the nation’s health. A 500ml bottle of Coke contains 210Kcals and 53g of sugar, that’s over thirteen teaspoons of sugar per bottle! I am a great believer that we should eat our calories and not drink them, a 500ml bottle of water contains (you’ve guessed it) 0Kcals and 0g of sugar. Diet fizzy drinks are no better as they are commonly sweetened with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose. Artificial sweeteners can trigger insulin, which sends your body into fat storage mode and can lead to weight gain. Drinking one diet drink daily has been shown to be associated with a 40% increased risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes ‘ University of Minnesota ‘ I have friends that drink between 1 -2 litres of Coke daily and complain that they are not shifting their gut…. I despair sometimes I really do.
Anna: According to Ayurveda, no food is intrinsically good or bad, but each individual will have different reaction to various types of food according to her / his mind-body constitution (prakruti). If I was to remove a substance which people regularly consume it would be tobacco. According to Ayurveda Pragnya Aparadham means ‘crime against wisdom’ and is considered as one of the triggers of diseases. Smoking is a classic example of that. We are committing a crime (aparadham), despite our wisdom (pragnya), which tells us not to do so.
3. Everything has a toxicity level but looking at the population as a whole, what do people need much more of?
Chris: Clean air and clean water.
Keith: Water first. Over 70% of the population is chronically dehydrated. The water needs to be of the highest quality. Water rich in calcium, filtered naturally through limestone, is best. Acidic waters are hard to drink enough of. A freshly harvested limestone filtered water is so delicious it's easy to be well hydrated. Tap water drinking is an invitation to dehydration, as it usually tastes so unpalatable. Good air through breathing exercises and being in wild nature second. Magnesium third.
Anna: Indeed, everything has a toxicity level. For example a chemical element, Arsenic, is naturally found in soil and water, it is absorbed by plants regardless of whether they are grown under conventional or organic farming practices. In Ayurvedic medicine there is special branch called Panchakarma, which has been in practice for thousands of years for the purpose of enhancing health by removal of toxic materials and strengthening and balancing all the bodies’ major tissues and organs using a wide spectrum of therapeutic measures. Even though people might maintain good eating habits and engage themselves in correct lifestyle activities it is inevitable that toxins will gradually build up over a period of time. It is important for people to undertake annual purification to rid bodies from unwanted materials.
Ben: One food group that we could all eat more of (no matter how fit or healthy you are) are vegetables – in particular fibrous leafy variety. It has been reported that our nation’s teenagers in particular are deficient in various nutrients including Vitamin A, riboflavin, calcium and magnesium. This can be easily addressed by eating foods that are rich in the nutrients that one may be lacking in. The problem is that foods that are the best for us (vegetables and fruit) just aren’t that desirable and are not heavily marketed. Teenagers (not all) can be very impressionable and tend to spend their money in places like McDonalds when out with friends as opposed to hanging out at the green grocer.
4. Can you describe your ideal day of nutrition?
Ben: Your ideal day of nutrition should at the very least be tailored to enable you to: Wake easily, be energised all day without any dips in energy, exercise at an optimum level, wind down and be ready for rest/bed, sleep soundly... and ready to do it all again! In energy terms if you start your day with an influx of calories and you continue this on until lunch time you reduce the chance of ‘energy slumps’. As the day progresses you need to ensure you are consuming the optimum amount of protein (to retain lean muscle mass) so when it comes to your days last main meal (dinner) I feel your Carbs should be sourced less from starch sources and more from fibrous vegetables. There is a well know saying by Adelle Davis that I feel fits well (depending on lifestyle) – "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper".
Chris: Obviously this is me personally and my daily nutrition wouldn’t necessarily suit others. I usually start the day with a pint of water, followed by a small bowl of organic porridge oats (cooked in organic almond milk), banana, blueberries, blackberries (organic where poss), a little organic, unadulterated honey and cool milled organic nut butter. I follow this with either a couple of boiled eggs (free range, organic locally sourced), or if i don’t have the time, I have a Primal26 PRO shake (shameless plug). I take various supps too, including fish oil and vitamin D3 and digestive enzymes. Between breakfast and lunch, I may eat the odd handful of raw nuts and then at lunch, I tend to favour quinoa/bulgur, greens, peppers, carrot and a piece of fish.
In between lunch and dinner, I’m pretty partial to snacking on a little goat cheese/organic halloumi (made from 100% sheep milk) with hummus - halloumi pan fried with some cumin is delish!. My dinner usually consists of red meat/game/chicken/lamb (organic and locally sourced of course!), greens ( organic - I switch these around regularly), onion, loads of garlic, herbs and spices (depending on what I’m making), rice and/or sweet potato. If I’m being honest, my fave meat is lamb - I love a good fatty cutlet!
Keith: Listening to the body, enjoying an alkaline based diet of fruit and veg, some self-made chocolate to keep up magnesium levels and to love the body, plus whatever else the body requests.
Anna: In Ayurvedic medicine a creation of menu is done according to one’s mind/body type and medical indications. Vata is balanced through warm, cooked foods prepared with ghee, oil. The meals should be easy to digest and mixed with pungent spices, because they stimulate the digestive power. Sweet, sour or salty foods are particularly good for this type. Pitta is balanced by cooling diet and tastes such as sweet, bitter and astringent. Suitable foods are sweet fruits, most vegetables, as well as light dahl dishes. For people who have dominant Kapha dosha the diet should mainly be warm, light, easy-to-digest and in small quantities. The best tastes are pungent, bitter, and astringent. Kapha types should minimise sweet, sour and salty tastes. Suitable choices are spiced pungent and bitter vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli, chicory or asparagus.
5. Is going vegan or vegetarian a good move for people?
Anna: Charaka Samhita, one of the greatest authorities on Ayurveda, provides guidelines for eating both vegetable and animal products. It states that meat can be nutritious for the alleviation of certain diseases and when a person is dehydrated, emaciated or weak. The text also mentions that meat is 'unwholesome' when it comes from an animal that has been raised in a habitat that is not its natural environment or in an area that it is not native to. Animal meat is toxic if the animal has eaten food that does not form part of its natural diet. It is evident that meat, which we have today, does not meet the above guidelines for healthy eating. Also meat is very difficult to digest and leads to putrification and formation of toxins. As such, biologically, human beings are more suited to a predominantly vegetarian diet. My personal choice will be a plant-based diet with seldom use of meat if the need arises.
Keith: Vegetarian is a good move for all except those who are blood group O, who require animal food to be in balance. Dairy is usually insufficient for them. Vegan suits some people....some group A and some AB do well on vegan diets. Listening carefully to the body will reveal whether a vegan diet is appropriate. Voracious hunger and cravings for non vegan food are most revealing. Some people can make this work for many years then, suddenly, the body takes charge and meat is required.
Ben: Many people think that vegetarians and vegans are a healthy bunch …. In theory they should be if all that they eat are a wide variety of fruit and veg, in reality many vegetarians eat the same as meat eaters but with meat being substituted for meat analogues such as Quorn or tofu. I know a great deal of vegetarians that live on cheese (vegetarian cheese) beans and jacket potatoes and very little else. Just because you make the decision to not eat animal products doesn’t mean that your nutritional decisions are wise ones. Whether you are a vegetarian, meat eater or vegan it is imperative that you are conscious of what is going on your plate to ensure you are eating the correct nutrition for your body.
Chris: Hmmmm….you’re talking to a big meat eater here, but yes, I think this can be a good move for some people. Personally, I think everyone should try going vegan 1-2 days a week (I try, but it’s not easy with my appetite for meat!). It may be beneficial for people to be veggie on days involving intense exercise and then eat meat the day after - I’m a big proponent of the whole “Flesh for flesh” idea. Regarding the vegan/vegetarian debate as a whole, I think as long as you respect the animal you’re eating, are grateful of the nutrition it's about to provide you with and it's from a clean, organic source, then there’s no problem.
6. We know the nutritional needs of individuals can vary wildly, what important things should a person consider when trying to tailor their own nutrition?
Chris: There are many things to consider in my opinion. Stress levels, digestion, allergies, intolerance, infections (parasites, fungus), activity levels, sleep patterns, work patterns and of course, goals.
Ben: When looking to tailor your nutrition it is very important to remember that you are looking to improve YOUR NUTRITION and not anyone else’s. What I mean by that is too many people are concerned with what their friends are eating or what the athlete in the magazine is eating. Nutrition is a very personal thing that encompasses many factors including: Amount of calories needed daily, with your Calories worked out you need to work out macro-nutrient intake (protein, fat, carbs). Personal preferences and tastes (you may love chicken while someone else may hate it). Personal goals – e.g. Fat loss, increase lean muscle mass. Lifestyle – Work commitments, exercise etc.
Anna: Once you have determined your mind-body constitution (dosha), your next stop to health is to incorporate the right foods into your diet. The specific food guidelines for Vata, Pitta and Kapha are provided by Ayurvedic classical books. An Ayurvedic practitioner will help you pick different foods suited to your physiology, your current health state and the season.
7. How important is it to source organic food?
Chris: In my opinion, very important. Non-organic, conventionally grown foods are full of nasty farming chemicals and aren’t as nutritionally complete as organic foods. Organically grown vegetables for example, are rich in important secondary phytonutrients, and benefit from the interaction of living microorganisms present in the chemical free soil. Once cooked, conventionally grown veg will harbour even more toxic chemical compounds, as heat from cooking alters the molecular structure of existing chemicals, and thus produces new ones… what you now have is a chemical shit storm, which whilst not having a drastic immediate impact, it is my belief this will have a negative impact over time.
Anna: Many factors influence the decision to choose organic food. Some people choose organic food because they prefer the taste. Yet others opt for organic because of concerns such as, pesticides, food additives, environment etc. Whether you go totally organic or opt to mix conventional and organic foods, here are a few tips to keep in mind: Buy fruits and vegetables in season when possible, read food labels carefully and wash and scrub fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running warm water.
Ben: Organic food is a better choice where possible. I myself am a keen juicer and from experience if I were to juice a bunch of organically grown carrots the resultant juice would be a richer orange colour when compared to non-organic carrots. The difference in taste is very noticeable, this could be due to the fact that organic produce has a higher nutrient content (as shown in numerous studies) than non –organic. Organic produce is (as far as I know) free from neuro-toxins which are compounds found in organophosphates – a class of pesticides that can damage brain and nerve function which is never a good thing.
Keith: It's best to make organic food your mainstay. If you travel away from home it's important to eat some non organic food so your body can cope with detoxing it.
8. What’s the best way to pin point an allergy or intolerance?
Chris: These days there are various different testing methods, which can be carried out by dietitians and in some cases GPs, although efficacy of these tests may be dubious and therefore unreliable. If you don’t want to pay for these tests, then you could always try a food rotation diet, keeping a food and reaction diary to help you eliminate any potential allergens - in my opinion, this is the best option.
Keith: A consistent reaction by the body to detox the allergen, which may be as gentle as a runny nose (my response to margarine) or as severe as anaphylactic shock.
Ben: There are a few tried and tested ways to elucidate intolerance to food or an allergy these include: Keep a food diary – documenting your food intake over a period of say 2 weeks can be useful. With your food diary you can see if a particular food (or foods) could possibly be associated with causing discomfort. Write down EVERYTHING you eat – be sure to look at all ingredients that may be in a particular product , this could help a great deal Elimination diet – upon reviewing your food diary you can look at your list of foods and decide which to cut from your diet entirely (for a short period of time) Record your diet over this time (and symptoms) if your symptoms have alleviated or disappeared add in one food back into your diet and record reactions Keep a track on foods that you think may be causing a reaction and see how you fare upon introduction
Anna: Allergies or intolerances take place when immune system reacts to a substance. In some people it is hereditary, but one can also develop an allergy or intolerance at any time in his or her life. Any substance ie foods, chemicals in foods, medicines, environmental factors, parasites, dust, animal hair, chemical toxins and many others can all cause allergic reactions anywhere in the body. Ayurveda sees ama (toxins) and impaired immunity as the primary causes of most allergies. Toxins can lodge at the digestive level or in the various tissues, with different symptoms at each level. Ama toxicity aggravates blood and Pitta, or it can aggravate Kapha, with different symptoms such as respiratory, digestive, skin allergies etc. The recommended line of management for allergies and intolerances are PanchaKarma procedures, which methodically remove toxins from the deep tissues and safely expel them from the body.
9. Are there any supplements that you feel are universal and every person should use?
Keith: The supplements I prefer are pomegranate, wheatgrass, an Epsom salts bath and magnesium spray.
Ben: When I was at University I asked my professor who is a leading authority on coronary heart disease ‘what supplements (if any) you would recommend? He told me and I have to agree with him – The daily intake of fish oil namely DHA and EPA is very advantageous to health. EPA and DHA stand for eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid respectively. DHA is a building block of tissue in the brain and retina of the eye. Both EPA and DHA are pre-cursors to prostaglandins which regulate cell activity and promote healthy cardiovascular function. I must also add that if you engage in regular exercise then a protein powder is a wise choice to help maintain and promote lean muscle mass.
Chris: Yes, Fish Oil, D3 and digestive enzymes. Personally, I also use herbal adaptogens such as maca and also switch between whey protein and vegan powder sources.
Anna: I believe, it’s important to ensure people consume a diverse, nutrient-dense, plant-based diet with additional herbal supplements, spices and phytochemicals to attain optimum health and piece of mind.
10. How important is managing stress in the order of things and what nutrition protocols would you use to help manage stress?
Anna: According to Ayurveda, the important factor in a person’s sensitivity to stress is a substance, which is called ojas and is found within all cellular tissues and the mind. Ojas is the vital essence, which plays a direct role in our energy, strong immunity, vitality etc. It is extracted from food that has been properly digested. It circulates throughout the bodily tissues, sustaining good health and provides the mind with stability and happiness. Long term problems with digestion deplete the body of ojas leading to increased sensitivity to stress. It is important to protect ojas which can be done through diet as per one’s constitution, yoga, massage, mineral substances, natural supplements, aromas, herbal medicine, detoxification and meditation. Ayurvedic practitioners slowly guide their patients back to living in harmony with their true nature using all these modalities.
Chris: Managing stress is absolutely paramount to health and well being! It is the first port of call in my opinion, this and digestion. It pains me to see so many people out there under tremendous stress and spending their evenings in what they perceive to be “beast mode” at the gym. If you are wanting to indulge in intense exercise, you must first manage your stress levels and then manage your time better, in order that you may exercise during the day, and not late in the evening, otherwise, you will be fatiguing your adrenal glands and perpetuating a negative loop, which will eventually lead to total burnout. Of course, exercise is recommended to help combat stress, but training in the evening and stimulating a release of adrenaline just before bed, is counterproductive! Cutting out stimulants (medical & recreational drugs, tobacco, alcohol, sugar, caffeine and even your iPhone and X-Box, i’m afraid) as well as avoiding foods high in chemical additives and toxic metals (processed foods) will help to strengthen your adrenal glands and bring balance back into your life. Drink plenty of water (lemon water is always a good idea), eat nutrient dense foods, up your protein and fat intake (fats build hormones and protein is involved in every metabolic process in your body), consider supplementing with adaptogens (in small amounts to start with), as well as zinc, magnesium, vit C, vit D3 (or possibly a good quality multivit), fish oil, digestive enzymes and maybe a probiotic…oh and take up meditation!
Keith: Very important. Stress can toxify the body. This is why it is essential to pay attention to the three principles: A) diet: Eat a balanced pH diet, with sufficient alkaline forming foods. B) activity: exercise daily. C) attitude: cultivate the attitude of gratitude for your life, your environment, your food, air and water, for wild nature, for your friends and family. Gratitude and hydration are the great stress busters. If the need arises, the green medicine is very efficacious for those who struggle managing stress. Also, drink more water during stressful periods. Ensure sufficient magnesium is present. It appears that it is absorbed more readily through the skin.
Ben: I am a great believer that if you can get the ‘magic 3 ‘ right then everything in life is made that much easier – the magic 3 being: Nutrition, Exercise, Rest/Sleep. One great weapon in the arsenal against stress and anxiety is juicing. If you prepare yourself a fresh juice each day then you know that you are taking on board a healthy brace of nutrients and all other portions of fruit and vegetables are a bonus and contribute to getting you back on track (if that makes sense).
11. Finally, what markers or indicators tell you the state of someone’s health?
Ben: In my humble opinion by casting your gaze over someone you can quickly tell if they have something majorly wrong with them – you can tell just by looking if an individual is overweight, has jaundice (for instance) has teeth missing (though diet and not being knocked out) Looking at a person’s eyes is another indicator of health – a healthy person has nice white eyes with deep coloured iris and pupils. However, looking at someone is not a true indicator of say cardiovascular health or if a person has an elevated cholesterol level so more stringent testing would be needed such as blood testing and VO2 max.
Chris: The skin is usually the best indicator - after all, this is the biggest detoxification organ in your body; if it looks like shit, then it’s doing way too much detoxifying and becoming clogged up (just like your dishwasher filter) as a result of a lifestyle of excess….other indicators are hair, nails and of course body composition….don’t be fooled by someone who is extremely lean though, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are healthy! “As above, so below” does not always apply here!
Keith: A person’s state of health is easily seen in the quality of the skin, the brightness of the eyes, the desire to be active, to engage with the world. A strong sense of gratitude is evinced.
Anna: According to Ayurveda some of the indicators of good health are: good appetite, normal functioning of sense organs, good digestion, daily bowel movement and normal urine output, sound sleep, lightness of body, good mental faculties, radiant appearance.
There you have it! An incredible collection of nutrition information that hopefully allows you to tailor your own nutrition and lifestyle according to your needs.