Forget five-a-day and eating your greens — mastering the complex art of nutrition is the new buzzword in wellbeing.
The right diet now promises to deliver everything from better skin and more energy, to a sharper brain and easier menopause. Estimates put the number of nutritional therapists in the UK at around 15,000, with books by healthy-eating gurus topping bestseller lists and gurus such as the Hemsley sisters fronting their own TV shows.
However, the rise in popularity of healthy eating has gone hand-in-hand with an increase in so-called ‘experts’ — many with conflicting, controversial advice and often dubious qualifications. In an effort to cut through the misinformation and confusion, a new breed of ‘Super Nutritionists’ has emerged; women (more often than not) who are highly trained, highly talented and absolutely passionate about transforming people’s diets — often with a proven impact on our day-to-day and long-term health.
With their research-based approach and registered qualifications, they are determined to help people thrive through food.
So we asked seven of Britain’s top Super Nutritionists to share their golden rules. Here, they reveal the food fads they would never follow — and their must-dos . . .
THE GUT DOCTOR
Dietitian Dr Megan Rossi, 30, leads research into gut health and nutrition at King’s College London. Frustrated her findings weren’t reaching the public, she joined Instagram and now has more than 100,000 followers. She lives in London with her husband and will publish her first book in September.
Never cut out carbs
I would never cut out wholegrains or carbohydrates. Although this is a big trend now, it’s misguided, as research shows cutting out wholegrains can be detrimental to gut heath. The more you learn about microbes, the more you appreciate that you have to look after them.
The 40 trillion bacteria in our gut have thousands of functions. They extract nutrition from our food and produce vitamins and chemicals, including short-chain fatty acids. These chemicals can penetrate the blood-brain barrier, affect our brain and strengthen our immune system and metabolism.
A diverse, healthy microbiota (the community of gut bacteria) has been linked with the health of almost every organ in our body, including skin, mind and heart. Gut bacteria thrive on fibre in plant-based foods, including wholegrains. Essentially, fibre is food for our bacteria: it is indigestible to human cells. It is not absorbed in the gut, so it travels to the lower intestine, where bacteria digest it.
As a population, we tend to eat too much of a single grain, wheat, and would benefit from diversifying to include others such as barley, quinoa, buckwheat and millet.
And never take unnecessary antibiotics. They don’t just kill the ‘bad’ bacteria, they kill the ‘good’, too.
Always eat 30 different plant foods a week
This sounds daunting, but means anything that’s grown, so includes grains and seeds, as well as fruit, legumes and vegetables. A varied diet is the best way to achieve good gut health, as each type of bacteria prefers different plant chemicals.
And, as all the different bacteria have different skills, you want as many as you can on your team.
There is no single ‘superfood’ — if you only ever ate one superfood, you would decrease your gut bacteria diversity, which has been linked with reduced health.
THE DIGESTION EXPERT
Jacklyn Coldwell-Collins, 39, was in the pharmaceutical industry when she realised how much what we eat affects how our bodies work, and retrained as a nutritional therapist. She researched nutrition for a cancer charity and trained with top dementia scientists. She now runs Therapy Organics in Wilmslow, Cheshire, where she lives with her husband, Jonathan.
Never have a vegetable free breakfast
People often wait until lunch or their evening meal to eat vegetables, so struggle to consume enough each day. Eating vegetables for breakfast means it’s far easier to reach the recommended five fruit and veg a day. I usually aim for ten — the advised amount in many countries.
We also break down food better at breakfast than in the evening because of the natural circadian rhythm of the metabolism.
Most people reach for high-carb, sugary cereals, but my focus is on fats, proteins and nutrients. Usually I have cooked broccoli, spinach or cauliflower with some eggs and spices such as turmeric or cumin.
I always have a fresh juice, too. But I avoid spinach and kale in juices, as raw, dark-green vegetables are goitrogenic — they contain substances that can inhibit thyroid activity, but are broken down during cooking. An occasional raw spinach or kale salad is fine, though.
For juicing, I stick to lighter greens: celery, fennel and cucumber, often with beetroot, carrot and ginger. I tend to have juices, not smoothies, because you can load up on all the minerals, vitamins and enzymes without the fibre.
Smoothies keep the fibre, which fills you up, but it can be harder to process, as you miss part of the digestive process: when you look at a food, smell it and chew it, your body reacts by releasing enzymes and starting the gastric processes.
Always eat fermented foods
Fermenting is a lost tradition that is really good for your gut flora. I make sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi and kombucha. Fermented foods contain bacteria that boost our microbiome and fibre and prebiotics that support our digestive health. The fermentation process makes nutrients easier for the body to absorb, too.
I also sprout seeds — they are nutrient powerhouses. There is more nutrition in 100g of sprouted broccoli seeds than in 100g of broccoli head. I sprout alfalfa, lentils, mung beans and white radish and add them to salads.
THE CELEBRITY NUTRITIONIST
Nutritional therapist Amelia Freer, 44, has helped A-list clients such as Victoria Beckham and James Corden improve their diets. Her first book — Eat. Nourish. Glow. — was a bestseller and her fourth is due out this year. She lives between London and Wiltshire with her husband and 18-month-old daughter.
Never eat too much fruit
I eat no more than two or three portions of fruit a day and split these between meals, to try to minimise any insulin response.
I see a lot of people who think: ‘Fruit is good for me,’ and eat five portions in one go, but that will trigger a big insulin response due to the natural sugars fruit contains.
I also never buy diet products — particularly diet or low-fat yoghurts — as they are misleading. When food manufacturers remove a key ingredient, such as the fat component of natural yoghurt, they replace it with other ingredients to maintain the feel, taste and texture, such as stabilisers, emulsifiers, sweeteners or sugar. The end result is no more ‘diet friendly’ than normal products.
It is also less beneficial for your health, because good- quality, whole foods are far more nutritious than something that’s been tampered with.
Always wear a Fitbit
For a long time, my focus was entirely on nutrition, but now I recognise we must pay attention to movement, sleep and managing stress levels. I have a Fitbit [an activity tracker you wear like a watch] and that motivates me to get 10,000 steps every day.
I also do yoga three times a week and swim. I meditate for 20 minutes twice a day, which really helps me keep a lid on anxiety.
So much research tells us that, for good health, we need to manage our stress, exercise and sleep as well as our diet.
THE SUPPLEMENT SPECIALIST
Henrietta Norton, 42, trained in nutrition after food healed her own health — told by doctors she’d never have children due to endometriosis, she changed her diet and is now a mother of three. A nutritional therapist, she spent seven years in research in the supplement industry before setting up Wild Nutrition, a food-based supplement brand. She lives with her husband and children in East Sussex, where she has a clinic.
Never buy cheap supplements
Cheap supplements are made from synthetic chemicals and come in forms not easily used by the body, so they don’t give sustained health outcomes.
The structure of vitamins is like a patchwork quilt: lots of different patches combined together. But, when a nutrient is synthetically created, manufacturers reproduce only a small amount of those patches, so it’s not the same and the body doesn’t recognise it.
Naturally produced, high-quality supplements give the nutrient as a complex whole, improving absorption and utilisation, so you don’t need very high doses.
At high doses, certain nutrients can be more detrimental than beneficial. I would never take a very high dose of vitamin D or calcium. High doses of vitamin D reduce mineral absorption and can encourage calcium to leach from bones. High-dose calcium in synthetic form can’t be used well by the body, so is deposited in soft tissue, including that surrounding the heart — which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
I always eat my food in three main meals and never graze, which encourages inflammation because our genes are highly circadian and we are designed to eat at certain times, not all day.
One study found grazers had worse outcomes in terms of weight, metabolic function, sleep and ageing biomarkers than those who ate the same amount of calories in three block meals.
Always get enough sleep
Sleep is one of the most important parts of regulating our physiology. You can have a great diet and eat well, but if you don’t get enough sleep, it affects how your body communicates with whatever you ingest.
Sleep has a big impact on our hormones, brain chemical production, metabolism and blood sugar regulation. When we sleep, we release melatonin, which helps with digestion and regulates the 700 different genes in our body involved in inflammation and tissue degradation.
THE DEMENTIA PREVENTER
Jane Clarke, 52, has been a dietitian for 30 years and was the first in Britain to set up a private practice. She runs a specialist cancer and dementia nutrition clinic in London and website nourishby janeclarke.com. She lives with her daughter in Rutland, East Mids.
Never go low-fat
The most nourishing, delicious substance we should be taking into our body is fat. Fat isn’t bad for us, it’s beneficial. It helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins and is satiating, so we feel satisfied after we’ve eaten. That means we can regulate how much we eat and realise when we are full.
It’s fine to eat cheese; I eat butter, too, and would never give up fat. It’s a misnomer that it causes obesity. I see people struggling on low-fat diets who need to be encouraged off them.
I eat plenty of avocados, olive oil, fatty fish and walnuts for their essential fatty acids and omega 3s. People often don’t get enough omega 3s, but they are vital for brain and heart health. They protect cells, limit free radical damage and, crucially, reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a causative factor in diseases such as dementia, cancer and heart disease. So, if you reduce your level of inflammation, you may reduce your risk.
My dad has dementia, so I do everything to reduce my own risk: consuming good fats, exercising, eating well and using my brain.
I never eat fast food. I’d rather go hungry — the trans fats in it are damaging for our heart and brain. I’m also a big proponent of the slow food movement: taking time over eating. If you rush around gulping fast food, your body can’t digest it properly.
Always drink coffee
There is some very interesting research on coffee reducing dementia risk. Caffeine brings about brain alertness because of its vasodilatory effect, which gets blood circulation going, and is as good for the brain as for any muscle. Antioxidants in coffee beans help protect blood vessels and are anti-inflammatory, too.
THE CHRONIC CONDITION ADVISER
Dee Brereton-Patel, 41, worked in pharmaceutical research for ten years before retraining to become a nutritional therapist. She lives with husband Matt in Manchester, where they run the integrated functional medicine clinic Optimised Personal Wellness. She specialises in helping those with chronic conditions.
Avoid sunflower oil
I’d never use refined vegetable oils, such as sunflower, corn, soy and vegetable, as their molecular structure is changed through the high heat to which they’re exposed in cooking, and they release aldehydes, chemicals linked to cancer, dementia and heart disease.
Healthier fats to cook with are olive oil, coconut oil, butter and ghee, as they are stabler. Saturated fats are unfairly demonised.
One major thing I’d never do is eat excess calories. Being overweight is the second most preventable cause of cancer, after smoking, and there’s a huge link between obesity and type 2 diabetes. People ask if they should eat high protein or low-fat, but studies show total calorie intake and food quality matters more.
Cook from scratch
Something I do myself, and recommend clients do, is cook a meal from scratch every day. The nutrient density will be higher, but it’s also about enjoying the process and eating with others.
Communal meals is one reason Okinawans off the coast of Japan (who have one of the highest rates of centenarians) live so long. They harvest food together, cook together and eat together. It’s how they eat and who with, rather than what they eat.
In that environment, people are more mindful, eat slower, consume fewer calories and have lower stress levels.
THE FASTING PROPONENT
Amanda Hamilton, 44, a nutritional therapist for 16 years, has written four books, including bestseller The G Plan Diet. She is divorced with two children, aged ten and 14, and lives in North Berwick and London.
Never eat after 9pm
I never eat after this time. So I have a solid, non-eating window every night. When the body is not busy with digestion, your system has chance for rest and repair.
I also fast every year for at least five days — just soups and juices with added fibre — and a couple of mornings a week I don’t eat until noon. Fasting has been a core part of my work, but it should be tailored to the individual.
Now I’m in my 40s, I’m focused on ways to maintain health and longevity, and fasting is known to help animals live longer. Benefits include reducing inflammation, improving insulin sensitivity, reducing triglyceride levels and keeping you lean.
60 per cent plant-based
Vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals and fibre and naturally low in calories. I eat lots of green, leafy veggies and smaller amounts of seasonal fruits. I also have soup and salad every day.
Gallery: 40 Nutrition Experts Told Us The Foods You Should Be Eating Every Day [Eat This, Not That!]
Laura Topham for the Daily Mail