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Essentially Healthy but with Minor Ailments

by Kate Neil(more info)

listed in vegetarianism, originally published in issue 83 - December 2002

Occasionally you have the opportunity to provide guidance to a client who is essentially healthy, 'eating well' and wanting to ensure that they are getting as much benefit from their food as possible.

Clare is a 28-year-old single woman living alone in London. She has a busy responsible job as a Marketing Director. She enjoys her work and realizes that the demands of the job take a lot from her. She enjoys a hectic social life. All in all, she came to me wanting to make sure that she could increase her chances of 'burning-the-candle' at both ends and get away with it for a good few years to come. She also wanted to keep her ovaries as healthy as possible, as she would like to have a baby in her mid-30s. She knows from friends and colleagues that having a baby these days may not always be straightforward.

Like many young people today, Clare's ideas about eating well are to be vegetarian and eat plenty of pasta and salad! Similarly, her ideas of being 'basically' healthy include putting up with a series of minor irritations that prevent her from feeling 100%. From time to time her skin flare up as she has been prone to eczema since childhood. She was aware that extra pressure at work didn't help her skin.

She has a family history of allergies, but as allergies seem so common these days, Clare hasn't really perceived this to be a health problem. She is prone to headaches and colds and can get aggressive under pressure. She doesn't feel comfortable with this aspect of herself as she feels herself to be fundamentally quite a stable personality.

Clare has been a vegetarian since her teens due to not liking meat and fish. She has no desire to eat meat or fish again, and was quite adamant about this. There are 'pros' and 'cons' for both types of diet, vegetarian and those that include meat and fish. It should be possible to eat healthily whatever option is chosen.

Clare's habit has been to skip breakfast frequently and catch up around 11am with a large cappuccino and, more often than not, a blueberry muffin. Otherwise, she waits for lunch-time to eat, either a wholemeal cheese and tomato sandwich or a jacket potato with cheese. This is invariably followed by a low-fat fruit yoghurt and she usually has a bought carrot and apple juice with her lunch.

Around 4pm she always becomes ravenous and often irritable, and eats a chocolate-coated health-food cereal bar and a banana with a cup of Earl Grey tea. Pasta with tomato or pesto sauce, lightly topped with grated cheese has been a central part of most evening meals. She eats plenty of stir-fry vegetables and salad with her evening meal, otherwise, it might be a pizza with salad or soup and salad with some wholemeal bread. Clare drinks plenty of bottled water throughout the day and a glass of red or white wine most evenings.

I complimented Clare on her intake of vegetables and some fruit as she was achieving the recommended five portions a day. Her intake of quality water was also commendable. She was eating wholemeal bread and other than her intake of cheese, her choices were generally low in fat. In the scheme of things a blueberry muffin a few times a week and a 'healthy' cereal bar most days did not seem over-indulgent to Clare, and as wine is meant to be good for you, and a little caffeine from her cappuccino and tea was not excessive, she considered her overall diet to be quite healthy.

Heavily grain-based diets, particularly those high in wheat, are associated with inflammatory disorders like eczema. Wheat was central to her daily diet in the form of muffins, bread, cereal bars, pasta and pizza. Dairy products are also strongly linked to eczema. Although there is no research evidence associating dairy products with catarrh, many people find that catarrh and frequency of colds reduce when dairy products are removed. Clare's regular use of wheat, cheese and yoghurt might contribute to her irksome health problems including her headaches and aggressive outbursts.

However, some of Clare's symptoms, including her headaches and aggressive outbursts, could have been related to poor blood glucose control, particularly as she needed something sweet and a cup of tea around 4pm. This is the classic time of the day frequently referred to as 'the blood-sugar blues'.

A good balance of dietary protein to carbohydrate helps regulate blood glucose. Great care and consideration needs to be given to a vegetarian diet to ensure the adequacy of protein. Good sources of vegetarian protein include: pulses, particularly soya, wholegrains, particularly quinoa, nuts and seeds. Clare's diet was clearly lacking in these important foods. I recommended that Clare include these foods into each main meal of the day and into snacks. Foods containing protein are usually dense in vitamins and minerals that are vital for most chemical reactions in the body. Amino acids, the breakdown product of protein, are vital for the production of our brain chemicals helping to keep a stable mood.

Omega-3 fatty acids found in good levels in flax seeds, walnuts, soy oil, pumpkin seeds, sea vegetation and fish are very potent oils that help keep inflammation at bay in the body. Clare's diet was overtly deficient in these important oils. Considerable research exists associating a lack of these oils with inflammatory disorders and mood disorders.

Clare went away aiming to implement the following diet programme:

Breakfast: Half a large tub of organic yofu (soya yoghurt) as a dairy alternative and a good source of protein. 4oz berries for vitamin C which helps improve the absorption of iron from vegetarian food and other antioxidants to help protect against colds and inflammation. 1 tbsp of ground flax seeds to provide important omega-3 oils;

Lunch: Bean salad and oat cakes with hummus. Bean and grain together make a good balance of protein for a vegetarian. Apple;

Dinner: Terence Stamp wheat-free pasta with pine nuts, pulses or tofu or brown rice with chilli or curried pulses;

Snacks: Small handful of mixed nuts and seeds and a firm banana or carrot.

I suggested she could keep her wine and coffee for the time being and we could reassess at the next visit. Adequate protein, omega-3 oils and vitamins and minerals are fundamental to pregnancy and having a healthy baby.

Clare returned eight weeks later feeling considerably more balanced in her mood and her skin was feeling comfortable. She hadn't had even a sniffle over that period which was unusual for her. She was enjoying her new pattern of eating and hadn't found it too difficult to implement into her busy lifestyle. Over time she will experiment with introducing wheat and dairy products back into her diet to see if they are friends or foes.


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About Kate Neil

Kate Neil MSc (Nutritional Medicine) FBANT CNHC is Founding Director of CNELM (Centre for Nutrition Education and Lifestyle Management). CNELM has been teaching degree courses in nutritional science and personalised nutrition validated by Middlesex University, London since 2003. Prior to, Kate directed courses in nutritional therapy for other organizations. Kate’s practice focused on women’s health and in the mid-1990s was one of the first to publish articles and a book on balancing hormones naturally. Kate also supported parents with children within the learning disorder spectrum. She has published many articles and contributed chapters to books for nutrition professionals and is frequently asked for peer review. Kate’s early career was as a nurse and midwife. Kate is a Fellow of BANT, the Royal Society of Medicine and the Royal Society of Arts. She can be reached on Tel: 0118 9798686; 

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