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What is a Healthy Balance Diet Anyway?

by Penny Crowther(more info)

listed in women's health, originally published in issue 100 - June 2004

It's a common misconception that to benefit from consulting a nutritional therapist you need to be the sort of person who rarely comes into contact with a fruit or a vegetable. In fact, the majority of my clients are often well acquainted with basic healthy eating principles. Sometimes my work will involve making the subtlest of adjustments to an already 'healthy' diet in order to target a symptom picture specific to the individual.

Case Study 1

When Paula started to experience menopausal symptoms in her late forties she researched the subject very thoroughly and changed her diet and lifestyle accordingly. When I first met Paula she had been following her new regime for two years. She excluded refined foods, tea, coffee, salt and sugar, she ate a large fresh salad and lots of fruit and vegetables every day and regularly included chicken and fish. All her bread, rice and pasta were wholemeal. She had achieved a significant reduction in her symptoms but she still didn't feel 'quite right'. She felt very tense, did not sleep well and experienced a constant feeling of mild hunger. She needed to gain weight but did not want to resort to high sugar and fatty foods to achieve this.

My first suggestion was to enrich her water-based breakfast porridge with soya milk and ground almonds and in addition, have a boiled egg with toasted rye bread and humus. The extra protein would help sustain her energy levels longer and get rid of the hungry feeling that can appear quite soon after eating a carbohydrate only meal. With her lunchtime salad, I recommended two tablespoons of flax oil. Fat has a bad reputation and not without good reason as the wrong kinds of fat can be very detrimental to health. But in her low fat diet, Pauline was failing to get enough essential fatty acids, which would support her nervous and hormonal systems and help her manage stress more efficiently.

We introduced a substantial but healthy mid afternoon snack into Paula's diet. She could choose between oatcakes spread with ripe avocado, nut and seed mixes, oat, rice and nut based cereal bars and home made smoothies. The smoothies, as well as containing fruit, calcium enriched soya milk and full fat live yoghurt would also have added groundnuts and seeds and a few teaspoons of flax oil.

Sauces made from tomatoes, onions and olive oil or white sauces made from soya milk and cornflour were suggested as an accompaniment to evening meals. A kinesiological test suggested that Paula was not responding well to wheat so we decided to take this out of her diet for a few weeks. I gave her supplements, which included vitamin B complex, magnesium and vitamin C to support her adrenal glands. The flower essence that Paula needed was Hibbertia, which helps to integrate the intellect with the heart and produce a feeling of centredness.

After a month Paula reported that she had gained 3lb and found that the addition of the oils, protein snacks and smoothies left her feeling very satisfied and also calmer. She was pleased that such small changes had made such a difference.

Case Study 2

Caroline's diet was equally exemplary. Like Paula, she ate large amounts of fruit and vegetables, regular oily fish, jacket potatoes and wholegrains (excluding any wheat). Her sugar and salt intake were minimal, she excluded meat and wheat and she drank only herbal teas. Despite this, Caroline was plagued by a persistent feeling of lethargy and heaviness. Her abdomen felt constantly bloated and uncomfortable. A series of tests organised by her GP had proved negative.

Caroline's symptoms which in addition to the bloating and fatigue, included a feeling of being 'spaced out', poor concentration, constipation and several bouts of thrush, were strongly indicative of an overgrowth of yeast in the gut. Yeasts feed on sugars and I felt Caroline's digestive system was not efficiently breaking down the large amounts of fibrous carbohydrates she was eating. Whilst some people thrive on this kind of diet, for Caroline it was leading to excessive fermentation in the gut and a consequent feeling of bloating and distension in the abdomen. Breakfast consisted of a large bowl of porridge, a banana and an apple. Lunch often involved a baked potato and her evening meal was usually a large plate of stir-fried vegetables with brown rice. She would have more fruit in the afternoon often with oatcakes or rice cakes.

I advised Caroline to replace her breakfast porridge with scrambled or poached egg and grilled tomatoes. With her fresh fruit snacks I suggested Caroline eat a small pot of live yoghurt to rebalance the gut in favour of 'friendly' bacteria. Caroline was to reduce her fruit to two pieces per day. For her other snack I recommended nuts of any kind (except peanuts and pistachios which have a particularly high mould content which adversely affect the bowel flora).

Caroline was to include more protein such as fish, goat or sheep cheese or tofu in her meals and limit bread and grains. Beans and pulses are a good form of non-animal protein, and I advised Caroline to use these frequently but only in a pureed form for ease of digestion. We decided she would avoid the baked potatoes for the moment as she had noticed she felt particularly drowsy after lunch. Potatoes have a relatively high glycaemic index, even more so when they are baked or mashed.

Caroline ate a lot of raw food, which in Ayurvedic medicine is said to have a cooling effect on the body. Caroline often felt cold and I advised her to eat more warm, lightly cooked and stewed food which would be easier for the body to digest and to regularly drink tea made with freshly grated ginger. This spice is known for its warming and digestive properties.

Caroline agreed to try out her modified eating plan for a month together with a supplement of friendly bacteria, grapefruit seed extract which is a gentle anti-yeast agent and and two Australian Bush Flower essences, Old Man Banksia and Spinifex. Old Man Banksia is indicated for feelings of sluggishness, heaviness and lethargy and Spinifex for clearing fungal infections. After a month Caroline experienced a significant reduction in bloating and felt much clearer headed.


These cases show how nutritional therapy caters for individual needs, which is why I like to think of it an art as well as a science. If you think a there's no point in consulting a nutritionist because you already follow a 'healthy' diet, think again, one man's meat is another man's poison!


1. Garcia-Lorda P, Megias Rangil I, Salas-Salvado J. Nut consumption, body weight and insulin resistance. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 57: (supplement 1). S8-S11. Sept. 2003.


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About Penny Crowther

Penny Crowther BANT CNHC qualified as a nutritional therapist in 1997 and has been in clinical practice ever since. She has seen several thousand clients over the years, at her practice in London and online. Penny now specializes in nutrition for women in their 40s and beyond, particularly around peri and post menopause. Mid Life for women can be a time when fluctuating hormones play havoc with your wellbeing. In the midst of all the publicity around HRT, it's easy to forget just how powerful diet and lifestyle changes can be when it comes to navigating the menopausal years.

Penny will guide and support you through specific changes to your diet, targeted to you specifically, in midlife. She provides practical, easy to follow menu plans with easy and delicious recipes. The food you eat affects every cell and system in your body. It optimizes how you look and feel, both mentally and physically.

To book an appointment view consultation options here >>

As well as being a regular columnist for Positive Health, Penny has written for Holland and Barrett, and contributed to articles for the Daily TelegraphThe Times Literary supplement, Pregnancy & Birth and Marie Claire. She has been featured in the Daily Express, Daily Mirror and on local radio.

Penny is a registered nutritional therapist with standards of training endorsed by BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) and CNHC. This includes completing 30 hours of continuing professional development, annually.

Penny’s approach to health is holistic, and takes into account emotional, mental and environmental factors as well as nutrition. She has trained in coaching and studied many complementary therapies before qualifying as a nutritionist, which provides a broad foundation of knowledge in her nutrition practice. Penny may be contacted on Tel: 07761 768 754;

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