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Whether the issue is weight management, gut health, or eating to perform at your very best, Rhiannon Lambert, Registered Nutritionist, always brings it down to evidence-based and simple ways to have a happy and healthy relationship with food and to get the most out of our bodies and lives. She talked with Wellness Pioneer Anna Bjurstam and shared her passion to simplify wellness.
(Lightly edited for clarity)
Anna: Let’s first talk about gut health. There are some general rules that I’ve heard like eat fermented foods, no sugar. How, though, do we deal with personalization? Can we all eat the same thing?
Rhiannon: When we talk about gut health, what we mean is the health of the living bacteria in the gut and the signals and messages they are sending to the brain. Two kilograms of what you weigh is bacteria and it’s like a second brain in our gut. We feel our emotions in our guts. If we’re nervous or excited, we can feel it in our gut. It’s very unique to us because the moment we’re born, we have a set of bacteria. Then, based on how you’re brought up, the environment you’re in, what you eat, your lifestyle, do you smoke or not, all these different factors can heavily influence the growth or the lack of growth of the good bacteria. The more diverse types of foods you eat, the more you can cultivate incredible gut bacteria that sends messages up to your brain and this is linked to a healthy weight, how happy you feel every day, and a stronger immune system. We don’t have the tools yet to personalize everything but what we can do is start with a diet full of fiber to have a healthy gut.
Anna: There are so many types of diets out there but no one size fits all. How do we each figure out what to eat?
Rhiannon: If you ever hear anyone say there’s one way to eat, that should ring bells to run the other way. Nutrition is a very new science but we know that we each have very different needs depending on our genetics, the bacteria we have and the lifestyle we lead. I work with a lot of athletes for example to help them eat to fuel a high-level performance. They have a high amount of stress from pushing themselves so hard which creates a lot of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. What they need to eat is very different than what I need to eat.
Anna: What’s the best way to measure your microbiome to know what you have and what you might need?
Rhiannon: There isn’t a test that’s available for everyone yet that is affordable. People can purchase stool tests online and get some good information like if you have parasites. We don’t have full technology yet to dish it out to everyone. What you can do to check how healthy your gut is in an affordable way is to purchase a test online or look at the Bristol Stool Chart. A general rule of thumb for measuring how healthy you are though is by noticing how heavy your poop is.
Anna: In Europe, we may be going more into lockdown and you are an expert in family nutrition. My son eats everything, my daughter eats nothing. How do you work with families and family nutrition?
Rhiannon: Family nutrition can be the hardest part of nutrition. There are so many personalities around the table. The theory is that babies develop a taste for food in the belly. Some people think starting your baby on a vegetable diet will help them learn to love their greens when they are older. But if you have a fussy eater, don’t be hard on yourself. There’s nothing you did. A child’s tastebuds change over the years too so even if they don’t like broccoli at 5, they may love it at 12. It comes from getting creative at meals. I’ll start with what a child loves to eat and then I’ll change the recipe slightly to include a couple of healthier ingredients. This way you can expand their tastebuds. An important point is that the parent has to eat the food as well. It really helps if the child sees the parent eating – and loving – the dish.
Anna: What about menopause. It’s being talked about now way more than ever. How should one change their eating habits during menopause?
Rhiannon: Menopause has not been talked about enough which is crazy because every woman will deal with it. There are nutritional things to do like incorporating more soy and healthy fats. Soy has had a bad rap but it contains a powerful compound called phytoestrogen which supports estrogen levels. On the internet, some people will say soy causes male boobs but you would need to eat an enormous amount for that to happen. It can be very supportive of women’s hormones, though. Also, omega oils and healthy fats from foods like sardines, mackerel, or avocado are fantastic. Hormones need fat and your brain needs fat so the more you get these nutrients into your diet, the more you take care of your hormones and your brain, which can help mood swings, sleep, and increase feelings of well-being.
Anna: I’ve also heard women in menopause should eat 20 percent less because their metabolism has slowed down and protein as well. Do you think that’s true?
Rhiannon: Instead of eating less, I think about eating different foods in different amounts. But it depends on how active you are. What many people do is cut calories too quickly and then, eat a lot of unhealthy foods because they’re so hungry. You want to keep calories high but with foods like vegetables, fruits, and protein. Also, protein doesn’t just mean meat. Protein can be beans or nuts. The calorie count you’ll see on a box of food is not an accurate measure so don’t get too attached to that. Think more about the nutritional value of what you’re eating because you need to make sure you’re going to have the energy you need to do whatever it is you’re doing in life.
Anna: I’ve been hearing a lot about intermittent fasting. Is that something that anyone can try for weight management or general health?
Rhiannon: For some people, it’s very good for you. Some people say that it is good for gut health to take a break from food. But for some people, especially women, fasting is harder. I believe everyone has a special relationship with food and fasting is interesting. It’s not for everybody. But for some people, it’s really beneficial. You have to try it out for yourself, though, and see how your body feels.
Anna: Let’s talk about stress eating. When I was young, my mom would give me ice cream or sweets when I was sad. Then, when I had kids of my own, I noticed that I was doing it with them too and had to consciously change that pattern. When we’re stressed, we turn to food to de-stress and people have gained weight during COVID. Talk about food and stress.
Rhiannon: Turning to food is quite a clever mechanism we’ve developed as humans to self-soothe but it does become problematic. It can become disordered and it won’t solve the problem of the stress, itself. Stress eating evokes a cycle. You feel something. You try to mask it with food. Then you feel bad about eating comfort food and then you eat more. It causes a vicious cycle. Stress raises our cortisol levels and we are not designed as human beings to create stress hormones constantly. It’s for short-term bursts like if you need to run away from a tiger. When we wake up, our cortisol should be high because it gives us energy to do what we need to do all day but then, by the end of the day, it should be low. But now, it’s staying high all day which is impacting our sleep, our mood, and our general health. If this is the issue for someone, addressing the stress first will be helpful as opposed to trying to change eating habits when you’re very stressed.
Anna: As our last question, we always ask, what are your five top tips to be healthy?
Rhiannon: Here are my five favorite tips to stay healthy:
Rhiannon Lambert is one of the UK’s leading Registered Nutritionists (RNutr). Founder of private clinic Rhitrition in London’s Harley Street, where she leads a team specializing in weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, and pre- and postnatal nutrition. She hosts the chart-topping podcast Food For Thought equipping listeners with all the evidence-based advice you need to live and breathe a healthy lifestyle. She is also the author of Re-Nourish: A Simple Way To Eat Well.