In honour of Nutrition and Hydration Week 2017 Martina Watts, Nutritional Therapist and author, has offered her thoughts on nutrition in 2017.
Tell us about your experience of working with Nutritional Therapy.
I became a Nutritional Therapist because it solved my own health problems and those of my kids. I had no idea that something as simple as my diet and environment could have such a fundamental effect on the quality of my life. I never dreamed I was capable of doing the things I have been able to do, like become an established writer, organise nationwide conferences or swim in the sea all year round. The most important and rewarding aspect of the job as a Nutritional Therapist, however, really is the one-to-one consultation with a client and to experience their excitement as they realise the power they have over their own physical and mental wellbeing.
Everyone has their own unique situation, biochemistry and genetics, so my job is to figure out which nutritional interventions are going to be effective to improve their health. I want every single person to bounce out of my clinic, completely inspired to take positive action. If you understand the why and the how, nothing and nobody can stop you.
How can Nutrition help to solve wider issues than improving health?
That’s a really great question. When I started learning about where our food comes from, how it is grown, produced, cooked, packaged and transported, I soon realised that I was delving into all kinds of potentially problematical – even political – arenas. There are, for instance, many vested interests and front groups that push out misleading information that’s biased in favour of junk food or drinks.
The language of marketing can be a great tool, but shouldn’t be used to undermine health, for example describing low-fat but sugar laden snacks as “healthy”. To make consumers aware of this, I co-founded the not for profit website www.cokespeak.org which illustrates exactly how us consumers can be so easily deceived. Good food and nutritional awareness are required to build healthier bodies, healthier brains, more robust kids, and a stronger workforce with less drain on the NHS.
Is healthy Nutrition harder to achieve for certain groups of people?
Most people understand that it matters what they put in their mouths. However, it can be challenging to avoid additive-rich convenience food if you lead busy lives, have health problems, or simply don’t know how to cook real food from cheap basic ingredients.
I have thought about this a lot and don’t think there is a simple answer, especially if you live in a ‘food desert’ without easy access to healthy affordable food like vegetables and you don’t have the time or ability to grow your own. My free e-book “Healthy Eating on a Budget” on my website www.thehealthbank.co.uk may be helpful.
For years household budgets have been increasingly stretched and food poverty is on the increase. For many people, dealing with hunger as cheaply as possible is the urgent issue, whereas ‘healthy eating’ only comes into play after the rent has been paid. We also need to consider the very real phenomenon of food ‘addiction’.
What’s the difference between ‘Nutrition’ and ‘Lifestyle Interventions’?
Nutrition is one of many possible lifestyle interventions which may be called upon to break into existing dysfunctional habits or behaviour cycles and disrupt them. Nutritional interventions are particularly useful since they offer the chance to affect every area of our lives – our physical and mental health, our emotions and motivations, our resilience to setbacks, our performance and our success.
Do you feel there is a disregard for healthy nutrition amongst consumers, and what can be done about this?
I’m not entirely sure that’s the case any more. It used to be 20 years ago when I first started in this field, but now I find people are so interested in eating well and seeing what their food can do for them. Most of my clients understand that living on doughnuts and fizzy drinks harms their health but some may lack the motivation to change entrenched eating behaviours, or they crave the foods they know they should be avoiding. I love working with clients like this, it’s very rewarding to see how quickly they can change. Learning about the value of nutrition is key and what it can do for your mind and body, so I believe it should be taught right from nursery school by Registered Nutritional Therapists rather than representatives of the food industry, or our food regulators.
Is there much information and advice for consumers about nutrition? Do you think this Nutrition and Hydration week will help to raise awareness of the subject?
In the modern era, there is almost too much advice, much of it conflicting and much of it driven by vested interests. Nutrition and Hydration week is a very good initiative - but is it really more than just a drop in the ocean? To really thrive, we need good unprocessed healthy food and enough pure water to drink every day of the year.
You’ve highlighted in your publication Nutrition and Addiction that education is key, but how do we ensure that these institutions, care providers and specialist centres are providing the most appropriate advice and support to individuals?
In my view, nutrition should be taught at school as children who eat well have a competitive advantage over those who don’t. I would also like to see Nutritional Therapists installed in every hospital and GP surgery in the country, as poor dietary habits are the root cause of chronic degenerative and many autoimmune diseases, as well as a large proportion of mental health problems. How many more research studies are needed before nutrition is seen as a priority in keeping us healthy? Perhaps we could make a start by sending all our MPs to see a Registered Nutritional Therapist…I’m certainly up for the challenge!
Martina Watts MSc Nut Med is a Registered Nutritional Therapist. As well as writing 49 Ways To Eat Yourself Well, she is the editor of both Nutrition and Mental Health and Nutrition and Addiction.