In my practice I often meet people who are suffering from depression, anxiety or exhaustion. Many studies have shown a direct correlation between people’s mental health and what they eat. I decided to interview a Nutritionist and ask for his opinion.
“6 Questions with…”: Nutritionist, Sports Coach and “flexi-vegan” Thierry Bessède, owner of Jura Sports.
1. What is the relationship between mental, physical and emotional health and the food we put in our bodies?
We are what we eat ! Food has a huge impact on how we think or feel, and a massive role in the ways our bodies function whether it’s daily life or in sports. For example, an over-consumption of sugar not only leads to many terrible diseases including type 2 diabetes, but it also leads to huge mood swings, as your insulin works hard to bring the sugar away from your blood and into our cells, you go from a hyperglycaemic state (high sugar concentration in blood) to a hypoglycaemic state (low concentration in sugar in blood), which leads to fatigue and makes you want to eat more. You enter this negative spiral of eating sugar, but being more hungry later on, then eating again, and being hungry again, etc… This constant “yoyo” effect can lead to serious diseases such as type 2 diabetes. This is why it is recommended to eat carbohydrates that have low glycemic index (GI), as the impact on insulin is greater with high GI foods versus low GI foods. So eating dark bread will make you feel full longer compared to white bread.
Coffee is another product that is highly popular in today’s culture, but caffeine has also negative effects after a certain dosage. It certainly has good effects too as it stimulates us, but it’s a short term effect that make us want more later on. Caffeine will also negatively affect your sleep patterns so it’s very important to be conscious when and how much we’re consuming caffeine.
2. How could people benefit from switching to a “vegan” diet?
Vegan or “Plant-Based” isn’t really a diet, it’s a way of life. The biggest impact will actually be on animal welfare and the environment, as by adopting a vegan diet you completely eliminate all animal products, and therefore avoid all the carbon footprint associated with raising animals for food.
In terms of health, a plant based diet has many benefits including reduction in cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and many more. But so have other diets that include animal products. Each disease is different, and so is the solution. Nutrition can help, but one single diet isn’t the answer for all. As mentioned above, a good plant based diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains is very high in vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and fibers. So not only you get the huge benefits for our immune system of having lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, but fibers will also drastically decrease the overall glycemic load of your plate, whilst generously nourishing your microbiota. But a bad vegan diet, including too many refined carbohydrates, ultra transformed foods and sugary drinks will lead to diseases like any other bad diets. So as a vegan, like any other diet followers, it is very important to make the right choices.
A plant-based diet is not a diet to lose weight, it’s a way of life.
3. “Nutritionists are the doctors of the future”, what do you think of this statement?
Absolutely. The medical system is in the business of curing diseases, not preventing diseases. Eating a healthy and balanced diet from a young age will increase your life expectancy and quality.
If we invested as much money in prevention as in all the research in modern civilization diseases, perhaps only a small fraction of the population would become ill, but thats only my opinion.
4. Can you gain weight from a plant-based diet?
Yes. A good plant-based diet is rich in grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. So it’s usually very high in carbohydrates, low in fat and protein. However, it has a lot of fibers, which are very important and sometimes completely forgotten as a requirement.
There are many “vegan” products out there which are not healthy (veggie burgers, cookies, crisps, etc..), and to be eaten only occasionally. But if you follow a diet rich in whole-grain cereals, legumes, in season fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts, and your portions are well controlled, you drink plenty of water, and remember to chew and take time to eat, there is no reason to gain weight.
Watch out for oils and nuts. These products are very rich in calories even though very healthy. Make sure to eat plenty of vegetables.
5. What would you respond to people who worry about getting enough protein, calcium and/or iron?
Those are the myths about the vegan diet. I hear it almost daily : “do you get enough proteins/calcium/iron?” The answer is a resounding yes.
However, like in any other diets, you have to eat a variety of products in order to get the full macro and micro nutrients. There are no concerns with regards to protein, calcium or iron when following a vegan diet.
The only concern for strict vegans would be their vitamin B12 levels, which is impossible to get outside animal products. It is very important to get vitamin B12 supplement if you are thinking of becoming a strict vegan. A deficiency in B12 could lead to serious neurological disorders, anemia and fatigue. This is very serious, especially for children. Vegans should definitely have a blood analysis done every now and again.
6. Why be a “flexi-vegan” and not a pure vegan?
One reason would to eliminate any problems around vitamin B12. Another would be to boost levels of Omega 3 by keeping fish. Some people might choose to cut out on red-meat and dairy products, but keep seafood and fish. A typical Mediterranean diet which is high in fish, vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains is proven to be helping longevity and health.
A plant-based diet can be difficult to follow in the long term, especially in countries like Switzerland or France where meat and cheese are engraved in the culture. The social aspect is very important around food, so becoming vegan could cut you off from family and friends.
For my part, with my wife we followed a strict vegan diet for 3 months. I lost about 3kg, my wife didn’t lose anything. However we both felt energized and less bloated. It was a rewarding experience but certainly very difficult socially. We now follow mainly a plant based diet, and occasionally eat fish and eggs. It’s more a choice for the environment than for our health.