CONFESSION: I’ve been a health junkie for most of my life, but I’d never been to a nutritionist to find out what I really need.

I never considered myself a health nut until a few years ago, when a friend of mine pointed out that it’s fine to eat fast food, without panicking and doing three days of cleansing and juice fasting afterwards. And before I could even cringe at her suggestion, she added: “I am not actually saying you SHOULD eat fast food every day, but IT’S OK to have it from time to time and not think the world is gonna fall apart.”

As I learned a few years later, after having my kids, it is unrealistic to think I would never have fast food, milk, or a fried dish (hello road trips, nursing days, sleepless nights, and motherhood in general).

What I see today, however, is a form of obsession among women (and men) surrounding what we eat and drink. This obsession can even be diagnosed as orthorexia nervosa (a pathological fixation on healthy food that has been aptly described as “a disease disguised as a virtue”).

If I didn’t have the kids, I may have slipped into such fixation. However, I’ve realised something a lot more important: “clean eating” and exercise are not enough to feel good, have energy, and experience great health! You must still find out what your personal needs are, and consider that these change with age, environment, and lifestyle.

CONFESSION: Here is the truth about long-time health nuts like me: we think we know it all. We read and obsess about every piece of nutrition advice for years. And if you are like me, when you start paying attention to what you eat and how much you exercise from the age of 20, you end up feeling good for most of the time — so why would you go and consult with a nutritionist? Unless you experience a big change in life: you move to another country, have two kids, and start running a business. Oh, and how could I forget… you turn 40.

So here is what happened: I started having the blues — not all the time, but I would often find myself in a bad mood without any particular reason. I started feeling tired and grumpy (but isn’t that what happens with age? Not necessarily); I would have chocolate cravings daily. I felt bloated most of the time, not only around my period, and I had terrible breakouts and PMS.

I know these are all small things and you kind of think they are normal. But then I met Karen and I mentioned to her about my bloated belly. She suggested I try the OligoScan advanced cellular test before giving me any nutrition advice.

So that’s how I went to see a nutritionist for the first time in my life. And I never looked back.

THE TEST

The OligoScan uses technology based on spectroscopy, making instant mineral analyses and measuring trace elements, oxidative stress, and toxic metals in your body. The measurement is taken directly by a portable spectrometer connected to a computer. It’s fast and easy.

WHAT I LEARNED

Minerals are lifesavers for multitaskers like me, who need focus and concentration 24/7.

Given my circumstances as a busy mum of two and CEO of my own company, it was clear to Karen, my nutritionist, that I needed extra minerals, vitamins, and gut fats to help me relax. I also needed to let go of my habit of having a glass of wine with dinner every night. I had to take a rest from alcohol for at least two days in a row.

Based on the test results and Karen’s thorough questioning about my lifestyle, eating and drinking habits (I had to make a detailed diary of everything I consumed for a week), Karen discovered that I have a magnesium and zinc deficiency.

Magnesium is an important cofactor that regulates protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure. Magnesium is also an important factor in energy production. Meanwhile, being vegetarian limits my sources of zinc, which is important both for my skin health and for cleansing the liver.

The things your precious liver needs you to do!

I’m sure you’ve heard countless times how important it is to detox and keep your liver healthy, but do you know why your liver is so important?

To put it very simply, your liver is like your bodyguard — working tirelessly to filter everything you eat and drink, to help usher toxins safely out of your body, to regulate blood sugar, and to convert extra carbohydrates and protein into forms that can be stored for later use.

Some of the signs that your liver may need your help can be belly bloat, hormone imbalance and PMS, high levels of heavy metals, and expressive fatigue. It turned out my belly bloat and PMS were my body’s way of asking me for help, so I started taking Berberine.

Berberine is one of the most effective natural supplements available because it acts on the body at the molecular level. Berberine activates an enzyme inside the cells called AMPK or the “metabolic master switch”. This is found in the cells of various organs, including the liver, brain, muscles, kidneys, and heart, and plays a major role in regulating metabolism. Berberine also affects various other molecules inside the cells and may even influence which genes are turned on or off.

The secret to ageing better? Check your levels of oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress is a type of attack on the cell components by free radicals. Oxidative stress is responsible for aging and many diseases. The OligoScan can tell you if your cells are aging faster than normal so you can take measures to slow down the process.

One of the factors influencing oxidative stress is contamination, usually from air pollution, ground water, soil, food, etc. The OligoScan can show you the level of toxic metals in your body.

My global level of heavy metals was relatively OK. However, I wasn’t capable of detoxifying correctly. This is why Karen suggested that I start drinking daily a mix of dried herbs in a tea. (Just a tea? Thank goodness for that!) Unfortunately, I was too quick to sigh with relief: the tea is particularly unpleasant and bitter.

An interesting fact I learned through this consultation is that bitter botanicals promote proper drainage of the liver, kidneys, and lymph, and help support intestinal health. They support healthy bile flow, which is critical for digestive function and helps balance your gut flora. Don’t forget that toxins and their metabolites are eliminated from the liver into the bile, and out of the body via the stool (sorry for the dirty talk). Consider gentian, milk thistle, goldenrod, myrrh, and dandelion. As for food — eat regularly arugula, kale, and bitter melon.

Back to oxidative stress… It is important to know you can decrease it with the intake of good fats, like omega-3s. I also had to increase my oxidative protection by eating a lot of anti-oxidants, found in fruits and vegetables.

Omega-3s are everything.

I’ve heard a lot of talk about the three omegas, but nothing too specific, so this is where I really wanted some informed intel. Besides decreasing oxidative stress, omega-3s have been linked to maintaining a positive mood, cardiovascular health, and normal triglyceride levels (an important measure of heart health).

I’m one of those restless types who are naturally prone to high levels of daily stress, and I definitely don’t eat enough fish, nuts, or seeds in my normal diet, so this is definitely something I need to work on.

What do mood swings and happiness have to do with your gut?

While you might be thinking your brain is in charge of your mental health, your gut may actually play a far more significant role. Mounting research indicates that problems in your gut can directly affect your mental health, leading to issues like anxiety and depression.

Besides boosting your mental health, cleaning and restoring your gut flora can bring a lot more benefits for your overall health — improving your immune system, boosting metabolism, and helping banish belly bloat.

Karen suggested I pair my probiotic with prebiotics, like OMNi-BiOTiC Stress Repair. The body needs both probiotics and prebiotics, which improve the quantity and diversity of gut organisms and bacteria. Honestly, I’m a little relieved that it’s this easy to get my gut on track — but also like, how did I not do this before now?

Vitamin D to support your good vibes…

I never had a problem with winter until 12 years ago, when I returned from three years in Africa. I remember the first winter back in Europe hit me a lot harder than I expected, and I would find myself hidden under the bed sheets for almost a full day, which is not normal for an active person like me.

Karen recommended vitamin D3 to support my moods during the dreary winter season that insists on coming every year (even when I ask it not to).Vitamin D isn’t too abundant in food either, so this supplement is a lot more necessary than I originally thought.

It’s been six months after I my first Nutrition Consultation and my first OligoScan test. My skin hasn’t looked so well in a while, my energy levels are steady and I feel really great. The sugar cravings have disappeared and even when I have them from time to time, I can control myself!

It’s stunning how such little tips and changes can improve so much your overall health! I don’t suffer the bloated stomach as well, which used to make me feel sluggish and lethargic. This is a huge change for me, especially since I thought I was genetically predisposed to it. As it appears you are not stuck with your genes, they can get turned on and off and become expressed to greater or lesser degrees depending on lifestyle factors. 

Even though I have been feeling so great, a while ago, I did a second OligoScan only to discover my “red” zones have gone into yellow and green, which means most of the factors measured in my body have improved. Karen and I have decided that I can keep taking the Probiotics and Prebiotics daily and as it seems I still need taking Zink. In addition Karen created a list of foods I need to keep in my daily diet. Fermented foods like Sauer Kraut, Kefir, Miso Kombucha are an important part for keeping the gut clean and the metabolism going.

The next step is checking every 6 months my health and keep up with my lifestyle of good eating habits and exercise.

You can have your micronutrient levels tested and gut health and receive your own personalised nutritional plan with Karen Verbeeck at Steps4YOU.