Yasmin Muswell is a nutritional therapist registered with the British Association for for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine.
She believes in the power of proper food and nutrition as tools to enhance our overall health and is also the in-house nutritionist for Boundless Activated Nuts and Seeds.
We sat down with Yasmin to discuss a wide range of topics to do with nutrition and lifestyle, and discover some simple tips and tricks for improving our diet overall health.
Thanks for speaking to Human Window. Could you start by telling us about your story and what it is you do?
I’m a nutritional therapist and I’m registered with the British Association for for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine. I work with clients on a one-to-one basis, helping them to understand the root cause of their symptoms and helping them to improve their health and happiness through dietary and lifestyle changes.
The basis of nutritional therapy is trying to find the root cause of symptoms, rather than masking them with something.
It’s about trying to find out why something might have occurred and why the symptoms are present. I also work with corporate clients and hold workshops where I educate the public about certain health topics, and I give them simple steps about where they can improve their diet and lifestyle.
What are some of the common symptoms you see with your clients?
A lot of them might be digestive complaints, and they might be suffering from bloating or indigestion. Often it’s an amalgamation of things. Some clients want to lose weight but often there are underlying digestive issues such as hormonal complications.
A lot of women that I see come to me with a goal to lose weight, but we need to do a lot of work on hormones and blood sugar balance to get them to their goal.
But really I’d say weight, digestion and hormonal imbalances are the three main areas.
You’re the nutritionist for Boundless Activated Nuts and Seeds, which we love. What are some of the benefits of having nuts and seeds in your diet?
Nuts and seeds can bring loads of different micro and macronutrients into the diet. In terms of macronutrients, they’re a really good source of protein. So especially for those who might be following a plant-based diet, adding some nuts and seeds, say to porridge, can really boost the protein in that meal.
Nuts and seeds also provide a good source of monounsaturated fats, which are shown to be beneficial in terms of reducing the risk of heart disease, for example.
They are also a good source of micronutrients – nutrients that we need in smaller amounts that are really important for overall health – and are things like Magnesium and Zinc. Nuts and seeds are also a good source of fiber. Fiber is important for gut health, digestion and keeping bowel movements regular. Nuts and seeds can really contribute to our fiber intake.
Do you think the stress of hectic modern life plays a role in causing some of the symptoms you see with your clients?
Definitely. Stress is a big factor and it can have such a big impact on our hormonal and digestive health. We now know that there is a really strong connection between the brain and our gut. There is a massive connection with a nerve called the Vagus nerve, which connects the brain and the gut directly.
When it comes to this very stressful life, one of the things we can do is just try to make sure that we have time to just really relax and switch off.
With technology, we’re always switched on these days and it’s so much harder to switch off. Put time aside, whether it’s going out for a walk without your phone, sitting on the Tube without your phone for your commute or just having a bath. Just try to do something where you are consciously disconnecting from technology and your crazy lifestyle. When it comes to the link with diet, one really important factor is trying to eat without distractions. On a workday for example, instead of eating your lunch at your desk while still replying to emails and getting things done, just switch the screen off and don’t be on your phone, even if it’s just for five minutes.
When we’re on the go and we’re eating, we don’t enter into our Parasympathetic nervous system, which is where we need to be to rest and digest optimally.
If we’re on the go and stressed and doing other things while we’re eating, we’re lowering our ability to absorb our food as best as we can. If we’re not absorbing our food properly, we’re not getting the most nutrients that we can from that meal.
Important neurotransmitters are produced in the gut, so is there a link between having a healthy gut and healthy brain?
Definitely. A lot of our Serotonin, which is like the ‘happy hormone’, is actually produced and contained within the gut.
There are studies that show that improving your gut health can have knock-on effects on depression risks or just mental health and mood overall. So there is definitely a direct link there.
There is still research emerging on this because it’s a fairly new area that’s being looked into, but I feel like there is a lot to come in that area.
I was checking out your Instagram account (@nutritionbyyasmin) and noticed that you often choose many different colors of foods. What can we learn from that?
My Instagram account is quite colorful and I think it’s a good representation of the message that I want to get across. It’s not like I try and make it colorful – they are just the meals that I make!
Firstly, having a range of different fruits and vegetables is really important not just for overall health but also gut health.
The different colored fruits and vegetables mean that they are bringing all different types of fiber and bacteria that will feed our gut bacteria, which is the beneficial bacteria that we want to thrive.
It’s really key to go for a range rather than the same three or four fruits and vegetables a day. The different colors can also mean different phytonutrients – and the range and the diversity of the different plant fibers is a massive marker of overall gut health.
Could you tell us a bit about the benefits of dark chocolate?
The key ingredient is Cacao powder. You might have heard of Cocoa powder, but Cacao is more of the refined version of the Cacao bean. Cacao is more unprocessed and there isn’t any sugar added to it.
Dark chocolate contains a higher amount of Cacao powder – and that’s what’s really high in certain nutrients, such as Magnesium, Iron and Potassium.
The reason I highlight Magnesium is because it’s one of the nutrients that is really used up when we’re stressed, on the go and over-exercising. It’s really a nutrient that most of us are probably deficient in, just because it does get used up so much by the pace of our lifestyle these days.
Going for darker chocolate, 85% cocoa and above, are the ones you want to look at for trying to get in the Magnesium.
What are your general thoughts about supplements?
Good question. I think supplements should be supplements. A lot of people might turn to supplements first rather than addressing their diet first. Supplements can definitely support and supplement a healthy diet and lifestyle. But really that’s what they are there for – to be used when you need a bit more than what you can get from your diet.
We can get much higher doses of certain vitamins and nutrients from the concentrations in which they are found in capsules rather than the diet.
I’d say especially for those people following a plant-based diet, supplementation will be necessary because they will not be consuming any animal products, for example.
And Vitamin B12 is solely found in animal products for the most part. In those cases, I’d say supplementation is definitely necessary. However, I always turn to diet first and then use supplements to support that protocol.
What are the basic things we need to know about fats in our diet?
Fats have been demonised in the past but over the years that has been dispelled a bit.
The really important thing to focus on with fat is that it is so beneficial for our brain health. Our brains are made up of about 60 per cent fat.
Healthy fats from avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oil… if we’re taking these fats out of our diet, we’re really restricting the fats that we intake and that could have a knock-on effect on brain health and hormonal health.
Actually most of our hormones are made up from cholesterol, which comes from fat. This is something that people often skim over. If we’re wanting to optimize our hormonal health, whether from a female health perspective or just with our mental health, fats are really essential.
Monounsaturated fats – and fats in general – are really important for absorbing the fat soluble vitamins. Vitamins A, B, E and K are fat soluble, meaning that we need to eat fat with them in order for us to be able to absorb them. So if you strip fat out of your diet, you’re going not to be able to absorb these nutrients as optimally as you would if you were eating healthy fats.
There are different types of fats, so the area can get quite confusing. Monounsaturated fats are found in things like avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oil. Polyunsaturated fats just have a different chemical structure and they are found in things like Omega-3 and oily fish.
What are you thoughts on eating and sleep? Is it generally better not to eat too close to bedtime?
This is a really good question and it’s a topic where there is a lot of new research coming out at the moment. There are loads of myths, like you shouldn’t eat after 6pm and you shouldn’t eat carbs at night. There is actually some newer research showing that our bodies’ ability to break down and digest carbohydrates is a bit lower in the evening. This is all to do with our body clock and circadian rhythm.
Generally, I’d say that we shouldn’t really be eating within two hours of going to sleep. This just gives our body time to digest and absorb the food before we then go to sleep.
Going to sleep closer to eating can also sometimes affect our ability to fall asleep. Particularly if it was a carb-heavy or sugar-heavy meal for dinner, that could maybe disrupt sleep, because if suddenly your blood sugar levels drop in the night, you may wake up.
Eating a bit earlier just gives your body time to deal with that food, so when we’re sleeping, our bodies are able to focus on all of the other restorative functions that it needs to perform rather than focus on digesting that food.
What’s one of the most common diet and nutrition mistakes you see with your clients?
It’s probably to do with fats. There are two very big diet plans in particular that are basically disguised as low-fat diets, because they will give certain points to foods such as avocado, which we know is healthy.
This brings up the issues with the hormonal health and the brain health, and with the ability to absorb nutrients. So following low-fat diets is one common mistake.
I’d say another thing is blood sugar balancing. I think this is a cornerstone of healthy eating. Ensuring blood sugar levels are balanced throughout the day with meals and snacks can really ensure that your body is in the best possible state to balance out all of our other systems. One of the hormones that’s involved in blood sugar levels is Insulin.
When one of our hormones is out of whack, our blood sugar levels may be out of place all through the day and that can have a knock-on effect on our female hormones and appetite hormones.
Balancing blood sugar levels is one of the ways you can set the tone for hormonal health. It’s something that’s easier to do than anything else.
What’s one of the main ways to balance your blood sugar levels?
One of the main things is to combine the different food groups. So for example, instead of having just a plate of pasta or potatoes, combining that with a source of protein such as chicken, meat, fish, eggs, lentils or chickpeas and a source of healthy fat. That could be a sprinkle of nuts and seeds on your salad to bring in some healthy fats. It could be a dressing of olive oil, some avocado or flaxseeds.
The combination of the three food groups together helps to slow down the release of the carbohydrate and sugar into the bloodstream.
Fiber is also important, so opting for wholegrains for sources of carbohydrates, and so perhaps including some vegetables and fruit in that meal as well.