We sat down with the wonderful Kirsten Swales, Nutritionist, Naturopath and Medical Herbalist to pick her brain about all things from diet, weight loss to period pain and the organic vs non-organic debate. Kirsten specialises in working with those suffering from chronic digestive complaints, fatigue and weight issues. Why? Because that was her story too. Was. Past tense. Out on the other side and healed using natural medicine, she now helps others to do the same.
What do you think are the biggest myths or misconceptions around nutrition, particularly as it relates to weight loss?
“Not all calories are created equal, different calories from different kinds of foods will have different impacts on the body and if the digestive system isn’t in balance then there are certain kinds of bacteria that can actually extract more calories from food then others. So, two people can eat the same meal but for one person it can be worth 250 calories and for another it can be worth 400 calories. “
What do you say when you hear the phrase I can’t afford to eat healthy?
“I would say how can you afford not to. It’s all about changing your mindset so if you are busy and tired and stressed a lot of people say oh I don’t have time to eat healthy, I would turn that around and say I need to eat healthy because I am so tired and so busy. Your health is your greatest wealth. If you are trying to run a business, you need your energy you need your motivation so investing in your health is going to bring you all the wealth.”
People often say they lack the motivation to prepare their meals in advance for work or for school, do you have any tips for healthy meal prepping for people who perhaps find it difficult or are unsure of where to start?
“It’s nice to remember that motivation doesn’t last for anyone. It’s easy in the beginning to think oh yeah, I’ve got this but that feeling never lasts, habits however do. Once you form healthy habits or meal prepping habits then they become easy to stick to. I always recommend cooking in bulk and cooking things you can freeze so then you’ve got something on hand for when you are really tired. If you’ve got a fridge at work always make sure you’ve got something nice and healthy in there. I’ve always got a spoon or a folk in my bag, so I can eat something on the go like an avocado or a can of sardines or a boiled egg. Boiled eggs with their shell on will keep for up to 3 weeks in the fridge so they make a great snack. Ultimately, if we’ve got good food in our fridge we will eat good food. If we wait until the last minute to decide what we will eat, then it becomes harder to make a healthy decision in that moment. There’s a saying I like ‘plan what you eat and eat what you plan.’ Make your food choices when you are feeling motivated and then follow through.”
Many people are under the impression that in order to lose weight or maintain a healthy diet they should limit carbs what are your thoughts on the low carb philosophy?
“You will almost definitely lose weight in the beginning if you cut out carbs, but this is because you are depleting your glycogen stores. Your glycogen holds onto water. If someone goes from a carb heavy diet to almost no carbs there will be a big weight loss in the beginning and this isn’t all fat this is water from your body losing its glycogen stores. Although it can be beneficial short term I would never recommend a low carb diet for more than say 3 months because it really hurts the microbiome which is the bacteria in the digestive system. So, whilst there might be an initial weight loss it will become harder to maintain after those couple months. In summary It can be beneficial short term if done right, I wouldn’t do it long term.”
I’m sure you are aware of the debate concerning organic vs non-organic produce. Are you an advocate for organic produce? And if so what foods do you think are worth buying organic?
I definitely believe organic is the way to go. I totally get that it is not affordable for everyone. Of course, it’s better to eat non-organic fruit or vegetables then it is to have MacDonald’s, for sure. It doesn’t have to necessarily be certified organic, so for something to be classified as certified organic there has to have been a certain number of years that the farm hasn’t used any pesticides, but you can still get chemical free, so that just means that the produce hasn’t yet been through the time lapse required to be considered certified organic and this tends to be a cheaper. It also depends on the person, if someone has say nerve issues for example, then the heavy metals found in pesticides can really interact with nerve function, brain function, headaches, migraines, so if someone has these symptoms then it would be incredibly beneficial for them to go organic. If someone has got hormonal issues as well, I would recommend going organic.
In terms of what foods are worth eating organic there’s something called the Dirty Dozen vs the Clean Fifteen. The dirty dozen are a group of foods that contain the most amount of pesticides, and include things like strawberries, green apples, kale, silver beet and spinach. The clean fifteen by contrast, are foods in which have a harder outer casing which means that they don’t need as many pesticides, so you can get away with these being conventional. These include things like avocado, rockmelon, watermelon, anything with a harder outer shell is typically less pesticide heavy. There are also several fruit and veggie washes that you can use to clean conventional produce as well as apple cider vinegar, which can help remove the pesticide residue.
Do you have any natural remedies for people who suffer from chronic period pain?
If a woman is suffering from cramps magnesium is amazing. Magnesium is a nutrient that helps to relax the muscles. Calcium is the nutrient that works with magnesium to contract the muscles, if there is an imbalance between the two then the muscle starts spasming and causes a cramp. If you get that dull pulling pain leading up to or during your period, you can try taking magnesium. The most effective forms are magnesium glycinate, magnesium chelate, and magnesium citrate. The only one I would advise against is magnesium oxide because it can irritate the gut. A therapeutic dose of magnesium is between 200-800 milligrams per day and the week before the period I would go the upper does of magnesium as it can help balance out moods and decrease period pain. When our bodies go through stress we use more magnesium stores. So, menstruation is a beautiful part of cleansing the body, but it is also a stress on the body, so we use up more magnesium then we would normally. In fact the reason why we crave chocolate around our period time is because there’s actually magnesium in the cacao bean!
There are people who suffer from fatigue for many reasons can our diet and the foods we eat help alleviate the symptoms of fatigue?
100% it can! If we eat something that our body is intolerant to on a regular basis it adds to inflammation and this can lead to fatigue. Another big factor related to fatigue is our adrenal glands and our nerves system so there are different signs to look out for. If for example, you get dizzy when you stand up really quickly then you want to watch out that you are maintaining stable blood sugar levels. There are certain herbs called the adaptogens which can be really helpful for the adrenal glands also herbs like liquorice. If the adrenals are a little bit under the pump this tends to cause anxiety so that often feel like our mind is going a million miles an hour and we tend to think about the future a lot and spend time overplaying scenarios again and again and again. Another little sign is waking up at 3:00am because this is when our cortisol is starting to kick back in, cortisol is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal gland so if we’ve got high levels of cortisol we wake up at 3:00am that can be enough to jolt us awake and then we start solving the problems of the world.
If you absolutely loved this blog with Kirsten follow her on instagram and facebook for live chats, blogs and awesome tips on how to get and keep a healthy gut. Also check out her website for more information on seminars and one on one appointments.