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How healthy is too healthy?

If you are already in reasonable health and eating well, following a juice-only diet isn’t necessarily a good fit (File photo)

Back from England, where I spent an amazing week doing some extra training and catching up with family. I stayed with my stepsister, who is a juicing fanatic, so I woke up to adventurous combinations almost every morning.

It’s so easy to be healthy when you roll out of bed and find a nutritious option right there waiting for you. No crazy kids to feed, dress or chase into the car. Only one person’s bag to prep for the day (mine). It was a total luxury.

I also got to visit my 93-year-old granny and have lunch and a wander around her garden. We walked down to the bridge and played poohsticks just like we did when I was a kid. I suspect that poohsticks is a very British pastime, so Google it if you don’t know what it is. I can’t be held responsible for the search results ... do remember the “h”!

The main event though was three intense days back at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition doing a booster on nutritional therapy support for people going through conventional cancer treatment.

It was great to get to grips with evidence-based protocols and to sort fact from fiction. It was also wonderful to sit in a room full of other nutritionists and share ideas and tips. Obviously there are genetic and environmental causes of cancer that we can do nothing about, but it was brilliant to identify so many ways to support people on their journey and to look at preventive aspects.

One day over lunch we took a break from our main theme and had a really interesting chat about the concept of being “too healthy”.

Many of us have had clients come in following incredibly restrictive diets after going internet-mad. The worldwide web is an amazing thing but it’s so easy to read too much and self-diagnose. With pesticides, growth hormone, antibiotics, petroleum-based dyes, hyper-processed fats and ridiculous amounts of sugar in our food, it’s easy to get paranoid. The upshot though is we can also become too restrictive. Here’s what to look out for:

How healthy is too healthy? When it isn’t healthy for YOU.

Following healthy blogs can be inspiring but as promising as they sound, what works for one person may not necessarily be the right approach for you. In addition, what’s effective in the short-term, may also not be a sensible long-term strategy. For example, there’s a fantastic juicing documentary called Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead. Joe Cross, an Australian junk-food addict, travels across the US with a juicer in the back of his car, living off juice for 100 days. He loses weight and feels amazing. Of course he does, because the diet he was eating before was awful! However, if you are already in reasonable health and eating well, following a juice-only diet isn’t necessarily a good fit, especially in regards to blood sugar balance.

When you don’t rotate your greens

Although I don’t follow a juice-only plan, I am a huge fan of green juices — they make me feel amazing! However it’s worth noting that some greens are high in oxalic acid which can interfere with calcium absorption and potentially — in excess — lead to the formation of kidney stones (especially in some people with genetic susceptibility). This doesn’t mean you have to write off green juices and smoothies, but rather rotate high oxalic greens (eg spinach, swiss chard and beet tops) with low oxalic greens (lettuce, celery, cucumber, watercress and collards). Rotation also helps to prevent overexposure to goitrogens which can suppress thyroid function in those with hypothyroid. Upshot? Whether it’s juice or whole vegetables, mix it up and don’t do the same thing every day.

When it’s too restrictive

The combination of an ethical food philosophy and food sensitivity can be a dietary bummer. Imagine you prefer to avoid factory farmed meat and animal products and that you also have multiple food sensitivities. Going out to dinner or even working out what to eat for breakfast can be a nightmare. If you find yourself standing in front of a full fridge and wondering what on earth you can eat, then we have a problem. It’s especially dangerous if you end up not eating at all because you can’t find an acceptable option. This situation is starting to be defined as “orthorexia” — essentially an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. Psychological support is essential as well as a qualified nutritionist who can help you improve your options and help you soften the boundaries.

When you can’t feel the love

Food should be nourishing but it should also be a joy. Making and sharing food is an ancient and basic human pastime. If your healthy eating is socially crippling or making you feel deprived, then it also won’t last long. The trick is to search out clean-eating recipes that allow you to enjoy your favourites in a healthier way. The 100 Days of Real Food blog (www.100daysofrealfood.com) and the Clean Eating magazine website (www.cleaneatingmag.com) are great resources.

When your dietary choice pens you in

Are you a vegan or a vegetarian? A paleo lover or a clean-eating diehard? There’s nothing wrong with having a definition — and, in fact, having a “food philosophy” can be helpful — but it also shouldn’t define you. You are what you eat but you are also much more than that! It’s a bit depressing to feel as if you have failed or broken a rule by deviating from your norm. Sticking to something so very strictly might make you miss a physical cue. If you are craving meat, for example, perhaps there’s a reason why. If you have high cholesterol on the paleo plan, it’s a shame to cut out oats and beans. Different things work for different people at different times in their lives. Listen to your body and don’t let your dietary choice restrict you in a negative way.

• The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION is the managing director of Natural Ltd and a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Please note that she is not a registered dietitian. For details, please go to www.natural.bm or call 236-7511. Join Catherine on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nutrifitandnaturalnutritionbermuda