Eat Well, Live Well – Food is love, Interview with Nutritionist Kristien Roodhorst
Didn’t somebody say once that food is love? It seems that way, when the taste buds are satisfied and the belly full. A good meal lends a glow to the world and a generosity to the heart that few other experiences can duplicate, and it’s one thing we all seem to agree on no matter where we come from. When I learned that one of my patients was a nutritionist, the idea light bulb turned on—I love food, she loves food, we should talk about food. But not just about the fact that we both appreciate it (we do that anyways, comparing notes about the best gluten-free desserts we’ve had lately). We should also talk about what it means to feed the body so it blooms with health and vitality. After all, being in acupuncture has made me acutely aware of how food is tied to good health. So this article was born—it’s a little bit art, a little bit science, and a lot of salivating when I think about what goes on Kristien’s plate. And that cookie recipe at the end? I’m going to make them, but I can’t promise I won’t eat them all at once too.
Hayley Enright: How did you come to the field of nutrition?
Kristien Roodhorst: I had several food intolerances from childhood but I only became aware of them at age 20. As a toddler I was constantly sick with ear and throat infections. By the age of 6 I started to have mouth ulcers (up to 10 at a time) all over my mouth, and that was ongoing up to my twenties. I had trouble with alternating constipation and diarrhea, acne, a bloated stomach, and unexplained pain in my body. It was difficult concentrating, I was anxious and depressed, and always really tired. It turned me into a ball of tension, liable to explode at people for no reason. I couldn’t be the social person I wanted to be because of the constant fatigue. I had to sleep 10 hours a night so it was always disrupting when roommates wanted to organize parties at our place.
I spoke to my GP about the symptoms but he said everything was fine. So I started to do research, reading books, and through word of mouth I found the address of a lab in Paris that ran blood tests to check for food intolerances. This led to the start of my new life and a new way of eating. Despite the constraints of eating ‘without’ I discovered how I had unknowingly been making my life horrible and that I didn’t have to. My relationships with friends and family improved a lot as a consequence.
At that time in Paris it was difficult to find gluten-free, dairy-free and egg-free products and socially it was not well accepted. In 2010 I moved to San Francisco for work for two years. There I discovered a new world of allergen-free food. I thought I was in heaven!
I saw holistic doctors who explained how I could improve my digestion and reduce my food intolerances. I met a fantastic nutritionist, and the meeting with her was a real eye-opener. When I came out of her consultation I suddenly realized what I wanted to do with my life. An hour later I resigned from my job. Two months later we moved back to Paris and studied 10 hours a day the whole summer to pass the scientific entrance exam. I was accepted at ION (Institute for Optimal Nutrition in London) and that was the start of a new chapter in my life.
HE: Why do people usually seek out nutritionists? What does a course of treatment with you look like?
KR: People come to see me when they are dealing with digestive issues, migraines, skin problems, hormonal issues, infertility, being overweight. Nutrition is holistic—I address the symptoms and the cause of the symptoms, working on one (or more) imbalanced body systems as needed.
In the first consultation we discuss signs and symptoms, lifestyle and eating habits, and we also look at the family history, the diet that was eaten as a child, etc. This allows me to create a plan that fits into the lifestyle of the client. The plan is different for everyone, because the same symptom might not have the same cause. I suggest different behavioral modifications or supplements if needed. A second appointment is usually planned 4 to 6 weeks after the first one.
HE: When I think about the digestive system, I picture a web in the center of the body with filaments touching literally every other system—skin, hair, nerves, muscles, bones, joints, hormones, brain, all of it. In acupuncture, gut health is key. But it seems like Western science is just starting to catch up to the fact that disturbances in the gut can and do show up anywhere.
KR: Yes, it’s true. Gut issues can be linked to migraines, eczema, food intolerances, a poor immune system, hormonal issues etc. In nutritional therapy we often see through diet changes that the origin of problems hearkens back to the digestion. By explaining the imbalances and how the gut is linked to other systems, people realize how they can make changes that heal and balance the gut, leading to a better quality of life.
HE: What’s one thing nutritionists know that would surprise doctors?
KR: As Hippocrates would say: Let the food be thy medicine. I think doctors undervalue the power that food has on our health.
HE: I have to agree. I rarely meet a doctor who can talk about nutrition. You’re married with a young son. Are you the chef in the household? If so, what kinds of meals do you plan for the family?
KR: I love to cook and prepare food so I cook during the week. My husband has developed his cooking skills and gets into the kitchen on the weekends. He will go to the market and buy fish and vegetables to prepare new dishes. I love to be surprised by his cooking.
During the week a typical menu for us looks like this: falafel, hummus and a big green salad; salmon baked in the oven with ginger, black rice, and steamed spinach; red lentil pasta with vegan green pesto and a green salad, oven-baked parsnip with shitake mushrooms and organic chicken; a pumpkin, coconut, and ginger soup. My son is 2½ and he loves everything we eat.
HE: Are you also a foodie? Do you read food blogs and make a point of checking out new restaurants?
KR: Yes, I am definitely a foodie. For four years I had a blog about gluten-free cooking but I then discovered that I was intolerant to dairy, eggs, corn, and soy so it became very difficult to cook and bake. That was 10 years ago when almond butter, dates, chia seeds etc. didn’t really exist. When I lived in San Francisco I learned options existed for gluten-free and vegan, and I rediscovered the pleasure of cooking. I love checking out new restaurants. Every time I visit a new city or country I spend hours researching gluten-free, vegan restaurants to visit during my stay.
HE: We’ll have to compare notes—I love finding healthy places while traveling too. Not that Paris doesn’t have a lot to offer! French cuisine is world-renowned, and it’s beautiful to see how the French take pride in this aspect of their national heritage. What do they do that we should all be doing?
KR: In France eating is a way to share good times with friends and family. Last week a couple of friends invited us for Sunday lunch. We enjoyed the “apéro,” chatting about small things. Then we had a lovely home cooked meal with a glass of wine. My friend had baked a gluten- and dairy-free chocolate cake especially for me, it was delicious and I was really touched by her kindness. When lunch was over, we continued to sit at the table and chat.
It’s all about spending time with people you care about. We don’t worry about calories for example, it’s just about eating good food in the presence of nice people.
HE: Good company always makes a meal. But French cuisine is very rich and heavy on the meat. If you could give it a few tweaks, what changes would you make?
KR: In France it is difficult for people to think about a meal without meat. Usually in restaurants there are not many vegetarian dishes or they’re a bit depressing (steamed vegetables, great!). Red meat is high in saturated fats which may raise blood cholesterol. High levels of cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease. Some studies also show consuming red meat may increase the risk of bowel cancer. I think we could introduce more vegetarian options and present them in a nice way.
HE: Coming from the US, I was accustomed to fast food and fast eating—wolfing a sandwich in the car on the way somewhere. I love that meals are leisurely here. How does the body respond when you take time to properly chew and swallow food versus when you don’t?
KR: When you chew your food you break down large particles to small ones. Chemically, the act of chewing releases saliva with digestive enzymes that breaks down food. This helps the stomach process everything. You absorb nutrients better and you prevent big particles from entering the bloodstream and causing a wide range of adverse effects on your health.
HE: What are your top tips for adults and kids to stay healthy?
KR: My top tip for kids would be to feed them homemade food with a lot of organic vegetables, complex carbohydrates (brown rice, wholegrain bread or pasta) and good quality organic protein (lean meat, eggs, or vegetarian proteins: lentils, beans etc). Don’t give them too much sugar or industrial food, and look out for “hidden” sugars in juices, white rice, white bread etc.
For adults I would suggest weight loss medications eating seven portions of fruits and vegetables a day, organic as much as possible, healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds), good quality protein (animal or vegetarian), limited sugar intake. Enjoy your life and don’t get too stressed.
If you want to sneak in a healthy “goûter,” you can always think of a piece of fruit with a small handful of almonds/nuts, a few pieces of dark chocolate with some almonds, a banana dipped in almond butter, a smoothie with (frozen) red berries, almond milk and a tablespoon of almond butter. A classic savory option would be hummus or guacamole with carrots. These snacks can be put together very easily and can be shared with kids.
HE: What’s the #1 food faux pas?
KR: To put anything (water, soda, sparkling water) in your wine!
HE: Food is much more processed than it used to be, even here where many additives are banned. At the same time, the organic movement is growing. Fifty years from now, what are we going to be putting on our plates?
KR: I hope we will eat a lot more organic vegetables, good quality oils, some protein, whole grains, and a lot of fruit. Eating organic food with less pesticides and antibiotics puts less stress on the body. Organic food usually also tastes better. In the future I hope we will eat less meat and especially red meat as it consumes a lot of resources; for example 1,5kg of beef uses as much water as your shower for a year. A good beginning would be to limit the intake of animal proteins to 100g a day including lean meat, fish, and eggs, or to replace animal proteins with whole grains and pulses.
But resources will be more scarce—food scientists are working on creating “meat” that tastes like the real thing but is actually made with vegetable protein or cultured meat that grows in vitro. A few years ago a startup designed an all-plant burger that “bleeds,” simulating the juicy quality of a meat burger.
HE: As we know I love talking food. In my last interview with Cameil Kettenring, head chef at Bob’s, she mentioned eating age-appropriately. What are your thoughts on that?
KR: What she says makes sense, but again every person is different. If you’re in your 30s and have a stressful, hectic life, chances are that you’re straining your adrenals. Consuming coffee will only exhaust them more, so my advice in that case would be to stay away from the caffeine in coffee and in Coke.
At any age, the same guidelines I’ve mentioned hold true: eat a lot of fiber, good quality protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.
HE: How important is supplementing?
KR: Supplementing is not always needed but in some cases it can be really helpful to kick-start a process or to boost healing. It’s important to remember supplements will never replace a healthy diet. If during the winter you think you need some vitamin C, the best option would be to eat a whole orange instead of taking a tablet.
HE:What are your top places to eat in Paris?
KR: As I avoid dairy and gluten, my top place to eat is Chambelland for their delicious sandwiches. They also have some dairy-free options with their fabulous “tarte au citron meringuée” and the chocolate and pear muffin. I love Café Pinson for their vegetarian lunch options, also their chocolate tarte is delicious. Silk and Spice is a Thai restaurant close to rue Montorgeuil, they don’t use soy and I love the atmosphere in this restaurant. The decor is really nice which is not always the case in Thai restaurants.
HE: What’s your most popular no-fuss recipe?
KR: One of my favorite recipes is my gluten-free, vegan chocolate chip cookies. What I like about them is that they take 10 minutes to make and 20 minutes to bake. I almost always have all the ingredients at home so when friends want to come over for the goûter on the weekends I can whip them up quickly. It’s also a great recipe to do with children. My son loves to make them with me and he will mix all the ingredients together.
Gluten-free, Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
For 12 big cookies
3 mashed bananas (around 200g)
120g almond butter (purée d’amandes blanches)
100g brown rice flour
60g coconut sugar
60g hazelnuts or pecan nuts
75g dark chocolate
1 teaspoon baking powder
1.Preheat the oven to 180°C. Mash the ripe bananas with a fork and mix them with the liquid almond butter (purée d’amandes blanches is more liquid than the normal almond butter).
2.Add the coconut sugar, the chopped hazelnuts, and chocolate. Mix with the flour and baking powder.
3.Scoop out the cookie preparation with a spoon and put 12 scoops on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
4.Bake for around 20 min and enjoy!
Kristien Roodhorst was born in the Netherlands but moved to France when she was eight. She studied business and worked for several Internet and mobile companies before moving to San Francisco in 2010. When she came back to France after two years, motivated by the knowledge that eating properly had changed her life, she decided to attend the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in London. Now a nutritional therapist, she offers consultations with clients who want to improve their health. You can contact her at www.lanutritionniste.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or 06 77 72 35 81.