Q&A with Thrive Nutritionist Elena Letyagina

elena letyagina - thrive magazine

Q&A WITH OUR THRIVE EXPERTS Meet Nutritionist Elena Letyagina

Q1. What are the pros & cons of low-carb diets?

By removing some of the processed carbohydrates from your diet, such as pastry, sweets, pizza, frozen meals, crisps, etc. you may see a beneficial impact on your weight, energy levels and digestion. However, by removing unprocessed plant-based carbohydrates, such as legumes, wholegrains, starchy vegetables and some fruits you would be significantly reducing a number of important nutrients (polyphenols, antioxidants, minerals, vitamins) in your diet. But most importantly, you may unintentionally reduce diversity of your dietary fibre, which is the most crucial factor in supporting your healthy gut microbiota. We know that a diverse gut microbiota protects us from digestive disorders, supports our immunity, contributes to a healthy weight and metabolism, in addition to supporting our brain health, mood and cognition.

Low-carb diets are also contra-indicated for people with hor­monal imbalances (thyroid, adrenal, sex hormones), digestive disorders (issues with liver, gallbladder, pancreas) and a history of eating disorders. If you are considering a low-carb diet for weight management purposes, I would suggest incorporating a diversified range of plant sources, including vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, fruits, nuts and seeds into your diet, focusing on lean protein and healthy fats, while reducing pro­cessed foods, which are often high in processed carbohydrates, added sugar and saturated fat. You may need to discuss a detailed meal composition plan and portion sizes with a health practitioner.

Q2. Are there certain ages at which a body’s metabolism slows down?

From around our mid-20s, we begin a slow transition from a “pro-growth state” to an “ageing state”. As we age, our cells start accumulating more damage and waste products and become less efficient in recycling them. This cellular ageing will affect all body functions, including how effectively we use nutrients to produce energy or “metabolism”.

In essence, it is dictated by your biological age (how well your organs are ageing) rather than your chronological age (how old you are), as to when you start feeling the effects of a slowing metabolic function. There are certain lifestyle factors which greatly contribute to the ageing process, such as a nutri­ent-poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, pollution, alcohol, stress, and poor sleep. Having a diet rich in diverse plants, healthy fats and high quality protein, being able to manage your sleep and stress effectively and completing at least 150 min of moderate exercise per week would support your anti-ageing effort, allowing your metabolism to run more effectively for longer.

Q3. I never know how to correctly portion my meals to have a balanced meal. Please help.

When talking about a “balanced meal”, we usually mean a plate containing all major food groups, such as protein, healthy fats, vegetables and wholegrains in the following proportions:

  • 1/2 of your plate would be vegetables – approx. 1-2 fist sizes.
  • 1/4 of the plate would be protein (e.g. lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs) or plant protein (e.g. lentils, beans, soy, chickpeas) – approx. a palm size.
  • 1/4 of the plate would be wholegrains (e.g. brown rice, quinoa, buck­wheat) or starchy vegetables (e.g. sweet potato) – approx. a small handful.
  • some healthy fats, such as fatty fish (which counts as a protein too!), olive oil, some nuts, seeds or ½ avocado should also be on the plate.

By constructing all of your main meals using these suggestions, you would be eating 5-7 vegetables per day, whilst staying fuller for longer after each meal thanks to the proteins and healthy fats. Focusing on the diversity of your vegetables, legumes, wholegrains and fruits, is a great way to support your overall health too.

Q4. Does fruit have too much sugar?

We should not worry too much about natural sugar found in whole fruit. Fruit contains “fructose” and “glucose”, which are simple sugars but as they are embedded into fibre also found in fruits, these sugars are absorbed into our bloodstream slowly. Having 2-3 portions of different fruits or berries daily is perfectly fine. Having said that, certain products, such as fruit juices, fruit drinks and processed smoothies contain very limited amount of fibre, while having a large amount of “natural sugars” coming from several fruits. In the absence of fibre, natural fruit sugars will be quickly absorbed into your bloodstream causing your blood sugar to spike, before rapidly dropping. This type of scenario should be avoided, as it is important to keep blood sugar levels stable.

Q5. Is food labelled “organic” more nutritious?

Nutritional value is not necessarily affected by the organic vs. non-organic status. You should not worry about getting less nutrients by choosing non-organic produce. However, non-organic foods may have traces of pesticides, herbicides and other harmful chemicals, which may affect us in different ways, from burdening our detoxification capabilities to interacting with our hormones and neurotransmitters. If you have to prioritise which organic foods to buy, then focus on organic animal produce – in particular meat, poultry, eggs and dairy and organic fruits and vegetables that you would not normally peel and which are hard to wash properly, such as berries, leafy cabbages and cauliflower. If you buy non-organic fruit and vegetables, then soak them in water for a few minutes before properly washing. You could also add a bit of vinegar to the water to help remove chemical residues.

Huge thanks to #ThriveExpert Elena Letyagina for answering all of your questions. If you have any questions on any topic within nutrition, please email hello@thrive-magazine.co.uk