Recently, I was approached by a fitness web portal for an interview. I accepted the offer, received the questions, and answered them. The editors were not happy with my answers and asked me to rephrase them – the reason being my answers seemed imprecise to them, added that the readers couldn't learn anything from them. Of course, I disagreed, didn't change my answers, and gave my arguments asking the editor to honor my view. I didn't get a reply to my email nor to a reminder I sent a week later. Then I informed the editor of my decision to publish the interview on my web page. That email received no reply either.
Since I consider it to be quite useful because it presents my opinions on popular dietary matters very concisely, I decided to publish the entire interview, unchanged, here. Also, how often does one get a chance to publish an interview with oneself? I'll let you be the judge of how informative it is.
Hint: I do not mean informative as a step-by-step instruction manual on how to eat healthy, but how to develop a healthy relationship with food as a basis for developing healthy dietary habits.
Tell us a few words about yourself, your education, and what you do at the moment.
I graduated from Faculty of Food Technology and Biotechnology (University of Zagreb) with MA in Nutritionism. I'm currently doing a PhD in Nutrigenomics and Personalized nutrition in Spain. I own the nutricionizam.hr website where I try to offer quality, practical, and rational dietary advice through articles and nutrition services. I work with clients, mostly professional and amateur athletes. Other than helping people improve the quality of their diet, enhance their sports performance, and achieve the desired body weight and composition. I also focus strongly on the psychological component of the diet, emphasizing the importance of developing a healthy relationship with food.
How important is breakfast really and why, and what's the best example of a breakfast meal?
Breakfast is no more or less important than any other meal in a day. The schedule and timing of meals does not have a significant influence on quality of diet in healthy people who are not professional athletes. Of course, if total daily dietary nutritive needs are satisfied.
Also, there is no optimal breakfast, because the quality of a diet depends on the combination of contents of all the meals throughout the day, as well as personal preferences and practicality of preparation. What I can advise you on is to include a dairy product in it, because it is less likely you will include it in lunch or dinner.
If you had to specify one or two food items people should consume on a daily basis, what would they be and why?
There is no single food item (or more of them) that could satisfy all of our dietary needs. That is why I never recommend a particular item, but instead, focus on food groups. Food groups are: vegetables, fruits, nuts, protein sources (meat, fish, and eggs), grains, and dairy products. All these food groups should be present in a diet in order to call it healthy.
What is the optimal number of daily meals and what are the benefits of such a division when compared to some others?
As I mentioned earlier, schedule and timing of meals is usually not a relevant factor in the quality of a diet. Generally speaking, there is no optimal number of meals in a day – it depends on individual preference and life habits of a person. However, number of meals shouldn't go into extreme numbers, so I'd recommend 3-7 meals a day.
What is your opinion on diets that promote one meal a day (warrior diet etc)? What are some positive and negative sides to these types of diet?
I'm not a fan of these types of diets. For most people, they are very impractical and hard to follow. Other than basically not allowing for any activity after consuming that one huge meal, they make it harder to consume food in social occasions, leave you feeling hungry most of the day, and are not a good choice for athletes who are trying to optimize the protein synthesis in order to enhance muscle mass or maintain it during the process of fat tissue reduction. There are no advantages to a diet containing one meal only when compared to those with more.
What is your opinion on food supplements? How necessary are they, which ones, and to whom? What do you personally consume?
I divide food supplements into two groups – those made for general population and those made for athletes.
First group is a practical substitute of certain nutrients which could be missing from a diet. So, they should be consumed when there's a risk of certain dietary deficiency. I'd like to emphasize that healthy people that are not actively engaged in sports or weight training can satisfy all their dietary needs without any supplements.
Athletes are a group of people who can benefit from supplements regardless of their diet, because many have a proven positive effect on sports performance – strength, endurance, and concentration – and it is not possible to get enough of them through food. From this group I'd like to single out protein, creatine, beta-alanine, hydroxy-methyl-butyrate, but this doesn't mean that the list is final.
There is no supplement that can compensate the negative effects of a low-quality diet, because there are many compounds – especially found in herbs and plants – which could have a positive effect on health, but are not investigated enough, and therefore can't be justifiably isolated into supplements.
I like to say that the best supplement is the one that will make you eat healthy.
Right now I consume omega-3 fatty acids, whey protein, and creatine.
How often do you eat sweets and do you have a favorite? Are there healthy sweets?
I eat sweets on a daily basis. I like sweets and I can't single out just one. They all deserve a chance. Since I believe there is no healthy and unhealthy food, just healthy and unhealthy diet, I don't think there is a healthy or unhealthy sweets. It shouldn't be viewed through the prism of dietary value, but the pleasure it provides.
Let's imagine you were in the cinema or at home in front of a TV. What will you choose in terms of snacks? What's the worst choice one could make?
In both cases I pick something sweet. In the cinema, I'll have popcorn – caramelized. At home I honor diversity. The worst choice is the one that will make you go overboard with your daily calorie consumption and create a calorie surplus – make you get fat.
In the last couple of years there's been a lot of talk about superfoods. How do you feel about this category of foods and which one would you single out for inclusion in one's diet?
As I previously pointed out, there is no one food item that will satisfy all our dietary needs. Thus, I wouldn't call any food item a superfood. Even if a certain food had an extraordinary positive effect on health, too much focus on it would lead to reduced focus on other food items, and the diversity itself – which could potentially lead to lower quality of the diet. And total quality of a diet is the most important factor in maintaining health.
Which errors do you notice most often in everyday diet of a regular person?
Even though there are many, I'd like to point out two which I believe to be the most harmful. The first one would be too great of a focus on specific food items and dietary habits that have a suspicious value to say the least, and neglecting the total quality of diet and the simple steps required for achieving it. The second most common error is the unjustified partitioning of foods into healthy and unhealthy. That results in developing a negative, unhealthy relationship with food, fear of it, and unnecessary stress.
How would you estimate the level of people's consciousness about importance of food and balanced diet, and what areas should be worked on in order to improve the general state of nutrition consulting?
The health consciousness is on a high level, I would even say so etimes too high. The problem is low quality of dietary information which gets through to people, what can result in developing harmful dietary habits and an unhealthy relationship with food. Furthermore, sensationalistic information in the media and the sheer quantity of it can lead a person to believe they have knowledge on the subject, which makes them less receptive for simple, quality, and unsensational advice they can get from an expert.
There's a lot of room for improvement in many different areas, including a better education for nutritionists themselves. However, I'd like to address the media problem here. Dietary information which comes through to people should be of a higher quality. That is why I believe it's necessary to make a strict division of information provided by nutritionists and those who only call themselves so. Unfortunately, in Croatia, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, regardless of their qualifications. Until this is changed, I believe the media has a responsibility to emphasize this difference and at least partially protect its consumers from low-quality dietary information.