10 Questions to Get to know our Head Nutritionist, Sam Bourne!
1.Can you tell us about the path that led you to be the accomplished nutritionist you are today? Have you always predominately been interested / studied all things nutrition, wellness, health etc?
I think I had an affinity for nutrition long before I realised I would eventually work in the health industry. I trained as a designer at university and my final project was entitled ‘What’s in a Food?’, little did I know that after having a successful career in design I would go on to dedicate myself to helping people fulfil their health potential through what actually is in food. It was my own health concerns that sent me down the path of nutrition though. Even whilst I was running my own design studio, I would read and research nutrition. There was so much less information available back then and I had to experiment a lot. In my 20s I suffered with severe digestive and abdominal pain post eating. This was debilitating and exhausting and really affected my mental health. Changing my diet was miraculous, curing me when my doctors and medication had done nothing. I went on to create my own amateur nutrition plans for pre, during and post pregnancy and I was very careful with my children’s nutrition. In fact, I wrote stories and created characters to help them choose healthy foods. I later went on to publish a set of books once I was qualified in nutrition. When I decided to change my career to become more flexible, nutrition seemed the obvious choice. Although I do love a recipe book, I tend to create all my own recipes as I love to create new flavours and new ways of using healthy foods that allow for greater nutrition, are easier on digestion and taste delicious. I love working with chefs to educate and influence and tend to be horrified watching the TV chefs and the ingredients they use!
I have also practiced Yoga since my 20s and I feel that along with optimal nutrition it is the perfect combination for health and well-being. I am also heavily influenced by the ayurvedic
principles of health and wellbeing.
2. What courses have you taken throughout all of your studies that you enjoyed the most, and the least?
When I decided to go back to study, I had no idea that I would need to do a year of biomedicine, although it was exciting, I was completely floored, I realised I knew very little!
I studied Naturopathic Nutritional Therapy at the CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine) in London. It was very hard work, but worth it. I did not enjoy the exams, but I got such a feeling of accomplishment when I did well. It opened a world of discovery, of wonder really. It made me question why doctors are not taught this too, or why personal nutrition is not taught in school. It’s like governments and the medical profession are blind to something that could change a nation’s health. Even during this Covid 19 pandemic it amazes me how so little good nutrition and health is talked about. I have been to many seminars, lectures, webinars over the 13 years of practicing and given many talks myself. One of the things I enjoy the most is a good nutrition book written by one of the many talented nutrition scientists that gets under the skin of just one nutrient like Niacin or Vitamin C, I am definitely a nutrition geek.
3. Through your career have you evidently seen in clients that an individual's diet plays a large role on their mind and body? For example, in their performance, muscle recovery, daily energy levels, mental clarity, appetite, sleep, inflammation, workout intensity or duration?
I have worked with many people over the years, clients and friend and family. I can honestly say that I know of so few people that haven’t seen changes for the better or completely changed their health through nutritional therapy. The people that don’t see an improvement are in general those that do not commit to the process of change. I have worked with Ironmen athletes, one of whom came to me due to his skin condition and fatigue, not realising that such heavy training had taken such a toll on his immune function, we focused on that instead of the usual sports nutrition and he improved so much that his performance got better, and he could compete for longer. I find that giving people the nutrition tools via education gives them the power to improve their own health. Probably the most regular ‘side effect’ of better nutrition can shock people at how their mental clarity and energy can change. One of the best rewards is seeing people at their follow ups and some of them I don’t even recognise due the changes in their physical appearance, not just about weight loss or gain, but skin becomes healthier, eyes are brighter. Once someone has gone through the process of making the changes, feeling the difference they become believers and then go on to advocate for healthier eating that eventually leads to changes in society and I believe it’s what we are beginning to see now.
4. Throughout your career have you observed 'diet culture' to have as much as a trend as fashion? For example, popularity increasing in diets such as Paleo, Ketogenic, Vegan, Vegetarian etc over the years? If so, are there big differences in them all? Would you say some are actually more beneficial than others?
I think that before I began studying there were companies that created ‘diets’, my mother was always ‘on a diet’. As nutritional information became more available through books at first then the internet, the health industry exploited this. Some of it is great because it can influence for the good, but there is so much information that it is really hard for a normal person to navigate and many of the ‘influencers’ are not qualified and can be misleading even if their intentions are good.
I don’t ever use keto or paleo diets as they are not as healthy as they make out. The other drawback is once you stop these unsustainable diets any weight loss tends to go straight back on because the brain goes into storing mode after being starved of carbohydrates. There is a time and a place for them in emergency weight loss though.
Being Vegan or vegetarian is not that new, but it has become more popular due to change in attitudes toward animal welfare, sustainability and climate change. Eating less meat has to be one of the healthiest things you can do for your health and the planet. Both vegan and veggie can be tricky though, as nutrient intake must be carefully considered. There’s no doubt that when first going vegan, if done properly, you can feel amazing as this can be a cleansing diet. However, after a while if nutrients are missing then the health effects will start to show after a year or more and these can be serious. The best diets I think are those that use small amounts of animal product and or high-quality vegetable proteins and large amounts of fresh plant foods, healthy grains, high quality healthy fats and oils. It’s more of a Flexitarian diet that considers the provenance and sustainability of the foods. Expensive does not always mean the best, but to eat healthily we do need to invest more money in the choices we make. It’s why I believe the government should subsidise healthy foods and financially support the growers, the producers and the market. Government should be encouraging those that cannot afford to eat well to make better choices with financial help. Afterall it could make a vast difference to the NHS if you consider how much money is spent on Obesity, diabetes, cancer, chronic conditions like arthritis and heart disease all connected to diet and lifestyle.
5. Are there any drawbacks to working in this field?
The main drawback is wanting to do too much. I tend to take on quite a lot because it is hard to turn someone away that needs help, when I know I can help. The other drawback is the amount of information and knowledge that one needs to assimilate and then translate. Also as a condition of being registered I need to keep up with continuing professional development and this can be quite a burden if already busy. I don’t think there is a single article, webinar or workshop that I haven’t had to spend enormous time researching to make sure all the facts are correct, and the science is up to date. It does keep you on your toes though, and thank goodness for all those amazing scientists and researchers out there as they are the true nutrition heroes.
6. What are your most common cases / what people come to you mostly for as a nutritionist?
There are many health issues, some serious, that optimal nutrition and dietary changes can help, but I think the most common complaint is digestive health because it affects so much. As people become more aware of the term ‘gut microbiome’, there is also a curiosity to know ‘what’s going on in my gut’ . Immune support, increased energy, cardiovascular health and hormonal health are very popular too.
7. Have you seen shift in the public's perception of nutrition over the years?
Yes absolutely! There are some people who are what I call early adopters, those that through whatever reason decide to educate themselves and try to make better choices. Then as the nutritional information gets out into the media people start to think and put two and two together. Then food producers start to realise that these healthier foods can sell and then we find them on the shop shelves as demand increases. I think there are many amazing products now. In a way it’s ‘re-learning’ as we did used to know what foods were healthy and why we ate certain spices and foods together, why we only ate meat one or two days a week, where we get our vitamins from. I remember my grandmother used to talk about ‘Roughage’ which seems such an old-fashioned name now – but it was all about the fibre. We have a better understanding of why we need this in our diet than they actually did, but still people today do not eat enough of it.
8. Can you tell us what your typical go to meals look like in your average week as a nutritionist?
I Like to make sure that I get regularity with variety into my diet AND some vital digestive breaks. Most mornings a week I will start with fluid and an apple or other piece of fruit, then some form of exercise (Dog walking, Yoga or Gym). Then have breakfast – and I aim to include some fibre in all my meals. I try to have a fibre smoothie most days, this will have mostly stalky veg, berries, kefir, water or oat milk, apples, green powder, inulin and collagen in. I try to take two evenings when I don’t eat dinner, but give my digestion a break, or choose one day when I eat very lightly.
9. Are there any foods or drinks that you avoid? If so, why?
Yes absolutely – I avoid Gluten as much as I can, cow’s milk and cheese, sugary foods (but still eat fruit sugars and do bake sometimes with Rapa Dura sugar) I also avoid caffeine drinks (except green and earl grey tea), fruit juices and all sugary drinks, I am very careful with alcohol too – just 1-2 glasses once a week. I also avoid having too much citrus fruit & tomatoes. I avoid many of the foods that people love like pizza, burgers and pasta and try to eat better versions like quinoa pasta, rice noodles, and no ready meals except POW’s of course. I have trained my tastebuds to only like dark chocolate and avoid other kinds – mainly due to sugar and milk content. I don’t avoid butter or healthy fats, I get through a lot of olive oil!
It makes a big difference to how I feel physically and mentally to have made such changes to my diet over the years, discovering what affected me took a while to observe and it’s not an exact science because how foods affect me can change not just from month to month, dish to dish, but as I’ve got older, what exercise I do, travelling and stress. Health is multifactorial and very connected to diet and digestion.
10. And lastly, just for fun: What is your ultimate weakness/guilty pleasure with food - if it had no calories or effect on the body and you could eat as much as you'd like?
Oh that’s a very good question – my kids know that my favourite desert is Mille feuille with strawberries and my daughter made this for me on my birthday last year – I ate so many! Sometimes you just have to have a food moment and enjoy it! (POW any ideas how to make a healthier one??)
|Drink and snack options
|My own made muesli with kefir and berries |Fibre smoothie with a boiled egg on side | Gluten free toast with smashed organic avocado with lime and chili | Mushrooms with butter beans and spinach | Home made baked beans with Turmeric and spices and fresh spinach | Veggie and scramble egg kedgeree style – I like breakfast!
|Earl grey weak tea, green tea or Chicory cup.
| Jacket potato with chopped salad | In winter lovely homemade soups and broths (or POW soups!) | Chopped salads – with a variety of veg including red cabbage, broccoli, chicory, seeds, healthy oils | Butter beans with tomato and turmeric |Shrimp with garlic and broccoli with brown rice noodles | Greek salad with seeds and cold potatoes| Homemade frittata
|Snacks: Oatcakes, homemade energy balls, carrots, fresh peas from a pod (seriously good!), sprouted pulses, apple, walnuts, dates, dried prunes, all other fruits. Plus – some low salt vegetable and purple corn nacho chips. Homemade low sugar cookies and reimagined chocolate (where you melt dark chocolate and add healthy things like goji berries and seeds. Fresh or dried coconut chips are great too.
| Salmon and vegetables |Chicken and lemon tagine | Mushroom or seafood risotto | Wild rice with kimchi and lentils | Lightly cooked salmon with greens flavoured with ginger, lime and lemon grass | Fresh mackerel and beetroot | Organic lean beef (tiny amounts to flavour and increase iron intake) Tempeh with ginger and garlic and greens
Questions by Lauren Burchell
, Founder of HoliFit; Health Coach and Personal Trainer