Nutrition is a complex subject. Even dieticians and functional nutrition counselors don’t agree on what foods are the best for our health. With keto this, gluten-free that, Mediterranean diet this, and low carb that, it’s no wonder most people are completely confused.
Years ago margarine was considered to be the healthier version of butter. Cow milk was touted as containing high amounts of calcium which is beneficial for growing strong, healthy teeth and bones. And diet sodas were marketed as better options than their standard counterparts.
Now we seem to be a little wiser, yet what we know today may be completely different tomorrow. Currently, we know that butter has beneficial fats that improve brain health while margarine has trans fats that increase our risk of chronic disease. Pasteurized cow milk has actually been shown to stunt bone growth whereas raw milk has shown to improve bone growth. And, well, we know that the aspartame in diet soda is a known neurotoxin.
I met up with holistic functional nutrition counselor, Amy Spindel, to discuss nutrition and ask her some of your most pressing questions. Enjoy our interview!
Dr. Kristi: Please introduce yourself to us.
Amy: I’m Amy Spindel, a holistic functional nutrition counselor. I have a five-year-old son who is the reason for getting me into the natural health field. He had so many problems when he was younger with food allergies and failure to thrive. It really got me looking outside conventional and even more holistic pediatric type treatments because they weren’t quite working.
I really started exploring nutrition and how the body works and how we can support the body and its healing capabilities. From there, I just really started exploring different modalities like nutrition, homeopathy, herbs and how we can hack the body in certain ways to get it to do what we need it to do when it’s stuck. That led me to teaching cooking classes for people to really support them in whole foods nutrition. And it also led me to go back to school to become a holistic and functional nutritionist to really figure out how to resolve these bigger health problems and symptoms people are having when conventional providers aren’t necessarily getting them where they want to be.
Dr. Kristi: You said “holistic functional nutrition.” How is holistic functional nutrition different from a dietician?
Amy: A dietician is learning set information per the dietary guidelines which have shown not to be evidence-based and research-based. A lot of the recent literature is actually showing counter to what the guidelines are proposing, especially around fats and saturated fats and how much fat we should be getting.
Basically what I’m doing is looking at the body as a whole. So I look at the person in the environment and how the environment then might be impacting how the body is functioning.
Are there things in the environment that are creating greater nutrient demands?
Are there things in the environment that are stressing out the immune system to respond in a way that is a normal response given the circumstances but not an experience the person is wanting because of the symptoms it is producing?
How is that person functioning and responding to all of these different stressors? Is there a nutrient deficiency, maybe through food?
A dietician would say, “you probably don’t need any supplements, the food that you’re eating is going to provide it. Just eat per the Myplate guidelines and you’re going to get exactly what you need.”
Dr. Kristi: And do they do that more as a one-size-fits-all approach?
So I’m always looking at the person in front of me. A person might walk in with a headache, and then the next person might walk in with a headache. But I’m going to want to understand why person A has a headache and how that’s different from person B’s headache, and then what to do underneath that to help the symptoms to resolve. So it’s going to be different than a dietician in that I’m not going to be making the same recommendations for every single person.
Dr. Kristi: So what schooling did you go through?
Amy: I’m just wrapping up my Master of Science in Holistic Nutrition at Hawthorn University and I’m also doing a multi-semester program through The School of Applied Functional Medicine to get a Functional Nutrition Certificate.
Dr. Kristi: I have a few questions that my readers have asked that I would like for you to answer for us.
First question…it seems like so many more people have intolerances than in the past. Any idea what’s leading this, or guidance or suggestions for those having digestive issues for tackling this on their own?
Amy: Let me first distinguish between intolerances and sensitivities. A sensitivity is going to be a reaction within the body. An intolerance is more that we are missing an enzyme, like lactose intolerance where you don’t have the enzyme and that’s why you’re getting symptoms from the milk sugars. For a sensitivity though, yes, sensitivities are developing a lot more frequently.
I am thinking it has to do with people, first of all, not taking the time to stop and chew and eat in a quiet, calm environment. People are eating in their cars. People are eating in front of their computers at their desks right smack in the middle of their workday, and they’re not taking a break. They’re rushing from one activity to the next after school. So that’s going to impact our digestion. It’s going to make us produce less stomach acid than is desirable.
Dr. Kristi: Well, they’re in a sympathetic state in those environments.
Amy: That’s exactly what it is!
When we’re in a sympathetic state, we’re not producing enough digestive secretions. Our body doesn’t know the difference between running off to the next meeting because we’re late and being chased by a wild tiger. So the reaction of the body is going to be the same. It’s going to focus on getting into fight-or-flight mode, getting the heck out of this situation as fast as possible, and not focused on harvesting nutrients from our food. That’s where it’s shifting towards.
So by shifting into a parasympathetic state, by getting more relaxation in, and more mindfulness in around our meal times, that could make a humongous difference. I always recommend that as a first step.
Dr. Kristi: How can we do that?
Amy: You can do that by making sure you have enough time to eat, by making the space to eat, by taking a moment before you take your first bite to just collect yourself and get into the space. Maybe it’s by saying “I’m really grateful for this plate of food in front of me,” and taking the time to smell it. Because we know that when we smell food and when we look at food and appreciate the colors and textures in front of us, that that helps to get the digestive juices flowing. And that’s going to help break down our food down the line. So really just taking that 1 or 2 minutes before taking that first bite will be helpful.
And I think the other big piece of it is a lot of people are having thyroid issues that they’re not catching, so that’s breaking digestion, too.
Dr. Kristi: So they would need to go get testing and get diagnosed by their doctor?
Amy: They would need some testing. The difficulty often is that conventional providers are not necessarily ordering lab work that is reflective of what’s going on with the thyroid itself. So we don’t know where the problem lies within the thyroid: lack of iodine producing enough thyroid hormone, lack of enough zinc or selenium that is allowing it to produce active thyroid hormone (the conversion piece), or if it’s tons of stress that are inhibiting thyroid hormone production. So that can get trickier.
There are certain labs that need to be ordered and it’s not always as black and white as the lab range says is ideal. We know that as the population gets sicker, those lab ranges are actually getting wider and wider. And it’s not saying who’s healthy. It’s capturing the sick people.
I just saw where a lab announced that the CRP range was doubling, which is telling me that people have more inflammation. It’s not telling me that people are healthy and in a normal range and that I should accept this doubled range as normal and healthy. It’s telling me that people are sicker.
Dr. Kristi: Another question…how can a person know if they are eating correctly for their age, gender, and health struggles? There are so many different ideas out there. It’s so frustrating trying to figure it all out and nothing seems very balanced.
Amy: That’s hard to answer here because it’s so person-specific. If they’re having symptoms, it’s suggesting that either they’re needing something more from their diet or they’re not figuring out that there’s some imbalance driving the symptom. So I think it’s a little complicated to answer that here.
Dr. Kristi: Ok, the next question…does kombucha really affect the gut microbiome or is it all marketing hype?
Amy: Well, if it’s living kombucha, sure. It’s living bacteria and anytime we’re taking a bacteria, yes, it will impact the microbiome.
Dr. Kristi: So what about the ones you buy in the store?
Amy: It really depends on how they’re making it. I am sure they’re living, there’s alcohol in there so they’re fermenting.
Dr. Kristi: Is there a way to tell which ones are good? If somebody doesn’t want to make their own, is there a way that they can just go grab one off the shelf and know that it would be good for them?
Amy: Call the company and find out what testing they’ve done on their product to know that it’s living. The alcohol concentration is another good indication that fermentation is going on, although, in the past, Whole Foods had kombucha on the shelf where the alcohol content was too high to legally sell without IDing somebody. So kombucha is alive, but it’s hard to know exactly who’s making the better product without asking the companies.
Dr. Kristi: Speaking of fermentation…is there a way to make fermented salsa?
Dr. Kristi: If someone can’t have tomatoes, can something like tomatillos be substituted?
Amy: You’d have to try it. The water content is going to be different, but I don’t see why not. The process is the same. There’s a lot of leeway. You just have to watch for mold and make sure you’re putting enough salt in and the temperature is correct.
Dr. Kristi: And a final question…what are your favorite nutrition resources?
Amy: For real food-based recipes I like Nom Nom Paleo, Paleo Leap, Smitten Kitchen, Minimalist Baker, and The Mediterranean Dish. For fact-based articles on different health topics, I like Chris Kresser, Joseph Mercola, and Examine.com. I’ll also mention The Flavor Bible which is a book that tells you different pairings. Chefs will often have it if they’re developing recipes because if you have some random vegetable, it will tell you what herbs and spices and other fruits and vegetables and meats will go along with it. It’s a shortcut so that you don’t have to keep experimenting.
Dr. Kristi: Would you ever do online fermenting classes?
Amy: Four people this month have asked me that question. Maybe.
Dr. Kristi: How can someone get in touch with you? Do you do nutrition counseling?
Amy: Yes, I do. My nutrition counseling is from a functional framework.
Dr. Kristi: Do you see clients only in person or do you work with people online?
As you can see, nutrition is a very complex subject. I hope this interview provided you with some information that you can take away and begin applying to your healthy living journey.
I was also able to check out Amy’s Fearless Fermenting class. Here are some of the highlights:
Amy holds many different healthy cooking classes in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex throughout the year. If you are in the area, I highly recommend choosing one or two classes to attend. You’ll gain a ton of knowledge from her.