Balancing diet and culture- Reflections from an English-speaking nutritionist in Madrid

Balancing diet and culture: Reflections from an English-speaking nutritionist in Madrid

Explore how cultural differences affect diet and nutrition, and how an English-speaking nutritionist in Madrid can help combining cultural dietary practices with healthy eating habits.

Moving to another country often involves significant changes in lifestyle habits, including eating habits. These changes can be due to a variety of factors, and it is important to be prepared to adapt to new practices and environments. The timing of (late) meals, for example, is something that comes as a big surprise to foreigners when they move to live in Spain.

In our country, food has a significant cultural, social, and economic importance as well as playing a central role in people’s daily lives. Spanish gastronomy is internationally renowned for its diversity, richness of flavours and the importance given to fresh, local ingredients. In addition, the socialising around food reflects the richness of the Spanish culinary tradition.

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Cultural differences of food in Spain

This deep-rooted tradition of Spanish food can have a negative impact on the eating habits of people moving to Spain. It must be understood that cultural differences can have a significant impact on people’s nutrition. Here are some ways in which cultural differences can affect nutrition:

  • Food preferences: Cultures have different preferences for tastes, textures, and types of foods. For example, some cultures may base their diet on spicier foods, while others may prefer milder or sweeter foods. These preferences can affect food choices and thus, the nutritional quality of the diet.
  • Dietary patterns: Cultures also have specific dietary patterns, which may influence the frequency and quantity of meals consumed. Some cultures may have a habit of eating several small meals throughout the day, while others may opt for larger meals at certain times.
  • Symbolic meanings of food: Food may have symbolic meanings in different cultures. Some foods may be associated with celebrations, rituals, or special events. This may influence the amount and type of food consumed on certain occasions, affecting nutritional intake.
  • Food availability: The availability of certain foods may vary according to geographical region and climatic conditions. This can affect the variety and quantity of food available in each culture, which in turn influences the nutrition of the population.
  • Social norms: Social norms around food, such as the acceptance or rejection of certain foods, can be strongly influenced by culture. These norms can affect food choices and quantity consumed.
  • Gender roles: In some cultures, gender roles can affect nutrition, as expectations about who cooks, buys food, or decides about meals may vary. This can influence the quality and quantity of food consumed by different members of society.
  • Tradition and intergenerational transmission: Recipes and food practices are often passed down from generation to generation. Culinary traditions can influence the choice of foods and how they are prepared, which affects the nutritional quality of the diet.
  • Religious beliefs: Religious beliefs may have specific dietary restrictions that affect eating habits. For example, some religions may prohibit certain types of meat or processed foods.
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How to find a balance between diet and culture

Finding a balance between diet and culture is essential to promote healthy and sustainable eating habits. Often moving to another country is synonymous with changes in our eating patterns, which can have a negative impact on our health. Seeing a Spanish nutritionist who speaks English and has lived in Australia can be beneficial for us as she will consider the following aspects:

  • Respecting cultural preferences: Recognising and respecting the food preferences and culinary traditions of both countries is fundamental. This involves understanding the ingredients, cooking methods and food combinations that are significant in that culture. As a nutritionist, my job is to help combine aspects of both cultures to achieve a good diet.
  • Adapt nutritional recommendations: It is important to adapt nutritional recommendations to the specific preferences and needs of a cultural community. This may include adapting dietary guidelines to reflect the most common dietary choices and to respect cultural or religious restrictions.
  • Culturally sensitive nutrition education: Develop nutrition education programmes that take into account dietary practices and cultural beliefs. This helps people understand how to make healthy dietary choices within their cultural context.
  • Incorporate local and seasonal foods: Encouraging the consumption of local and seasonal foods can be beneficial for both health and sustainability. Moreover, this aligns with many traditional food practices that have evolved to take advantage of the products available in the region. In Spain we have a great diversity of agricultural and livestock production that provides us with nutrient-rich foods.
  • Promote dietary diversity: Encouraging dietary diversity is essential to ensure a balanced intake of nutrients. This can include exploring lesser-known but nutritious traditional foods.
  • Celebrate festivals and cultural events with food: Integrating food into cultural celebrations and events strengthens the links between food and cultural identity. This can make people feel more connected to their traditions and at the same time promote healthy food choices. Spain is a country with a great diversity of festivities in which we eat traditional foods. Including us in our diet is a way of integrating into the new society.
  • Address specific health challenges: Recognise and address specific health challenges within a cultural community. Some communities may face specific health issues related to diet, and it is important to address these issues in a culturally sensitive manner.
  • Encourage home cooking: Promoting home cooking can be an effective way to maintain culinary traditions while controlling the quality of ingredients and portions.
  • Adapt to cultural changes: Recognise that cultures evolve and change over time, and that eating habits may also change. Adapting to these cultural changes without losing sight of the importance of nutritional health is crucial.
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In summary, consultation with a nutritionist when moving to another country can be essential to ensure that you maintain a balanced, healthy diet adapted to your new situation. Finding a balance between diet and culture involves respecting and celebrating traditional food practices while promoting choices that are beneficial to health and sustainable in the long term.

About the author:

Adriana Martín is a clinical nutritionist at Sinews. She sees adults, adolescents and children seeking to improve their health through food. She specialises in public health and also treats ED, SIBO, chronic diseases and other pathologies, as well as muscle mass gain or weight loss. Her approach is not to prescribe closed menus, but to make people understand the importance of nutrition at every stage of life through different tools.

Adriana Martín Peral
División of Nutrition
Adriana Martín Peral
Nutritionist
Children, adolescents and adults
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé

Why do I feel hungry all the time and how to avoid it?

Why do I feel hungry all the time and how to avoid it?

Feeling hungry can have a variety of causes and understanding them can help you better manage your eating. Some common reasons why you might feel hungry are your own physiological needs, a lack of hydration, emotional factors, or what I see most often in consultation, low blood glucose levels.

Glucose is a type of simple sugar that serves as the main source of energy for many cells in the body. It is a monosaccharide, which means it is a sugar molecule made up of only one type of sugar unit. Glucose is essential for the proper functioning of the human body, providing the energy needed to carry out various cellular and metabolic functions. When this glucose is low in the blood, our body wants to increase it for energy.

When you eat foods containing carbohydrates, such as sugars and starches, your body breaks these compounds down into glucose during digestion. Glucose then circulates in the bloodstream and is transported to cells for immediate use as an energy source or stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen for future use.

Careful regulation of blood glucose levels is crucial to maintaining health. The hormone insulin, produced by the pancreas, plays a key role in this process, facilitating the entry of glucose into cells and helping to keep blood glucose levels within a normal range. Problems in glucose regulation, such as diabetes, can have significant health consequences.

When does blood glucose rise or fall?

Blood glucose tends to rise and fall in response to various factors, and we need to understand and be aware that this is a normal process in the body. Here are some common situations in which blood glucose levels may fluctuate:

  • After Eating (Postprandial): After a meal, blood glucose levels tend to rise due to the absorption of glucose from food in the digestive system. This is part of the body's natural response to food intake. However, an unbalanced meal will lead to dysregulation of these glucose levels and make us hungry earlier than normal.
  • Fasting or Prolonged No Food Period: During fasting or if too much time passes between meals, blood glucose levels may drop as the body uses stored glucose for energy.
  • Exercise: Physical activity can lower blood glucose levels as muscles use glucose as a source of energy during exercise.
  • Stress: Stress can affect blood glucose levels. In stressful situations, the body may release hormones that increase glucose levels to provide additional energy.
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How do fluctuations in blood glucose levels affect our bodies?

Fluctuations in blood glucose levels can have diverse effects on the body and health, especially if these fluctuations are extreme or occur frequently. Here are some ways in which fluctuations in glucose levels can affect us:

Fatigue and Energy:

Low blood glucose levels can lead to fatigue and weakness, as cells do not receive enough energy to function properly.

High glucose levels can cause fatigue due to insulin resistance, where cells have difficulty using the available glucose.

These continual rises and falls in blood glucose will cause our bodies to experience momentary energy spikes and continuous spikes of extreme fatigue. This is something that many people think is normal on a day-to-day basis, but it is not. Maintaining regular blood glucose levels will also keep our energy stable.

Mood swings:

Swings in glucose levels can affect our mood. Low glucose levels can cause irritability and mood swings, while high levels can be associated with fatigue and lethargy. When we are in a low, listless state, we seek out foods that make us feel better, usually sweets, which will cause these glucose levels to rise rapidly.

Cognitive problems:

Low glucose levels can affect brain function and concentration. This is especially important because the brain relies heavily on glucose as an energy source. People with attention deficit disorder, autism, or other cognitive pathologies, maintaining regular glucose levels will prevent these problems from being exaggerated.

Physical symptoms:

Extreme swings can cause physical symptoms such as tremors, sweating, dizziness, and in more severe cases, fainting.

Organ and Tissue Damage:

Long-term elevated glucose levels, as in the case of poorly controlled diabetes, can contribute to organ and tissue damage, including the eyes, kidneys, nerves and blood vessels.

Increased Cardiovascular Risk:

Frequent fluctuations in glucose levels, especially if extreme, can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Metabolic Problems:

Frequent swings can contribute to insulin resistance, which can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.

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What can we do to avoid glucose swings and keep hunger controlled?

If we start our day with a breakfast high in refined carbohydrates (white bread, pastries, biscuits or even cereals coming from a box) or even orange juice, our blood glucose will shoot up first thing in the morning. This will lead to a consequent drop in blood sugar and therefore an increase in appetite mid-morning (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). Our body is wise, and once it gets that glucose spike first thing in the morning, it will always look for you to keep it that high, but it’s not healthy.

Keeping hunger at bay means adopting eating and lifestyle habits that help control your appetite. Here are some strategies that can help you keep hunger under control:

  • Eat Balanced Meals: Include lean protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats at every meal. These nutrients provide a feeling of satiety and help keep energy levels stable. Follow the Harvard Plate for lunch and dinner, adjusting proportions to your physical activity, weight, height and goals.
  • Eat Fibre: Fibre-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, are more satisfying and can help keep hunger at bay by increasing satiety.
  • Adequate Hydration: Sometimes, thirst can be mistaken for hunger. Drinking enough water throughout the day can help keep hunger under control.
  • Avoid Refined Sugars and Carbohydrates: Foods high in simple sugars and refined carbohydrates can lead to fluctuations in blood glucose levels, which can increase appetite. Go for healthier sources of carbohydrates.
  • Include Healthy Snacks: It's OK if you feel hungry between meals, choose healthy and satiating snacks, such as fruit, Greek yoghurt, nuts or veggies with hummus.
  • Get Enough Sleep: Lack of sleep can affect the hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. Try to make sure you get enough sleep each night.
  • Manage Stress: Stress can affect appetite. Practicing stress management techniques, such as meditation or yoga, can help control emotional hunger.
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Remember that everyone is unique, and it can be helpful to experiment with different approaches to find what works best for you. A healthy eating pattern involves eating 3 times a day, 5 times a day or even 2 times a day. However, if you experience a constant and unusual feeling of hunger, or if there are significant changes in your appetite with no obvious cause, it may be helpful to consult a nutritionist for personalised guidance.

About the author

Adriana Martín is a clinical nutritionist at Sinews. She treats adults, adolescents and children seeking to improve their health through nutrition. She specialises in public health and also treats TCA, SIBO, chronic diseases and other pathologies, as well as muscle mass gain or weight loss. Her approach is not to prescribe closed menus, but to make people understand the importance of nutrition at every stage of life through different tools.

Adriana Martín Peral
División of Nutrition
Adriana Martín Peral
Nutritionist
Children, adolescents and adults
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé

How is an Eating Disorder approached from a nutritional point of view?

How is an Eating Disorder approached from a nutritional point of view?

An eating disorder (ED) is wide term for several types of disorders related to a person’s eating habits and behaviors. EDs include eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, explained in this article, but may also encompass other conditions that do not fit neatly into these specific categories.

EDs are characterized by a dysfunctional relationship with food and may involve obsessive concerns about body weight, body image, and eating. These disorders can affect both a person’s physical health and mental health and often require professional intervention and treatment.

Some additional examples of eating disorders that may fall into the category of EDs include:

  • Orthorexia: An obsessive focus on food choices considered healthy, with extreme restrictions and anxiety around "unhealthy" foods.
  • Vigorexia: Also known as muscle dysmorphia, this is an obsessive preoccupation with being muscular and strong, which can lead to excessive exercise and supplement consumption.
  • Nocturnal eating disorder: People with this disorder have episodes of excessive food intake during the night.
  • Pica: A behavior of eating things that are not food, such as dirt, chalk or hair.
  • Rumination: The involuntary repetition of regurgitating food, which may then be rechewed, re-swallowed or spit out.

It is important to note that TCAs can be dangerous and have serious health consequences if not properly treated. It is essential to see a doctor for an initial assessment of the situation, as well as a nutritionist who can help us to cope with and overcome our eating problem.

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How is a consultation with a nutritionist like to overcome an ED?

A nutritionist plays a key role in the treatment of eating disorders as part of an interdisciplinary health care team. Their goal is to help individuals establish a healthy relationship with food, improve their nutritional intake and address the physical aspects of recovery. Here are some of the main actions a nutritionist performs in the treatment of an eating disorder:

  • Nutritional assessment: The nutritionist begins by performing a detailed assessment of the patient's medical history, eating habits, exercise patterns and body composition. This assessment helps to understand the severity of the eating disorder and to determine the specific nutritional problems.
  • Meal planning and dietary guidelines: The nutritionist works with the patient to develop a balanced and personalized meal plan. This involves setting caloric intake goals, macronutrient distribution (protein, carbohydrates, fats) and healthy food choices.
  • Nutrition education: Provides education about nutrition and the importance of a balanced diet. Helps the patient understand how food affects their physical and emotional health.
  • Monitoring and support: The nutritionist works closely with the patient to regularly monitor progress and adjust the meal plan as needed. He or she also offers emotional support and reinforces the importance of maintaining healthy eating habits.
  • Gradual introduction of foods: In some cases, especially in eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, the nutritionist helps the patient gradually reintroduce foods they have avoided or restricted for a long time, making sure they do so safely.
  • Managing food anxiety: Helps the patient develop strategies to manage anxiety and fears related to food, which may include gradual exposure techniques.
  • Teamwork: Work closely with other health care professionals, such as therapists, psychologists and physicians, to ensure a comprehensive approach to treating the eating disorder.
  • Self-care education: The professional Teaches patients self-care skills related to eating and maintaining a positive relationship with food over the long term.
  • Relapse prevention: Once stabilization and initial recovery have been achieved, the nutritionist works with the patient to prevent relapse and maintain long-term healthy eating habits.

It is important to emphasize that the treatment of eating disorders is a multidisciplinary process, and that nutritional therapy is only one part of comprehensive care. Medical and psychological care are also essential to address the physical and psychological aspects of eating disorders.

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Is it important then to work with a nutritionist and a psychologist at the same time to address an ED?

The relationship between nutrition and psychology is very close and complex. The way we eat, and our diet can have a significant impact on our mental and emotional health, and in turn, our emotional and psychological states can influence our eating habits and dietary choices. This is why the joint work of a nutritionist, and a psychologist is essential in the treatment of eating disorders and other food-related problems. Both professionals bring their knowledge and skills to address both the nutritional and psychological aspects of these disorders.

After an initial evaluation, where both professionals analyse the situation, they contact each other to coordinate the treatment. The nutritionist and psychologist work together to develop a comprehensive and coordinated treatment plan. This involves setting nutritional and emotional goals, as well as a joint approach to addressing the patient’s needs. It is important that there is regular communication to share relevant information about the patient. This allows them to adjust treatment as needed and ensure consistent care.

Emotional support from the psychologist is critical to help identify and manage feelings and emotions related to eating and the eating disorder. On the other hand, the nutritionist will educate the patient on the importance of balanced nutrition and the relationship between physical and mental health with tools provided by the psychologist.

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To sum up, detecting an eating disorder can be challenging, but it is essential to pay attention to signs and symptoms that may indicate the presence of a problem. Early detection and intervention are crucial to recovery.

It is important to remember that recovery from an ED is a gradual process and that each person is unique. Recovery may take time and effort, but it is possible. It is crucial to seek help as early as possible and to maintain an ongoing commitment to treatment and support along the road to recovery. Full recovery is an attainable goal, and many people have been successful in overcoming EDD with the right support.

In these types of cases, the relationship between nutrition and psychology takes on significant importance. Eating habits and mental health are closely interconnected, and the two can influence each other in a variety of ways. It is critical to understand how psychological factors can affect our eating patterns and how our dietary choices can impact our mental and emotional health.

About the author

Adriana Martín is a clinical nutritionist at Sinews. She treats adults, adolescents and children seeking to improve their health through nutrition. She specializes in public health and also treats TCA, SIBO, chronic diseases and other pathologies, as well as muscle mass gain or weight loss. Her approach does not consist in providing closed menus, but in making people understand the importance of nutrition at every stage of life through different tools.

Adriana Martín Peral
División of Nutrition
Adriana Martín Peral
Nutritionist
Children, adolescents and adults
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé