In the latest episode of ‘Take Care’, a podcast that gives you insights into the lives and habits of changemakers, host Rish Sharma speaks with nutrition and integrative health expert, Christina Vittas.
Christina Vittas, the lead health coach at Parsley Health, holds a Master’s of Science in Nutrition and Integrative Health from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. She is also a graduate of the School of Applied Functional Medicine and the Institute for Integrative Health, where she became certified as a holistic health coach. She has extensive clinical experience and has helped hundreds of patients by treating their diseases from the root and helping them achieve a healthier lifestyle. She is also an avid traveler and has visited over 85 countries across 6 continents.
The Journey of Christina Vittas
Christina Vittas didn’t have a traditional entry into the medical profession. She had pursued a B.A. in economics and business from New York University, and her first job was in finance. But her deeper interest was always in nutrition and psychology, and she ended up enrolling at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. This introduced her to the holistic approach to medical practices, and she decided to pursue a Master’s in clinical nutrition and integrative health.
Her study and practice of functional medicine gave her a more holistic view of how our body worked. While traditional medical science compartmentalizes each system of our body, the tenets of functional medicine taught her to look at the body as a whole system. To effectively diagnose and treat diseases, one needs to identify the root cause and look at the overall health and wellness. These ideas and philosophies resonated with her, and she went on to become a practitioner of functional medicine.
Decoding a Holistic Healthy Lifestyle
Christina believes that a holistic and healthy lifestyle eventually boils down to being aware of everything happening in and around the body that contributes to its mental and physical health and wellbeing. This involves self-awareness and adopting healthy habits. So in practice, that really means managing stress, eating a reasonably healthy diet, prioritizing sleep, and being physically active.
The most important aspect of a healthy lifestyle is to have a strong sense of purpose and taking time out to care for yourself every day. Also, it’s important to take control of your life and look for self-fulfillment by engaging in activities that you feel deeply passionate about. This goes a long way in improving your mental wellness.
The Fundamentals of Good Nutrition
Speaking about nutrition, Christina recalls the simple rule suggested by author Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” What this quote implies is that one should eat real, unprocessed food in its whole form, but keep a check on the amount of food consumed daily. The last part of the quote asks people to focus more on incorporating fruits and vegetables into their diet and keeping processed foods at bay.
Another vital aspect of nutrition is hydration.
Our body is made up of 60% water, and water is essential for every function of our systems. So, even 1% dehydration can inhibit the brain’s productivity.
Proper intake of water can also help in keeping blood sugar levels steady.
In the end, Christina also agrees that maintaining a perfect diet may not always be possible. So, she suggests incorporating more protein, healthy fats, and fiber into the diet. Last but not least, there should be plenty of variety in diet so that all the essential food-based nutrients are consumed in a balanced way.
Deciding the Right Diet
Phytonutrients are compounds found in plants that contribute to their taste, smell, and nutrient profile. And it has been observed that people who consume higher amounts of phytonutrients have lower rates of disease. These can be categorized into six groups, and eating food from each group ensures that we're getting nutrients in sufficient quantities on a regular basis.
So, when it comes to figuring out the right diet, Christina feels that it’s more about trial and error. She advises people to monitor their lifestyle and listen to how their bodies react to their food habits. This will help figure out what works for them and what doesn’t.
This is where the elimination and the modified elimination diet plans can play a big role. During this, you omit a food or a group of foods that you suspect is causing adverse symptoms and then reintroduce them after a period of time. This helps people with a sensitive gut, food intolerance, or food allergy to streamline their diet.
Christina believes that superfoods are really the unsung heroes. If you want to have some in your diet, it doesn’t have to be something exotic. Run of the mill veggies, broccoli, and cauliflowers are amazing superfoods. Some concentrated sources of fiber like flaxseed or chia seed, whether consumed as a smoothie or in some other way, can help stabilize blood sugar.
The Impact of Nutrition on our Guts
Most people do not recognize the importance of gut health as far as digestion and assimilation of nutrients is concerned. In this regard, Christina corrects the age-old adage saying people are not what they eat, but what they absorb from what they eat. Even if you are eating the healthiest diet and your gut is not in a proper condition, then you're not digesting or breaking your food down properly. Also, 70% of your immune system resides in the gut tissue. So, maintaining proper gut health is vital.
There are plenty of signs to recognize if your gut is not functioning properly. Some of these signs can be always feeling bloated after a meal, experiencing heartburn or acid reflux, or irregular bowel movements.
If one considers the population who have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), the rates of depression and anxiety are significantly higher among them.
It is evident that if someone is constantly falling sick, it will have an adverse effect on their mental health as well.
Steps to Improve Gut Health
Christina suggests that the first step to healing your gut is to remove the food items from your diet that aren’t being digested well. This is obvious as constantly eating foods that upset your digestion can make it hard for the gut to heal from the damage.
Next, it helps to take a probiotic supplement or fermented foods like kimchi or sauerkraut or perhaps a little bit of kombucha or yogurt, whether it's a dairy version or a non-dairy version. This helps to replete some of the healthy bacteria in the gut and fight the bad ones.
She also suggests that we should consume therapeutic foods that strengthen the integrity of the gut lining. Foods like bone broth or licorice tea can reduce inflammation in the gut lining and strengthen it.
There are also other practices that Christina suggests for improving overall health and stress levels:
- Take some time out every day to care for yourself.
- Practice meditation daily.
- Do some physical activity.
- Visit a therapist to manage your stress.
Breaking Down Christina Vitta’s Personal Care Routine
Christina feels that maintaining a steady morning and personal care regime over the years has helped her manage stress. She starts her mornings with her phone in airplane mode and likes to meditate and remember three things that she is grateful for. This puts her in a positive state of mind that keeps her going throughout the day.
When it comes to personal care, Christina believes it’s all about treating your body with love and respect. It’s about building a healthy relationship with yourself - listening to the body’s needs and crafting a healthy lifestyle to suit those needs.