The Pass It On series is an interview segment where BioMark sits down with trail blazers who have striven to make health and wellness work for them on their own terms. We hope this inspires you to find the best fit for yourself, too.
One of Singapore’s acclaimed nutritionists, Ms Pooja Vig, graduated from the University of Bristol with BSc (Hons) in Microbiology, and was originally trained as a biochemist. She worked in the biotech industry for many years before a few personal health experiences set her in the track to co-founding ‘The Nutrition Clinic’, and becoming the functional medicine nutritionist that she is today.
We’re back today with the second segment of our interview with Ms Pooja Vig, where she offers us guidance on how to care for our mental health, as well as the benefits of incorporating Asian superfoods into our diet.
BioMark: Do you think a person’s overall mental health and well-being can affect their susceptibility to the metabolic risk factors, and how?
Ms Pooja: When you are stressed you produce stress hormones, and when your stress hormones are out of whack, your discipline with food will go down. Because when your body is under stress, you will crave more sugar because you are being wired to store fat, since your body is thinking about survival – genetically still like the cavemen. Your body will think, “Oh! Our survival is at stake, we’re going to have to eat more sugar and store fat!”, and your metabolism and thyroid slows down, and your sleep gets affected.
We can do everything right with food and movement, but if you’re mentally unhealthy, then it all falls apart.
BioMark: So, one of your first go-tos is stress management. What techniques do you recommend for people to manage their stress?
Ms Pooja: I really like this app called ‘Headspace’. Like my daughter’s school uses 10 minutes of Headspace every morning, and she’s 9 years old. It’s a life skill and I’m glad someone’s teaching it, because it needs to be done.
And I think fun – people don’t have enough fun here! I ask people when was the last time they had fun, and they talk to me about their holidays that require too much planning and it’s stressful and tiring. That’s not considered fun!
For me, fun is very simple – it’s like tickling your child and laughing. It’s the simple pleasures! And not having fun is a problem in Singapore, because the pressure starts at such a young age.
There’s a Japanese concept called ‘forest bathing’, which is basically spending time with nature and taking in its energy. This is a method of stress relief, and we’re lucky that in Singapore we do have a lot of green around us, but I think that getting out into nature is really important.
BioMark: So how much do you think communicating and spending time with your family can decrease your stress levels and make you a happier person?
Ms Pooja: I think it’s huge! Family is the reason why we do everything we do. Without family, what’s the point?
BioMark: That’s very true! Moving on, I read that one of your specialisations is incorporating Asian superfoods into people’s diets. What are some popular Asian superfoods and how can we make use of them?
Ms Pooja: One of the big superfoods right now is turmeric. Turmeric is fantastic, and has been in Asian diets for a long time. My one concern with turmeric is that some people overdo it. Indians and Malays use turmeric in small amounts every day. A little bit of turmeric is good for detoxification, helps the liver, and is anti-inflammatory, but too much can slow the liver down and can be dehydrating for the body.
BioMark: You mentioned detoxification. When people talk about detoxifying the body, what does that mean exactly?
Ms Pooja: I’ll put it out there, I don’t like detox diets. I see detoxification as something your body does all the time, and you can eat and live in a way that either supports it or hinders it. Simply put, detoxification is getting rid of toxins in your body. Some people say part of a detox diet is a ‘healing crisis’, where you’re supposed to feel worse. You’re not supposed to feel worse. You’re supposed to just get through it quite smoothly. So, when I put people on a detoxification process, they need to eat clean, cut out junk, and drink lots of water, among others. All that works and it doesn’t need to be painful.
BioMark: Back to Asian superfoods, are there any more foods that you would recommend?
Ms Pooja: Another one is moringa, it’s this nutritious green that can be considered the ‘kale’ of Asia. It’s high in calcium, high in iron, and it’s used in the Philippines a lot. A lot of it is now available in powdered form, you can even buy it in the wet market in Singapore. I actually make scrambled eggs with moringa! You can just pluck the leaves and stir fry them or add them to your food.
Another one of the popular superfoods is coconut and coconut products.
BioMark: What got you so interested in using Asian superfoods?
Ms Pooja: We have to use what’s affordable and easily accessible. I remember a while ago when kale was suddenly popular. People paid so much for a little bunch of kale when you can get similar greens in a local market at a much cheaper price. And now we’re living in a world where everything is coming from everywhere. Of course, I do use stuff that’s imported, but it’s always nice to have something local and support local industries.
BioMark: You’ve had many years of experience as a nutritionist. Are there any nutrition myths that the general public believes that continue to surprise you?
Ms Pooja: There are so many! One is that people believe that they need grains, that you can’t have a meal without grains. But there are no benefits that come from grains that you can’t get from another food source.
I think people are also scared of too much protein, Asian women in particular. Asian women think that eating protein will bulk them up, but it doesn’t work that way.
People are also of course, very scared of fat. You have to choose the right quantity, but other than that, fat doesn’t need to be feared.
I think some people are also quite dismissive of the effects of food chemicals, sugar and processed food. I mean yes, we do have to strike a balance, not every meal has to be perfectly nutritionally designed. Like when you buy a box of cereal with food colourings, just know what sort of impact that can have on your body. Like for kids, the effect on food colouring can be seen quite clearly with their behaviour, but without adults not as much. But some people are quite sensitive to food colouring – it might aggravate skin issues or even concentration.
People are also confused about the gluten-free diet, they don’t know if it’s a fad, if they should go gluten free, and they don’t know where gluten is found.
BioMark: So, to wrap this interview up, if there was one thing you would want people to take away from your expertise as a nutritionist, what would it be?
Ms Pooja: It’s simply that one diet doesn’t fit all – you need to figure out what’s right for you.
Well, you’ve heard it here from the expert! Leading a healthy lifestyle involves so much more than dieting and losing weight – you need to know what type of foods suit your body best, and that you have to care for your physical and mental health as well. Once in a while, take a well-deserved break to get your health in check, and spend some quality time with your loved ones. Remember, you need to care for all aspects of your health in order to be truly healthy and happy!
For more information, you can find out more about Ms Pooja here.
Interested in what we talked about previously? Check out Part 1 of our interview with Ms Pooja here.
Alternatively, reach out to us with suggestions on who you would like to hear from next.
The post Spice Up Your Life With These Insightful Nutrition Tips appeared first on BioMark.