We chatted with Ché Harper, one of our in-house nutritionists here at Balance Box, and asked her a few questions about her role in the company, her sunny and foodie past living in Spain, and got some of her top tips for nutrition.
Good morning Ché, and thank you for joining us today! Could you start by telling us a bit more about the work you do as a nutritionist at Balance Box?
Good Morning! Here at Balance Box, my role as a nutritionist is extremely varied! From allocating and organising recipes for the kitchen team, to looking at calorie intakes and macronutrient breakdowns within each meal. The most exciting part of my role is working in conjunction with our Recipe Developer, helping to make sure that our meals are as nutritionally balanced as they are delicious.
What inspired you to become a nutritionist?
Like so many, it was my own personal health journey that led me to become a nutritionist. Every new year, I would jump on the fad-diet bandwagon, and never understood why I always regained whatever weight I had managed to lose – and then some! I finally said enough was enough, and began extensively researching all things food & health. Before I knew it I was a stone lighter and hooked on education, and began my professional studies in nutrition and weight management. Since qualifying, I live and breathe all things health and wellness, I couldn’t imagine a career doing anything else!
So we know that you grew up in Spain. Did your childhood in Spain have an influence on the career you chose?
Absolutely. The way of life in Spain is very different to the rat-race many of us live day-to-day in London. I spent my early 20s working in the fashion industry, and felt burnt out by the time I reached 25. I spent some time back home in Spain to recalibrate and realised many of the aspects of Mediterranean living (and eating) still resonated with me. Changing career and consequently the pace of my life has helped me to feel my authentic self. A career in food and healthy living helps me to feel grounded and present.
What was your favourite dish when growing up as a child in Spain?
I suppose my favourite dishes as a child differ from most children. Clams cooked in garlic and white wine was my go-to between the ages of 5-10! My ultimate favourite though would have to be a Gambas PilPil: Prawns cooked in garlic, chilli and olive oil, served sizzling in a terracotta dish. There’s nothing better than mopping up the garlicky olive oil with warm crusty bread! This is the dish that inspired my family to create the Spaghetti PilPil, an Andalucían classic with an Italian twist.
That sounds delicious! Can you tell us any nutritional benefits it may have?
It’s genuinely something I make most weeks. Quick and easy to whip up, perfect when on a tight budget, and packs a punch nutrition-wise as:
- Prawns are a great food for weight loss, low in fat, carbs and calories, whilst boasting a high protein content (22.4g protein per 100g!)
- Extra virgin olive oil is packed with antioxidants that fight inflammation, and protect our cells from oxidation from free radicals.
- Whole wheat pasta contains more than double the dietary fibre compared with refined white pasta. Dietary fibre boasts a broad range of health benefits including promoting a healthy gut by feeding our good bacteria and regulating bowel movements, not to mention slowing the digestion process, helping us feel fuller for longer and limiting blood sugar spikes.
What are some of the top questions you get as a nutritionist?
The most common questions are usually focused on weight loss. Many people just focus on the number of calories they are consuming, and while energy in vs energy out is important, the most important thing is the nutritional quality of the foods consumed. 250 calories of shop-bought, processed doughnuts, brimming with additives and trans-fats cannot possibly compete with 250 calories of organic roasted veggies, for example. Yes, calorie counting plays a role in weight loss, but when people focus less on the numbers, and more on consuming a whole foods diet, rich in lean protein, complex carbohydrates and essential fats, weight loss is the natural result.
What is your favourite Balance Box dish, and why?
Overall I absolutely love our breakfast options, particularly the fruit mueslis and birchers. I know that these meals provide a great balance of complex carbs, protein and healthy fats, as well as fibre and phytonutrients from the fruits. They are totally delicious, and always keep me feeling full until my next meal. In terms of dinners, my favourite has got to be the Tandoori Salmon with Bombay Cauliflower. This meal is high in protein and contains a huge range of herbs and spices that nourish our gut and help to improve overall digestion.
What are your top tips for optimal nutrition?
My top tips for optimal nutrition are:
- Focus on whole foods. Avoid packets or anything with 5+ ingredients – especially those you can’t pronounce! Try to eat foods in their purest form, avoiding processed foods that generally contain additives, preservatives and chemicals.
- Aim for balance by including all 3 macronutrients. Include a source of healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and lean animal or plant protein with every meal. For example: Baked Salmon, Roasted Sweet Potato with Stir-Fried Broccoli & Sugar Snaps.
- Veg out! Load your plate with as many non-starchy vegetables as possible. Vegetables should make up at least half of your plate. They are packed with antioxidants, fibre, vitamins & minerals all necessary for building and maintaining healthy cells.
Are there any areas in the world of nutrition at the moment that you would recommend people take note of?
Gut health is a hot topic at the moment – and for good reason! Did you know over 70% of the immune system resides in the gut? Not to mention emerging studies linking gut health with mental health, also known as the Gut-Brain Axis. The trillions of microbes that live in our gut, also known as our Gut Microbiome (GM) are live bacteria, and need to be fed the right foods to keep them – and us – thriving. You may have heard buzz words cropping up such as “probiotics” & “prebiotics”. Probiotics are the live bacteria themselves, found in fermented foods such as live yoghurt, kefir, kimchi & sauerkraut. Prebiotics are the foods that the probiotics (microbes) like to eat. Prebiotics are a type of fibre found in foods like onions, garlic, asparagus & bananas.
For anyone looking to nourish their gut, I would recommend first ensuring you have enough of the right bacteria already residing in there. If you’re concerned your gut microbiome may be a little diminished, due to a recent course of antibiotics, foods poisoning or stomach upset, or even stress, then start by including probiotic-rich foods in your diet. Some people choose to supplement, but this can be expensive and requires extensive research to ensure you are getting a high-quality product. Try experimenting with foods like Korean kimchi, sauerkraut or tempeh (similar to tofu) and drinks such as kefir (fermented milk) or kombucha (fermented green tea). Once your community of microbes has grown, they will need feeding! Focus on fibre rich foods, like fruits, veggies and whole grains.
As always when food shopping, try not to be misled by appealing marketing campaigns, and always read the label. Avoid anything with a long list of ingredients, and try to buy organic where possible – your microbes really can tell the difference!
Read our blog on gut health here