High Perfomance Talks: Helene Patounas


High Performance Talks is our weekly interview series focusing on improving performance through better health and wellbeing. In ten weeks, you will hear fascinating stories from Formula One drivers, top executives, entrepreneurs, university professors and our very own Hintsa experts.

In episode 5, our very own Nutrition Specialist Helene Patounas talks about the effects of nutrition on our wellbeing and performance, and gives practical tips on how to start building your individual diet.

How have the eating habits of people evolved during the last decades?

“I think the issue we’re facing today is, that for years and years our focus in nutrition has been wrong. We've been looking at nutrition in terms of diets or counting calories and weight. They’ve been our sole motivation to do something about our diet and change our dietary habits. People have been wanting to either lose weight or put on a bit of weight. I don't think that's powerful enough. 

It just doesn’t work. We've got more obesity than ever before: 50% of people in the EU are overweight or obese. We've got more chronic illness than ever before: 50% of people are living with one or more chronic health conditions. We're doing something really wrong by focusing on counting calories and weight.

I believe we need look at nutrition differently. We need to be looking at it with a lot more nurture. We need to start seeing nutrition for what it is: It's nourishment! It's not about calories, it's about nutrient value. Is the food you eat giving you support for your health and performance? Is it preventing you from moving into a state of disease?

A lot of the foods we eat today are pushing up inflammatory processes. We eat foods that are depleting our energy reserves and creating unnecessary inflammatory processes in the body.  And as we know, inflammation is linked to so many different health conditions.  In fact, every single health condition you can think of has got underlying inflammation.

So there are foods that will turn on inflammatory responses and foods that will turn them off. Surely we should be looking at food in terms of how it is harming us, and how it is nurturing us.”
 

How can I boost my own energy?

“The best thing to do is to avoid the processed foods and sugary foods. They may give you an artificial boost in energy, but what they are actually doing is depleting your energy stores. You're instantly getting more energy, but over time you will be using up a lot of vitamins and minerals in order to process the harmful ingredients from your system.

Imagine that you have a battery of energy. The more you eat processed foods, junk foods, sugary foods, salted foods and so on, the more you're depleting that energy bank. So you want to be focusing on foods that will be increasing your energy bank. These foods are very colorful and are found in nature, i.e. are real foods.  Anything that is a plant is a real food. For example, a handful of nuts with a piece of fruit is a great snack to have.”
 

Where should I start building my diet?

“There are hundreds of different diets. It can feel like a minefield to know what is the right diet and what's not, but actually, nutrition is easy. Everyone is unique and each diet should be tweaked to the individual, but essentially we all need something from every single food group.

We need to have protein to build muscles or to repair our DNA, cell structures, and hormones. We need to have carbohydrates that give us energy. They are our brain's preferred source of fuel. We also need to have fats. However, it should be the types of foods that we pay attention to. 

When we're thinking about carbohydrates, we want to have an abundance of vegetables. Many people don’t think of carbohydrates in terms of vegetables. They're thinking of bread and chips or pizzas and pasta.

All in all, we want to be getting as much nourishment from our food as possible. So choose anything that is real food. Focus on things that are grown in nature, things that graze or swim. Real food is what your body needs because that's where the vitamins and minerals are, that’s where the real nourishment is. 

Just have a little think about how much of your food comes out of a packet or a bottle? And then start looking at the labels to know what's in these foods. When you start reading the labels and seeing the ingredients, think is that nourishment? 

In fact, a lot of the time the problem is not just lack of nourishment and empty calories. A lot of the time, the food you eat is actually draining you of energy.  It's using up lots of vitamins and minerals in your body, in order to just detoxify and exit from your body.

Everyone needs to just go back to basics and think: Is this food real? Is it giving me vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients? Or is this just processed? Am I a product or am I a victim of marketing?”
 

What would be your one key advice about nutrition?

“I think it's really important to listen to your body. This might not always be easy because there is this attitude that people just need to keep going and keep pushing through. But actually, your body is constantly talking to you. It's giving you little signs and whispers here and there.

So if you feel like you have some health symptoms that are not big enough to go to a doctor, like gut dysfunction or skin issues or just low-energy, then you need to be listening to your body. Obviously, the cause could be sleep related or other stressful things in your life, but perhaps what's really happening is that your energy levels are being depleted.

The key really is to listen to your body! Listen to the signs and symptoms, and then take action. Take action by nourishing yourself with really healthy, vibrant, colorful, and natural real food. Sometimes poorer food choices will be slipping into your diet but that doesn't matter, as long as the majority of the time you're getting the nourishment you need to function optimally.”

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