There’s such an excess amount of trends surround wellness and nutrition that it’s becoming very apparent that there’s no single idea for what constitutes a healthy diet. One person’s gluten-free is another’s paleo is another’s low fat, high carb, and so on. Which is why we’ve enlisted Paris based Valerie Espinasse to help clarify the basics of good nutrition for our French Guru series.

Valerie is a micro-nutritionist, which means she takes a reaaallly close look at the individual factors of each of her clients, and builds a tailored program to help them achieve their best health.

While facing the reality that reducing our wine and cheese intake might be the answer to our some of our problems is hard, hearing Valerie’s approach to nutrition makes you want to make changes to your diet.

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What’s your point of view on the American diet? Many French people say they put on weight when they come to America, is that a myth? Is it true?
I think it’s true. At my office, I often see young college students who put on weight while studying abroad in the US, and a lot of the time, they gain 20 pounds in one year! The big difference between the American diet and the French diet is the initial quality of the food. In the US, a lot of things contain industrial products, which is the problem because they contain things like preservatives, dyes, pesticides, etc. In France, people still cook from scratch using fresh products most of the time.

How would you describe your nutritional approach?
My approach is based on a personalized diet created with food allergy tests so you can eliminate foods that don’t work for you and that might make you gain weight, or have chronic fatigue, or digestive problems. With micronutrition, Oligo elements, antioxidants, and plants, I am able to correct any imbalances in your metabolism (emotional balance, hormonal balance, digestive balance). In my opinion, the intestine is our first brain!

Did you always want to be a nutritionist? How did you develop a love for providing the body with necessities?
I started out as a Pharmacist because I wanted to take care of people, but I soon learned that using medicine was like sending firefighters in to put out a fire, when what I wanted to do was prevent the fire in the first place! So over the years, I got involved in preventative health, which is what I love most. That’s why I’ve studied micronutrition, naturopathy, phytotherapy, and food intolerance extensively. I’m passionate about what I do and it’s so fulfilling when a patient tells me: “You’ve changed my life.”

You do detox treatments as well – how effective is detoxing as a whole, and is there a right or wrong way to do it?
Yes, I have my patients detox, but again, it has to be personalized to the needs of each person: sick/healthy, young/older, woman/man, thin/overweight…It all varies – I talk a lot about it in my book! Taking a personalized approach is especially important when detoxing, more than when making other changes to your diet. That’s why I use specific plants based on each person’s issues. You have to remember that detoxing is healthy, but only if it’s done right.

How much does diet affect your overall appearance, feeling, and well-being?
When I use the term “diet” I don’t want people to think about restricting food to lose weight. I use the term to talk about creating a nutritional program that is adapted, or personalized, to you. Any change in diet that is done for health reasons helps your body function better and it maintains your good health. Eating healthfully means you aren’t eating empty calories, so you don’t end up overeating, which means you stay in good shape. A healthy diet is good for your intestine, which is covered in nerve cells that secrete the same neurotransmitters as the brain, so when you eat well, you feel at peace, comfortable and energized.

Are there certain staples in the French diet that should (perhaps regretfully) be eliminated for overall health?
I think products made from cow’s milk should be eliminated or at least limited…and yes, it regrettably includes cheese!!

What’s one thing the French have gotten really right about their diets?
They eat fresh produce regularly, more fruits and vegetables, and they drink less soda.

What is one thing everyone thinks is really bad that’s actually…maybe not so bad?
We have a vocabulary issue when it comes to fat because everyone thinks fat is bad for your health. But actually, there are “good fats” and “bad fats” and they each have very different effects on health.

“Bad fats” are mostly made up of any fat that comes from an animal, whether it’s full-fat dairy products like cheese or yogurt, or the fat in salami, sausage, pâté, etc. or in red meats and fried foods. These should be avoided because they increase cholesterol levels and lead to cardiovascular problems in addition to increasing the fat content of our bodies.

“Good fats” are the ones contained in uncooked vegetable oils like olive oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil, etc. and in nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews), avocados and in fatty fish like salmon and sardines. These fats prevent cardiovascular issues, improve hormonal and cerebral metabolism and help reduce fatty tissue.

How much alcohol is too much when it comes to maintaining health and weight?
For health, we follow the recommendation of the French paradox, which is one glass of red wine per day. For weight, it really depends if you want to lose weight or not. To lose weight, stop drinking alcohol. If you don’t care about losing weight, a few glasses of wine per week is fine.

If you’re maintaining a really well balanced diet, will the occasional cigarette totally throw that off?
Unfortunately, they are both important but unrelated! If you eat very well, but you smoke, you are still introducing toxins into your body. So if you really want to be in good health, you need to have a balanced diet and also not smoke, or at least think about trying to stop ;)

Is it more effective for someone to kickstart a healthy diet overnight, or introduce it gradually?
That depends on your personality and it’s very important to listen to yourself. Some of us are more radical, others need time to make a big change. The important thing is that you get there! However, if you want to see fast results in your energy, your well-being and your appearance, I encourage you to make immediate changes.

If there’s one thing everyone should know about overall nutrition, what is it?
It’s hard to give just one general recommendation that works for everyone when I recommend personalized programs, because I’m convinced that we all have different needs and different problems. Plus, those needs and problems evolve throughout our lives.

Even so, I’ll give two recommendations: 1) Don’t abuse sugar. 2) Try to listen to your own body

I’ll end with a quote from the Father of Medicine, Hippocrates, who was an ancient Greek philosopher and doctor: “Let food be thy medicine.”