22 Mar Carolina Harboe – mother of 2, kinesiologist & nutritonist
“I am half English and half Chilean and after living in Africa and the Middle East, at the age of 10 my family and I settled in Andalusia, Spain. My first degree was in Food Science Food Scientist. Once I had learnt about how the food industry works from the inside I joined the multinational pharmaceutical company, Abbott, for 5 years. At the same time I did a Master’s degree in Diet and Nutrition.
I followed my heart to Barcelona and was fortunate enough to also be transferred there by my company; however nothing would prepare me for the most intense and completely irreversible change that I was going to experience in 2008 – Motherhood. The way my priorities flipped and the surge of unconditional love that I felt pushed me to focus on natural and nutritional therapy surrounding pregnancy, breastfeeding, babies and children.
I made several trips to the US and the UK with my little ones (I become a mother again in 2010) and devoured books on nutrition and health in both places. It became clear to me that “the perfect diet for all” does not exist and that nutrition is very personal; but parents still need answers to their questions. Using my children as Guinea pigs I designed my workshops and talks to satisfy the need for information and practical tips on how to feed a family.
Ever since then, I haven’t stopped looking for alternative solutions to alleviate and heal different illnesses and in 2010 encountered the world of Kinesiology. At first, I was only looking for a method to detect food intolerances without having to refer to blood tests; but what I was about to discover was a complete “eye-opener” to a new world! Once I started using kinesiology in my private consultancy I discovered how to read the body and completely personalize my nutritional therapy with much faster and less invasive results!
With my years of experience in therapy, always using kinesiology, I have learnt that we all have the right to be happier and healthier in our lives if we want to be. I listen and connect with my patients and the issues they need help with. Without imposing my own personal beliefs I work with them on their own individual path of evolution.”
How did you become to be working as a nutritionist in Barcelona?
I came to Barcelona 10 years ago after reading Food Science at Granada University. I was working in the nutritional division of a multinational pharmaceutical company at the time. When I became pregnant with Sophia I found myself rethinking my professional career. I saw a lack of nutritional support during the pregnancy from the healthcare providers and met a lot of very doubtful mothers and mothers-to-be in my pre-natal classes and in my mummy and baby groups. In my mind it is very simple. I saw that I could really help my mummy friends and wanted to extend the information I have to anyone else who might need it.
How did you find the process of establishing yourself as a nutritionist in the city, both on a business and a marketing level?
The fact that I am bilingual has helped a lot. Communication is everything when you are trying to simplify something that seems very complicated at first and to reassure that there is a sure solution to your issue. I love dealing with women, mothers, babies and children. It is a warm friendly environment and I have found that word of mouth has been the best promotion you can have. Everyone has been very helpful.
You specialize in a number of areas including Fertility, what would your advice be for those hoping to get pregnant naturally?
I recommend avoiding all toxins like cigarettes, alcohol, and coffee. A light 14-day cleansing diet can work wonders where necessary. All processed foods with additives, pesticides or hormones should be cut out of your diet to give our liver a break and allow our body to concentrate on our reproductive organs. Everything you don’t detox BEFORE having a baby has a risk of ending up in either your baby’s body or going through your milk to him! There is a list of vitamins and minerals that if lacking in your body can explain an infertility case. These can be determined through an extensive interview and cured through supplementation. We must remember too that stress is our worst enemy when it comes to conceiving. It is interesting to see where each couple is going wrong…there are so many ways to do treat our bodies better and we don’t realize it!
Many people believe that being overweight is a hindrance to conceiving; do you believe this to be the case? And what would you count as overweight?
Being overweight as well as weighing only 75% of your ideal body weight can affect your fertility rate by 4. Too much fat on a body can affect ovulatory function as several recent studies have proven. Many overweight patients have corrected a fertility problem by losing weight. We must bear in mind that in this case, it is especially important a proper weight loss program is followed so as not to hinder any of the body’s other functions. We must bear in mind too that a lot of liposoluble toxins will be released into the blood as the fat is burned and they have to be effectively eliminated before pregnancy occurs.
What are the ideal foods to be eating during pregnancy and again, which ones should be avoided?
When pregnant, a woman’s diet should be designed to provide the “building blocks” for the baby, to help her with all the changes her body is going through and to keep her balanced and harmonious. It is such a unique phase she is going through! I try to find these ingredients in the mother’s normal diet, or as close too as possible. I don’t believe in drastic changes especially at this moment in her life. They are doomed to fail. A pregnant woman should try to eat real food that is organic, locally grown and seasonal. I think that would pretty much sum up a general guideline to all!
What does the body tend to lack during pregnancy?
There is definitely an extra need for certain nutrients during pregnancy and a good quality supplement is a great safety net. Omega 3’s are essential in the third trimester to assure the neurological formation and to prevent post-partum depression. Vitamina B9 in it’s natural form of folates (not necessarily folic acid!!) is necessary to prevent spinal bifida and other malformations. I believe that all pregnancies should be visited at least once per trimester by a professional nutritionist to prevent issues like premature births, constipation, post-natal obesity, and swollen legs.
Do you think that alcohol should be avoided completely during pregnancy?
Generally speaking, yes. This depends on what your normal consumption is. If totally cutting out is going to stress you out, I would happily allow a glass of wine or beer a week during a meal once in a while. Ideally, all toxins should be avoided during pregnancy but I don’t believe in setting unreachable goals and I know that some restrictions can make some women completely give up on looking after themselves. In this case a little is better than nothing.
Does the same nutritional advice apply for breastfeeding mothers?
Funnily enough, when breastfeeding you need more calories (400-500/day more than the normal calory intake) than during pregnancy (350/day). The same applies for the omega 3’s but your water intake must go up by 1 litre more a day. Your body craves more fats (needs go up to 100g/day) whereas during pregnancy it is the proteins that increase most in needs. We must remember that the quality of our milk depends on our diet and that our milk will be baby’s only source of nourishment for the first months of his life. Breastfeeding mothers need to watch out for sufficient vitamin A, iodine, calcium, iron, B vitamins, fiber and magnesium intake.
When do you believe is the ideal time to wean your baby?
I have list of ages at which the national and international organizations recommend you wean your baby but I stick to one: The American Academy of Pediatrics say that to breastfeed for a year helps a baby’s development and to continue beyond then for as long as mother and baby are comfortable. That is the key. You must feel comfortable with what you are doing because that will be transmitted to your baby through your milk.
What are the best foods to start a baby on? What happens to babies when they are given the wrong starter-foods?
I always recommend a piece of organic fresh fruit or vegetable steamed and puréed or an organic rice, corn or millet porridge made with your milk, only one food at a time, a little at a time and respecting baby’s rhythm. If we start with elaborate meals or high-protein foods we could be over stimulating our baby but we could go as far as giving him digestive problems or an allergic reaction. Keep it simple! Baby won’t get bored chewing on some broccoli for a few days. We must try to think like them. Milk everyday for his whole life and he hasn’t complained!
Do you believe all foods should be homemade or are there any ready-made baby foods that you would recommend?
There is nothing like the love a mummy can put into a meal for her baby but I do believe in making our lives simple. There are some great organic baby porridges out there that easily thicken up a veggie purée that came out too watery or mixes of organic vegetable and fruit in excellent packages for picnics…for babies on the go!
Do you believe that children in Spain have a good diet compared to other European countries?
Not really. Spanish mums have relaxed when it come to their children’s diets, probably because they have in the past been famous for feeding their children so well! It has become a habit to run to school either on an empty stomach or munching on a horrific “Bollicao”. What happened to the olive oil on Grandma’s bread and the freshly squeezed orange juice? School lunches have animal protein everyday, which is not only unnecessary, but can be overkill if they are also being fed meat, fish or eggs for dinner.
Obesity is on the rise in Spain, what are the main reasons for this and do you think this trend will continue?
Mothers joining the work force and competing with men for top jobs has seriously affected the way Spanish children eat. Breakfasts have degenerated or disappeared, vegetables are either non-existent or poorly prepared and pre-cooked meals are ever present on TV ads and in the supermarkets. Until the population begins realizing that the “Mediterranean diet” has disappeared from Spanish tables nothing will change, unfortunately. There is also a great naivety when it comes to following recommendations from advertising campaigns. Do we really believe that this yogurt drink will stop us from getting ill this winter, or that our child will study better when we give them this chocolate cake for a snack?
Kids love treats; of the so-called ‘bad’ foods, are there some that are better than others?
Indeed I often share my own personal list of “healthy snacks” with my “mummy patients”. Things can taste sweet and fatty and still be healthy if we use natural sweeteners from fruit, for example, or healthy fats from nuts and seeds. If we replace white flour with wholegrain crackers, biscuits or breads we can enrich a meal with minerals and fiber easily. Presentation is everything and it helps if they see us eating well too!
Children in Spain tend to drink a lot of juice, nutritionally how do they rank?
A variety of sweet, fruit-based drinks are put in the same bag and called juices. The healthiest version would be a drink made from freshly squeezed or pressed fruit and vegetables and immediately served. What most Spanish children are drinking are packaged nectars that have been made from juice concentrate and that have so much sugar in them that cannot be classified as a juice. Even when they say “no added sugars” on the packaging we must look out for artificial sweeteners because these additives have safety levels that have been calculated for adults, not children, so they should be avoided.
How common are food allergies among children in Spain?
Do you believe these can be avoided or are they environmental or genetic? All over the industrialized countries, allergies are on the rise and Spain is not an exception. There are several theories on why this is so. I believe in a combination of both over exposure to chemical products and that our digestive systems are not as healthy as they should be. Levels of pesticides and pollution are directly proportional to allergic cases in the population. There is also a direct physiological relation between lack of intestinal flora and our innate immune system and the rise in allergic reactions. Of course, our genes play an important role but I refuse to blindly blame our parents for our ailments.
What are the main reasons why adults come to see you?
Funnily enough, when I was pregnant, I was helping women with fertility issues like endometriosis, recurring miscarriages, policystic ovaries…some of who are now pregnant! After having had my baby, I am advising pregnant ladies on good nutrition and also keeping women going through menopause happy and healthy, for example. I have seen a rise in my cancer patients too as nutrition plays a huge role in cancer treatment, before, during and after. I help adults lose weight “the healthy way”, through lifestyle changes and also help with different auto-inmune diseases like hypothyroidism, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis…A lot of illnesses have to do with unbalanced intestinal flora and/or unidentified food intolerances like thrush, indigestion, unexplained weight gain, period pains, depression, insomnia…and the list goes on!
How have people’s eating habits changed over the last say, 15 years and what effect has this had?
We spend less time planning and cooking meals. We eat on the go. We shop at huge supermarkets and are guided by advertising campaigns to decide what to fill our shopping trolleys up with. We are pumping our bodies up with additives hidden behind cleverly worded packaging. We have forgotten how to prepare our meals from scratch, from the real ingredients. As Michael Pollan would say “eat food”! This is effecting our moods, our inner strength, our general focus on life, our fertility rates, how we feed our children, their concentration levels at school, how we handle illness…