Caspar Clinic therapist André Jentsch on 7 nutrition “aha moments”

by Jann Gerrit Ohlendorf at July 18, 2022

In recent years, nutritional counseling has become a vital part of rehabilitation, despite the fact that some rehab clinics don’t serve the most nutritious food.

And yet, for ‘combined care’ – our digital therapy with the Caspar software and the support provided by the Caspar Clinic team – nutrition plays a key role. Factoring in nutrition is particularly important following serious operations, or to support weight reduction following hip surgery.

"From my experience, it’s clear to me that most people are already aware that an unbalanced diet can be detrimental to their health,” says dietician André Jentsch. “However, for me, it’s much more important for them to understand that the inverse has also been proven, time and again: that good and healthy nutrition maintains and improves health.” We sat down with André to chat with him about his biggest "aha moments” when it comes to nutrition – and about how mere knowledge can motivate patients to improve their diets over the long term. Spoiler alert: You don’t have to sacrifice fun or pleasure to eat healthy!

André Jentsch completed additional studies in dietetics and has years of experience in obesity therapy. He’s fascinated by the science of nutrition, cooks for himself every day, and for the past two years, he’s been eating a purely plant-based diet. An animal lover to his core, two cats and a horse are part of his family. His motto is simple: "Healthy food can also taste good!" 

Aha moment 1: Pills don't belong in the kitchen. Most dietary supplements are useless, and some may even be harmful.   

Many of us take dietary supplements such as multivitamins to improve our health. However, the money you spend on these can likely be put to better use, as most such pills contribute little to a healthy diet. What’s more, taking too many vitamins, especially on fat-soluble ones such as A, D, E and K (use the acronym E-D-E-K-A), can actually be detrimental to your health. However, a vitamin D supplement may be advisable after consulting with your doctor – but only if the composition and dosage form are adapted to your individual needs. Just remember: A balanced, healthy diet beats supplements by far! 

Aha moment 2: Poor nutrition is often the result of habits established in childhood. Some well-intentioned ideas are simply outdated.  

Many of my patients still grew up with well-intentioned but problematic ideas around food – “eat what’s in front of you” being a prime example. As a result, they’ve forgotten how to pay attention to their body’s signals. In truth, the body knows naturally when it’s had enough food, and it also knows what’s good for us. Given this, it’s important – especially in rehabilitation – to take the time to be more aware of our bodies. From my conversations with patients, I know that this isn’t always possible during a clinic stay. This means that they’re all the more grateful when we can dedicate real time to them and their nutritional needs. And because we now take much more account of psychological foundations, mindfulness has also become increasingly important in nutrition therapy. With time and patience, we can overcome the learned patterns that harm us. And the reward – taking real pure pleasure in the practice of eating – simply can’t be understated! 

Aha moment 3: Dear parents, don’t worry if your children reject the broccoli – but pay attention to their sugar intake.  

What children like, adults often find banal. Why not eat broccoli – it’s healthy, isn't it? But children's instincts are often correct. Their bodies resist bitterness because it doesn't (yet) suit their needs. For children – and if we're honest, adults as well – the danger really comes from sugar, a fact that the processed food industry often takes advantage of. Indeed, getting a sugar kick too often can present a problem for children. Rejecting broccoli, on the other hand, won’t prevent them from forming new food preferences at an older age.  

Aha moment 4: Carbohydrates are not the enemy – and fat isn’t always bad, either. 

It would have been too good to be true if kicking the carbs were key to a happy, more satisfied life. As it turns out, cutting carbs isn’t a good idea. Carbohydrates are not “bad" – on the contrary! In combination with dietary fiber, they can help the body cope with an often problematically high sugar content in its diet, slowing down the sugar’s absorption. Put simply: with carbohydrates, it's the length of the chain that counts. What does that mean exactly? The longer it takes your body to make the individual sugar molecules available, the more slowly your blood sugar rises. This is a good thing, because it’s how we relax our bodies and ensure that they feel fuller for longer. 

And then there's fat – another component of our diet that shouldn’t be demonized in any way. Fat carries flavor – and good food is always food that tastes good! Besides, fat isn’t unhealthy per se. It all depends on the distribution of the individual fatty acids. Here are a few key figures to consider: We should get about one third of our energy from fat, 10 percent of this should be saturated fatty acids, another 10 percent should be monounsaturated fatty acids such as rapeseed oil, olive oil, avocado, and another 10 percent should be polyunsaturated fatty acids. These are the well-known omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, algae, and some oils, and it’s quite  important to include this category of fats into your diet.   

Aha moment 5: Think about your microbiome now and then! 

Guess what? We’re not alone! That’s right – if everything is as it should be, there are countless bacteria living inside of us. Or, to be more specific, inside our intestines. And, that’s a good thing! Normally, we don't notice them, but if your intestinal flora gets disrupted, things can turn ugly very quickly: diarrhea, constipation, flatulence, abdominal pain, cramps, and nausea can threaten your everyday life. Issues like this usually occur following a course of antibiotics, but they can also be caused by a poor diet. However, you likely don’t need to invest in expensive products to maintain healthy intestines. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grain bread, and natural yogurt also promote a healthy intestinal flora, ensuring that as many of the "good" bacteria as possible stay and multiply inside us. The result is a healthy and "happy" intestine, making us fitter and happier overall.  

Aha moment 6: Being overweight doesn’t have to be a problem 

Some people go too easy on themselves when it comes to their health. Yet sometimes the connection between nutrition and good health is not quite that simple. Diet products are not necessarily a good idea, nor does a higher weight necessarily stand in the way of good health. It depends on various factors, such as whether the individual’s weight is associated with a particularly muscular physique. However, without sufficient exercise, you’ll likely suffer from poor health in the long run. In rehabilitation and aftercare, you’ll have the time to understand the link between exercise and optimal health. And when it comes to losing weight, we now also know that people who follow a trendy and expensive low-carb diet don’t lose more weight than those who choose a balanced, high-carbohydrate diet.

Aha moment 7: Labels, certificates, nutritional info – what this dietician looks out for when shopping.  

From animal welfare to eco-labels, more and more packaging is printed with symbols and certificates. Add to that the detailed nutritional information listed there, and soon you’ll need an encyclopedia just to do your daily shopping. In my opinion, most labels confuse customers more than they help them. These labels primarily originate with food manufacturers, and many of the criteria they use aren’t strict enough.

Just the other day, a patient asked me how to shop for groceries. “What can I look for to maintain a healthy diet?” he asked. He was confounded by the certificates, labels, color-coded “stoplight” system, and nutrition details – in the end, he had no idea what was good for him and what wasn't. Here was my tip: I do my best to eat as few processed foods as possible. This means natural products, like natural yogurt, raw, unprocessed cheeses, a nice , fresh piece of bread, a good piece of meat, and other food with no flavor enhancers or additives. In this way, my body can retrain itself, reminding me of my natural tastes. And once this happens, it’s easier for me to recognize when I’m really full, leading to better overall health. 

And one more thing: When it comes to fruit and vegetables, it’s always best to buy seasonal and regional. And as far as animal products go, look at the conditions the animals lived under. Ask your butcher how the animals were kept and fed, or what the barn looks like. Although I eat a purely plant-based diet, you can still maintain a healthy diet that includes animal products!