Trying to figure out the foods we should eat or avoid, and how to get in tune with our bodies’ needs, can be pretty overwhelming. That’s why enlisting the help of a nutritionist can be really helpful; not only can they help you understand the big picture, but they can also advise you on your own personal diet. Knowing how important it is to rely on expert advice, we’re delighted to be bringing Bianca Barbi on board as our resident nutritionist! Let’s get to know her…April 28, 2022 5:14 pm February 15, 2022 4:58 pm
Quick fire facts
Name: Bianca Barbi
Occupation: Erbology Resident Nutritionist
Qualifications: Bachelors degree in Science from the University of New South Wales, Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Sydney
Loves: Food (of course!), exploring new cities by foot, and learning about other cultures
A love of food… born in Italy
Bianca has always had a love of food, a passion which she attributes to her upbringing. Based in Sydney, Australia, her Italian family put food at the heart of their home.
“Nutrition has pretty much been a part of my life since before I was even born,” laughs Bianca. “Growing up in an Italian family, food was always a big part of my life and from a young age I appreciated the healthy Mediterranean food we ate.
“On top of that, my grandfather was a doctor who specialized in dietetics. So, he definitely passed down a lot of wisdom to my mum, who then passed it on to me.”
However, it took a while before Bianca realized she wanted to dedicate her career to diet and nutrition. Ironically, because food had always been such a big part of her life, she considered it more of a facet of her personality and heritage than a career option.
Luckily for us, that was about to change…
From psychology to nutrition
“After school, I completed a Bachelor of Science and majored in psychology,” she tells us. “It’s something I was – and still am – very interested in.
“As part of my degree I took classes in biology, biochemistry, physiology and chemistry because I wanted to keep my options open further down the track for postgrad.”
But after Bianca finished her degree, she had a tough choice to make: continue with her training as a psychologist, or explore other options.
“I just had a gut feeling that nutrition was the right path for me,” she smiles. “I had all the prerequisites already, so I enrolled into a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Sydney. I’ve never looked back!”
After university, it was off to a company in Milan which provided consulting services for the food and beverage industry. However, it was in her next role that Bianca discovered one of her passions in the field of nutrition.
Working with children
“Later on, I moved into the field of medical nutrition, specializing in Pediatric health,” she explains. “One of the things I enjoyed most was providing education on the medical profiles of the customers that children who could benefit from our products.
“For example, we had special medical nutrition products for children with faltering growth, and it was fascinating to learn about the background and causes behind the condition.
“Even more rewarding was seeing what a positive impact nutrition had on the customers and patients. Hearing success stories, or even just small improvements in the quality of life of a person, is what motivated me.”
Whether it’s working with children or adults, seeing her clients making positive changes is one of Bianca’s favorite parts about being a nutritionist.
“It’s so motivating when someone tells you their goals and is committed to making a change. It’s almost as if you live vicariously through them and feel proud of what they end up achieving.
“Like a proud parent watching their child win their high school football game!”
The gut-brain axis
Considering that she is a nutritionist with a background in psychology, it will come as no surprise that one of Bianca’s other passions is the relationship between the gut and the brain!
This relationship is sometimes called the ‘gut-brain axis’, and the field of research is called nutritional psychology.
“It’s mind-blowing to see just how interconnected the gut and brain can be,” says Bianca. “Understanding how the food we eat affects how we feel can open up a whole window of opportunity for people to make significant changes to their wellbeing, both mental and physical.”
If you’re interested in the gut-brain axis, Bianca highly rates the work of Dr Drew Ramsay. The founder of the Brain Food Clinic in New York, his work is focused on optimizing mental health through diet and incorporating evidence-based nutrition into psychiatric treatment.
“Knowing that depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and majorly contributes to the global burden of disease, it makes you think how important prevention and treatment is,” Bianca says. “It should be a collective effort led by all health professionals – from psychologists to dietitians – in order to fight it.”
“It’s mind-blowing to see just how interconnected the gut and brain can be"
“Everything I am, I owe to spaghetti.”
While the quote above belongs to iconic Italian actress Sofia Loren, Bianca carries the sentiment close to her heart.
My number one most hated nutrition myth is that carbs are bad for you,” Bianca says. “Probably in part because I am Italian and can’t imagine a life without pasta or bread!”
The low carb movement started in the 1970s and has managed to permeate every inch of our culture. However, the science simply does not support a low carb diet for good health.
While they can help you lose weight rapidly, in the long-term they can be harmful to your health. Plus, we need carbohydrates as fuel!
“I find the idea of ‘blue zones’ really interesting,” Bianca muses. “They are geographical areas that are home to the longest living populations on earth. These populations have carb-heavy diets, and are quite literally the healthiest people in the world.
“The Okinawa diet in Japan is a great example of this. About 85% of the Okinawan’s calories come from carbohydrates.”
However, Bianca is quick to point out that not all carbs are created equal. “I think we can agree that the nutritional value of a potato chip is quite different to that of brown rice,” she says. In Okinawa, she points out, the main carbohydrate is the sweet potato – not crisps and chocolate!
Following a plant-based diet…
While the sweet potato may get a lot of credit for the outstanding health of people living in Okinawa, Bianca is quick to point out the virtues of including a wide range of plants in our diet.
“I think that in this day and age, if you’re not on board with the plant-based movement, or at least understand the relevance and importance of it, you’re living under a rock!” She laughs.
“That may sound harsh, but the evidence is everywhere. Going 100% plant-based isn’t the only answer, of course; for some people it may simply mean having a few meat-free days a week.
“But we know from scientific literature that eating more plant foods is beneficial to so many areas of our health, from lowering cholesterol to reducing the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
“We also know that it makes a huge impact on the environment.”
…and getting personalized advice
Bianca is also really excited about the boom in personalized nutrition. “It’s a field which is going to grow exponentially in the future, and rightly so,” she says. “With the incredible technology we have these days, it doesn’t make sense not to tailor nutritional solutions to each individual.
“We all have different tastes, medical histories, mental health conditions… the list goes on. One thing might work for you and not for me, and vice versa.”
So, how would Bianca go about formulating a personalized plan for a new client?
“I really believe in an approach that tailors nutrition to an individual and their specific needs. What are your goals? What changes do you want to see? Have you noticed any patterns related to what you eat and drink? These are just some of the questions I would ask when building a personalized nutrition plan.”
Functional foods and supplements
It’s almost impossible to be a nutritionist these days without speaking to clients who are keen to load up on the latest fads. Whether it’s a new diet plan or a new ‘wonder capsule’, fashions in nutrition dictate how many of us learn about food.
Bianca, however, likes to keep it old school.
“My opinion is that the approach to nutrition should always be ‘food first’,” she explains. “Say a person is following a healthy diet, eating lots of good fats and minimizing saturated and trans fats. Say they’re eating lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables and exercising regularly.
“At that point if they still have an issue like high cholesterol, that’s when you might investigate a supplement.”
For most people, it isn’t necessary to add a vitamin capsule into your routine. However, there are some contexts where it can help.
“One example is red yeast rice extract,” Bianca says. “This is a commonly used supplement for cholesterol reduction. It has shown to reduce cholesterol levels similarly to statins.
“But this is an example of an effective supplement which may be suitable for certain people under the guidance of a healthcare professional. It’s definitely not a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
“The bottom line is: check with your medical professional. Don’t self-administer supplements if you’re unsure.”