Embracing Change


A voice of reason in the world of nutrition, a realm that can be confusingly contradictory, UK’s foremost nutrition therapist Ian Marber talks to L-J Andrew about getting the basics right

What inspired you to work in the health and nutrition field?

I was diagnosed with coeliac disease when I was in my late 20s, which was considered relatively early for the 1990s, as many people aren’t diagnosed until after the age of 40.  The symptoms vary and can be ascribed to other issues. As gluten intolerance reduces the capacity of the gut to absorb nutrients, conditions related to deficiencies are common, so one might have fatigue relating to low B12 or iron status. Around the same time, I was a volunteer for the Terrence Higgins Trust, a charity that provided support and information living with HIV and AIDS. Many of the people who used the charity had nutritional advice, and I was introduced into the potential of nutrition as a therapy. Fast forward a few years and I gave up a comfortable career to study nutrition, graduating in 1999.

Tell us about the power of healing foods and why they are so crucial to well-being.

First off, the idea that food is medicine is mistaken. If we categorise some foods as good, then of course the flipside is that some are bad, and that can foster fear and guilt about eating.

That said, there are multiple benefits to the right diet, which can mean one rich in nutrients that works for one individual but includes a food plan that suits preferences, family situation, budget and time available. Getting the right nutrition can help promote so much of how we feel and function, such as energy and focus, sleep quality, weight management, improved digestion and a robust immune system.

Your expertise in food and nutrition is truly comprehensive. Which ‘platform’ do you enjoy the most?

I learn something from every consultation and every seminar I conduct and every book and article I write. Despite the increasing importance of social media, I find that books still have the biggest impact, as they have a gravitas that scrolling on a screen cannot match. Books demonstrate expertise in an area which attracts readers with a genuine interest in a subject. Compared to reading yet another post on yet another screen, a book offers an intimate experience which creates a bond between reader and author. As for what I enjoy the most, it's a tough call between private consultations and television. I have been in practice for 22 years and I thrive on working directly with individuals and families, whilst television is hard work but a lot of fun.

How key is it to understand nutrition when trying to live a healthier lifestyle?

Fad diets usually involve a wilful misunderstanding of nutrition, and so having a good grip on the basics is helpful so that we can tell the difference. But this is where experts come in, because the people to work with, are those that are appropriately trained in nutrition. With very few exceptions, this doesn’t mean a doctor or a personal trainer, but someone steeped in nutritional science as their primary or sole doctrine. You wouldn’t get legal advice from someone who works in the area of law, only from a lawyer, and the same distinction is true of nutrition.

What’s the biggest misperception about health today?

To my mind, the biggest problems come when we confuse popularity with expertise. A luminary of the screen, music or social media may mean well when they hand out advice, but just because they eat a certain way, claim to use a skin care product, or have a specific exercise regime, how does that relate to us in real life?  We are all different. An expert in that field understands the complexities of their topic, whilst said luminary is unlikely to be as mindful as your health care expert, let alone have insurance. The biggest misperception is taking health advice from someone online, however compelling it may be, because they owe you no duty of care and the advice is rarely pertinent.

What are your own go-to meals?

I usually have quite simple food such as grilled meat, fish or chicken, with plenty of vegetables and a little rice when at home. It's either that or soup, a firm favourite since I got a soup maker.  When I’m out, I might have a rib eye steak, bearnaise sauce, spinach and fries, or food from the north of Thailand which usually involved plenty of grills but without any coconut sauce or lime leaves that we associated with Thai food in the west.  As I write this, in lockdown, I’d be happy to eat anything I hadn’t had to cook myself, as my go to meals are rapidly losing their appeal.

What advice would you give to someone who is trying to understand more about their personal nutrition?

Work with a professional who is trained and immersed in nutrition.  It's a science and the right person can translate that and apply it to suit every aspect of you. Investing in one or two consultations means that you can have a truly personal plan that you relate to; one that should make you immune to the fad diets, inaccurate claims and baseless advice we all come across.




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