The past year has caused people to become far more aware of their mental health and wellbeing and as a result of this, many have become more conscious of where they're shopping and what they're putting into their bodies. Here, Angela Appiah Shippey looks into the link between healthy eating and our wellbeing.
I always say that if I were not an accountant, I would love to be a nutritionist as I have always had an interest in understanding how what we consume can affect our bodies and indeed our minds.
This interest has increased as I have got older and the link between nutrition and wellbeing becomes more pronounced. In trying to understand what makes up a healthy diet I have learnt a lot about Food and Drink, a few of which I share below.
Research has shown that this past year, the global pandemic has made more people become interested in their physical and mental health and wellbeing and it looks like this interest will remain with consumers beyond the pandemic.
This is key as it will determine what future food trends will be important which in turn drives future product development and research.
The other thing that has come out of this past year is that there has also been a push towards shopping local and supporting small businesses which means that small independent food suppliers can also get a piece of the action.
After having other ideas in the past, I now realise that the key basis of a healthy diet is that we should minimise processed food and replace it with real food whenever we can. Eating food that is as close to its natural state as possible is vital and if this can be sourced locally all the better.
We are lucky in the South West to have an abundance of food suppliers. One such supplier is Jess’s Ladies Organic Milk who have been farming at Hardwicke Farm in gorgeous Gloucestershire for 3 generations.
As Jess says on her website “they make the milk personally”. This resulted in them being awarded the highest accolade of two 3â€star Great Taste awards in 2020 Astonishingly this is Jess’s Ladies 82nd Great Taste Star.
As Jess explained they know ‘the Ladies’ all by name and they milk them personally every day to ensure that they are a happy, healthy bunch as they truly believe that happy, healthy cows make better milk.
It is important to Jess that the milk is as natural as possible (it is already naturally high in omega 3 due to the Ladies grazing on an organic pasture) and that is why they do not homogenise the milk as they prefer to leave all the nutrients as nature intended. Homogenisation alters the structure of the milk which in turn affects the nutritional value. It is also not necessary as they bottle their milk on site and so they can get their milk on the shelves within 4 hours of milking.
Jess says it is lovely to see that people are getting health benefits from their products. The Ladies Organic Milk has now entered the cultured (also known as fermented) dairy product market with their award-winning kefir and that is currently their biggest growth area.
What’s the big deal with fermented foods?
So, what are fermented products and what is all the fuss about? To find out a bit more I spoke to Caroline Gilmartin from small Bristol based business Every Good Thing. She happened across the benefits of kefir when it was recommended to her by a friend to cure her of the nasty recurring chest infections that were blighting her life. Trained as a microbiologist, this seminal moment reminded her of how important microbes are and from that point on she has made it her business to understand more about gut health and fermented foods.
Initially running fermentation workshops from her home in Clifton Wood, Caroline opened her Fermentary in Bristol’s vibrant Wapping Wharf, in November 2020. She realises it probably wasn’t the best time to open a shop but she is making it work by slightly pivoting the original plan.
Initially she planned to focus on making her customers self-sufficient by running workshops and providing the ingredients so that they can make their own fermented products. She was always going to make and sell a small quantity of fermented things (for those times Caroline says when “life gets in the way”), but this has gained more importance at the present time whilst the workshops are not possible. Her products can be bought in The Fermentary, a couple of local stockists and also online.
It would be very easy to think that the current obsession with fermented foods (kefir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut are the main ones that people have heard of) is just another “health food” fad. But these products are not a fad at all as they have been eaten in some form for thousands of years and for many centuries have been produced as a way to preserve foods, improve flavour and enhance the nutritional qualities of the food.
In many cultures, fermented foods are a common part of the diet – I am half Polish and was born there so I have been drinking kefir and eating sauerkraut since I was a toddler. In recent times however, people have started to understand the correlation between these foods and optimum gut health due to the probiotic microbes they contain which help to strengthen the gut biome – the bacteria and microorganisms in your digestive tract.
Good gut bacteria are like little management consultants sorting our bodies out!
So why is a healthy gut microbiome important. Well, it enables you to properly break down the food you are eating which also leads to enhanced nutrient absorption and making a strong gut lining which is important as much of your immune system can be found here.
As Caroline explained to me, those people who regularly consume fermented products will have good bacteria within their bodies which act like a ‘management consultant’ sorting everything else out!
Conversely those whose gut flora is not optimal can have various problems including bloating, skins problems, inflammation and often obesity. What is interesting though is that many people are now also connecting good gut health with good mental health in terms of higher happiness levels, better sleep to name but a few positive effects.
Reducing inflammation in our bodies is the key to good health
When I spoke to Briony Philips from Eat Better with Briony she reiterated the same. Inflammation is part of the body’s natural healing system. Unfortunately, inflammation does not only occur in response to injury and illness. So, for example not eating well can trigger inflammation which can be really serious if it persists long term.
Unfortunately, inflammation can go unchecked for many years partly because people can often normalise not feeling great. So, they will put things like feeling tired, feeling bloated, headaches and low mood down to their busy lifestyles and not really question how healthy those lifestyles are.
Inflammation can very much be controlled and even reversed, and a healthy diet will be a key part of this. So, focussing on a plant-based diet full of fruit and vegetables, grains and legumes whilst avoiding processed food will be hugely beneficial as will the aforementioned increased focus on gut health.
Lack of time should not be a barrier to being healthy
Lockdown gave many of us the time to do more cooking, but many people are just as busy as they were before, do not know how to cook or just do not want to cook. Thankfully, this is no longer a barrier to eating well. There are small local businesses that are preparing ready meals that are not over processed and are full of the goodness of home cooked meals.
One such company is the award-winning Bini Fine Foods. I got to chat to Bini recently although the pandemic has made her so busy that it took ages to get time in the diary.
A big part of Bini’s ethos is supporting local businesses within her supply chain and therefore all the ingredients within her curries are excellent quality and are locally sourced and delivered to her kitchen every day. The curries are cooked in small batches with each batch being handmade following the techniques that Bini learnt from her mother and aunties. Each batch is then frozen which means the end consumer is able to enjoy a traditional home cooked meal.
This evolution in ready meals means that they are actually a great way of eating healthily when life gets in the way and cooking isn’t an option. Many of the small independent health food stores offer great ranges. As Bini explains she does not supply to the supermarkets as she is happy to just supply to the independents. She is a small business and just wants to support other small businesses. This sustainability is important to her.
So does all this talk of healthy eating mean no to chocolate?
No article on food is ever going to be complete if we don’t mention sugar. Sugar is often linked to inflammation so in researching for this article I also wanted to understand whether something like chocolate can ever be healthy.
This led me to talk to Adam Farag of Adam’s Chocolates, another small Bristol based business. Adam has been making chocolate for 18 years – he started when, nursing a serious back injury, he discovered the healing powers of raw food – but set up the business when he wanted to share his chocolate with more people. As he says after experiencing the nourishing goodness of raw food on the body, he wanted to create a vegan chocolate that tastes incredible and leaves you feeling remarkable.
Instead of sugar they use yacon and lucuma which have known medicinal properties and can control blood sugar and in turn prevent chronic inflammation. They also taste delicious and their richness means that even a small square hits the spot!
So, to sum up a healthy diet for me consists of the following:
- Eating a locally sourced diet which is not processed – taking an interest in what you are consuming makes you want to eat not only in a healthier way but also in a more sustainable way which supports local businesses
- Look after your gut microbiome for the sake of your physical and mental well-being. This is easily done by introducing fermented foods into your diet. Once again remember that pure unprocessed fermented food will always be the better for you
- Eat an anti-inflammatory plant-based diet. Plenty of fruit and vegetables and once again reduce processed foods
- Take time to understand what is healthy for you. Food marketing is based on the average person but none of us are average!
- Look into healthier versions of your treat foods but…..
- … remember a healthy diet is a balanced diet so a little bit of what you fancy is also going to be fine. ðŸ˜Š
As this article shows there are so many innovative small businesses who want to provide us, the consumer, with good quality food to help us achieve our health goals. These companies understand that we have all become a lot more knowledgeable, so they are investing a lot of effort into meeting the food and drink demands of their new more discerning customers.
Luckily for them there is government support as product development and innovation in the production process could attract R&D tax relief, my colleague John’s article here explain how this works.
Another bonus for local food and drink sector is that the South West also has a Centre of Excellence for the Food and Drink Industry which supports small businesses with the barriers to growth that they face when starting out. Our article on The Food WorksSW can be found here.