The human race is a real follower of fashion. Trends come and go like the tide, thankfully most like flared trousers, mullet haircuts and the cabbage soup diet arrive and disappear in a moment leaving us only with long-term embarrassment. Unfortunately, 15 years on our kids rekindle that cringe, adopting your past clangers as new and totally hip. So why do we repeatedly feel compelled to put ourselves through a seemingly pointless urge that just don’t work?
The fact is trying out new things is not a pointless exercise, its how we adapt and change to current situations and find solutions. 90% of our need to experiment may well be discarded but there is a vital small percentage that becomes ingrained in society. This is because it provides answers to problems we need to address if we want to stay happy, healthy or even, just alive.
The two most current trends are here to stay because they fit this criteria. The first is a need for ecological considerations. It has taken time but the penny has finally dropped that by over abusing the planet we are pressing our own self-destruct button. Once green issues were passed off as destabilising propaganda by lefty, state-sponging hippies, now everything eco is so in. The second is nutrition, once generally disregarded by the medical profession as a reason for ill health, it is now a major reason for ill health. We have been producing and eating high sat-fat, refined, processed food while seeing a rise in obesity, heart disease and diabetes and only just acknowledging this might not be a coincidence. Now healthy eating is becoming aspirational, the more unusual and elitist the better.
So on one hand we are saving the planet by cutting down on waste, travel and economising and on the other being encouraged to eat more fruit, vegetables, oily fish nuts, seeds and pulses which may well have come from the other side of the world, destroyed a bit of rain forest or are threatened with extinction.
I am one of those health professionals trying to encourage all to eat more healthily but if everyone went purist and demanded nothing but organic and wild food its unlikely that the world supplies would cope. Fortunately for the planet at the moment many are still ignoring the need for optimum nutrition as there isn’t enough wild fish, tropical fruit and organic veg to go round.
Eco-nutrition is something we haven’t really considered in this country. I can’t be the only one not being listened to but if you google, there is a noticeable silence. Traditionally abroad, eco-nutrition has applied more to animal welfare and livestock farming practices. Improving feeds to reduce the toxicity of manure and its smells seems to be a favourite. In medical science, eco-nutrition also relates to oral feeding and the balance of gut flora, interestingly another hot nutritional topic.
So why the contradiction, is it because we can only cope with so much change at once or is it because there are two sets of unrelated experts trying to fight their corner?
A survey by Network Health Dietitians magazine discovered only 50% of dietitians were interested in promoting eco-friendly practices. 85% felt eating any old apple would be fine, all they were interested in was just getting people to eat fruit. Only 1% would suggest organic and 4% locally grown. Over 60% were not sure about their profession taking a public eco-stance and only 6% had a good idea what eco-nutrition was so not much joined up thinking there.
As with all trends there has been an explosion in new food fixes all claiming to outdo each other in nutritional density. On a daily basis I am bombarded with the latest must have foods and supplements. Some are of value but many are not needed if we ate a varied balanced diet. Sadly we are in a quick fix convenience society where according to a report by Dr Mark Wahlqvist, Director of the International Health & Development Unit, stems from our increasing remoteness and isolation from the original food source. We are used to things being processed, package and brought in from afar leaving us with little concept of its origins. So when someone like me says you need more nutrition, matching this to ordinary meat and veg is difficult. Surely that’s how things used to be but now we expect something new. Even I sometimes wonder how we ever managed to survive nutritionally without some bingy bingy berry or sashi bashi bean.
The simple fact is pure basic food is not trendy. Our body is made and maintained from the nutrients we get from food, that has never changed but its not interesting or newsworthy. But we could benefit nutritionally if we applied a more eco-approach. For example ecologists are all for us increasing our intake of plant based foods as meat production puts a greater strain of resources and reduces biodiversity. The Food Standards Agency recommends a daily diet balance of 15% protein, 35% fat and 50% carbohydrates in order to achieve a healthy nutritional state. An ecological footprint report in the South West showed animal based foods accounted for a third of dietary intake and 77% of that was meat. It would therefore appear the average diet is imbalanced and to readdress this you would automatically become more eco.
As long ago as 1999 at the Conference of International Food Trade such matters as food variety, biodiversity, sustainability and human health were raised. They discussed dilemmas such as encouraging the health benefits of oily fish with the decline in stocks, high biomass in meat production and the need to grow more fruit and veg. They concluded that to be eco-friendly diets needed to be mainly plant based with small amounts of meat and fish. This also happens to be the nutritionalists dream diet, so why is it taking so long to join these two vital issues together?
The problem with trends is they are usually one simple idea eventually disregarded because of their minimal impact. To make one isolated ethos into a long-term benefit it needs to merge with complementary beliefs. We also have enough on our plate thinking about energy depletion and food costs without another new thing to worry about but combining eco-thinking and good nutrition is not complicated as there are parallel rules that apply.
Eco-nutrition involves eating more pure basic foods that are regional, seasonal, local, low in packaging and processing. Select foods that grow well in their location, no point trying to grow artificially produced mangos in Manchester. Also think about sustainability. Something rare and difficult to obtain is always classed as prized gastronomic but can we justify exterminating a rare wild species and carting it halfway across the world when a perfectly good nutritional alternative can be farmed closer.
Eco-nutrition doesn’t have to mean a tedious diet regime, more cost and effort. In fact food will probably taste better, you can become more community aware, look great and have more energy. So forget the latest fads, if you and your planet want a long life filled with health and happiness eco-nutrition is your best bet.
Liz Tucker works as a Health and Wellbeing Consultant, helping others help themselves to a happier, healthier life. Liz is co-founder of the Be Happy Be Healthy Initiative www.behappybehealthy.co.uk and a Health and Wellbeing Consultant for Champneys health resort, running a series of lifestyle health, stress, nutritional and weight management programmes and has a private clinic at the Hurlingham Clinic.
Better known as “The Health Detective”, Liz works extensively with the media, writing and contributing to a whole range of mainstream magazines and newspapers including a weekly column in the Sunday Telegraph. She is also a regular on radio and television, most notably as GMTV’s Stress Expert and BBC Breakfast nutritional advisor.
Liz’s main books in print so far are the Good Health Guide, Understanding Food Intolerances and “When You Want to Say Yes but Your Body Says No,” published by Harper Collins. “Why No Weight Loss” came out in November 2007.
Liz works closely within the food and health industry, campaigning to improve or develop healthier products for the consumer. She has a particular interest in improving the quality of food for those on specialist diets such as allergy sufferers.
Liz also conducts “health audits” in the workplace to raise personal health awareness and improve working practices and is regularly employed to give talks, seminars and promote good health.