Last month, after 18 months of research including 16 weeks of international travel, I presented my findings at the Nuffield Farming Conference in Glasgow.
Here is a transcript of my talk
Imagine, you are at the Dr’s waiting for your blood test results and she starts the consultation with the words “I don’t want to worry you”
Well, that was me on my return from 8 weeks of international travel last July, feeling unwell AND finding out that I was prediabetic and at risk of Type 2 diabetes.
It was a shock, although it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Type 2 diabetes is the single biggest cause of death on both sides of my family. Genetically, the odds are stacked against me but it’s the environment I am in that affects my food choices.
Having said that, with a lifestyle of Prosecco parties and with being on first name terms with the staff in Salford’s restaurants, it was never going to end well…..
I had 6 weeks of international travel to get on with so no time for self pity I had to get my act together.
I needn’t have worried, healthy meals with lots of vegetables were readily available in Hong Kong, Shanghai and everywhere I went in South Korea.
I had been travelling for 3 weeks before I realised I hadn’t had any chocolate, not because I didn’t want to but because chocolate had not been obvious in my environment and I hadn’t missed it!
I returned to the UK fitter and leaner with a better understanding of the imapct of the food environment on our health.
Today I’m going to talk to you about the nutritional quality of our diet and the concept of nutrition smart agriculture for the benefit of our health
EATWELL GUIDE SLIDE
But who doesn’t know that it’s a good idea to eat vegetables? PHE have given us the Eatwell Guide and a 5 portions of fruit and veg day message for years yet in the UK 30% are overweight, another 30% are obese yet despite eating all of this extra food out diet is low in fibre and we are not getting enough vitamins and minerals.
If I was to draw a line from 0 to 100% to represent the British population, where would I need to stand to represent the percentage of people who know the recommendation to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day? I’ll start at 50% and you tell me whether it’s higher or lower? Higher? Yes it’s 90% and where would I stand to represent the percentage of people who eat 5 a day? Lower? Yes it’s 30%
FRUIT AND VEGERABLE CONSUMPTION SLIDE
The slide shows that consumption hasn’t changed despite these campaigns
Generic public health nutrition messages aren’t working and people are turning to personalised nutrition to deliver solutions for their needs and if the vegetable and horticultural industry is not more proactive then the sector on processed animal protein substitutes will grow at the expense of whole and prepared vegetables which provide the missing fibre, iron and vitamins.
As society moves towards a more plant-based diet there has never been a better time to change eating habits to include vegetables which deliver these missing nutrients.
The current system is not set up for success – farming, food manufacture and health work independently
SLIDE Nuffield Logo
You can only imagine my joy at having 18 months to study a topic I am so passionate about
VEGETABLES! And nutrition
My Nuffield Farming research was a call to action to look at one example where the integration of farming, food and health sectors would deliver a solution for a specific population group.
We take food for granted but for the sick, that is not an option
Ray is a lucky man, he told me that he can eat what he likes when he likes but for many years before he had his kidney transplant, he had to manage his chronic kidney disease with a diet low in both potassium and phosphorus. Picture the scene, your family is having fish and chips for dinner, the smell of the freshly fried fish in batter and salted chips hangs in the air wetting your taste buds as you push your low potassium pasta round the bowl.
There are 4 million people in the UK, just like Ray was, existing on a diet low in potassium and unable to access prepared or convenience food because potassium levels are not declared on our nutrition labels. Simple meal solutions from the supermarket such as prepared mashed potato and fresh tomato soup are out of reach. This shouldn’t be the case because we have the technology to measure potassium levels of crops and processed foods.
Deepa, senior renal dietitian at Kings College, London told me that patients don’t want to cook their meals from scratch and if they could buy meal solutions knowing the amount of potassium, it would make their lives easier.
For me an integrated food system and a person-centred approach seems to be key to solving the problem and I set out to look for examples of multi-disciplinary working with nutrition smart outcomes.
Nutrition Smart Agriculture
Has 2 objectives – improves human nutritional status and farm/agribusiness productivity.
Before I tell you what I found – I want to ask you the audience about your relationship with food.
Raise your hands if you enjoy food
Keep them raised if you make your food choices based on taste
Keep them raised if you make your food choices based on convenience
And keep them raised if you make your food choices based on the nutritional recommendations of Public Health England
I thought so!
Food choice is more complex than we think and as food producers we need to recognise this when presenting options to the consumer
Slide series of VV, Zespri and G’s
Vital Vegetables was formed from a group of stakeholders in Australia and NZ that included plant breeders, growers, government plant scientists and nutritionists, a private manufacturer and marketeer. The product range is ready to eat prepared salads and veg designed to support immune health, bone health, eye health and heart health. They carry approved health claims with simple messages that appeal to consumers.
Zespri is the brand of an international Kiwifruit business from New Zealand. They control the breeding, growing, nutritional research, marketing and consumer communication of their product. High quality and the strapline ‘making life taste better’ is the brand focus but they have a health claim for digestion on green kiwifruit in NZ and the EU.
Love Beets is the international brand created by G’s for their beetroot products. G’s control the breeding, growing, nutritional research, marketing and consumer communication. The products are ready to eat convenient sized beetroot and beetroot juice. Research has been carried out on the benefits of beetroot juice for blood pressure and the juice is marketed to the sports health community.
Multi-disciplinary working has been used in these cases to deliver a targeted meal solution with a health benefit to the consumer.
Nutrition Smart agriculture
Multi-disciplinary working can also be used to solve a problem for the consumer
Do you remember Ray who I spoke about earlier who used to have CKD?
Back to my challenge
Together with Ray, the University of Reading and AH Worth, we looked at the potassium levels in raw and cooked potatoes to see whether we could produce a product with levels safe enough for patients with CKD to eat.
The results proved that the concept works and is feasible to do in a commercial application, however, the farming and research aspect is the first step.
SLIDE Food Farming and Health image/logo
The next step is work with manufacturers to validate the potassium levels and with retailers to make the potassium content of products available online and on product labels.
If successfully achieved, this would be a step towards integrating primary agriculture, manufacturing, research, human health and retail in the UK.
The separation of these disciplines has gone on too long and it needs to be addressed if we want a healthy and sustainable food system for the future.
I am making a commitment to bringing these disciplines together…..
So ask yourself if your business needs to work in a more multi-disciplinary way and is the human food that you produce nutrition smart?
I will leave you with this quote.
“The greatest lesson came with the realization that good food cannot be reduced to single ingredients. It requires a web of relationships to support it.”
― Dan Barber, Farmer and author of The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food
Thank you for listening, thanks to my sponsors the Food Chain, AH Worth
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