Last week the British Council released the findings of a survey carried out amongst young adults around the world asking them what makes the UK attractive to them. Culture and history were the most popular answers, and when asked what was unattractive about the UK, the most common responses were our drinking habits and our food!
As a Nutritional Therapist I see all sorts of weird and wonderful dietary habits (Brussels sprouts and brown sauce anyone?) but overall, I think we’re open minded about new foods, care deeply about the quality of our produce and create meals good enough to rival any continental haute cuisine.
The problem appears to be our reputation abroad as lovers of greasy full English breakfasts, fish and chips and cheap alcohol – think of all the cafes and bars that appeared on the Costa del Sol in the 70’s and 80’s in response to the explosion in package holidays from Britain.
Our pantheon of national dishes has been overlooked and misunderstood. The traditional Sunday lunch with good quality meat and selection of vegetables; varieties of fish and shellfish from the many fishing ports around our coastline; the many variations of meat and vegetable stews such as cawl from Wales - and even chicken tikka masala which has apparently become a national dish – all of these meals can provide a wealth of nutrients including essential proteins, powerful antioxidants, important minerals and vitamins, and fibre. Turmeric for example is a common curry ingredient and renowned for its anti-inflammatory benefits in managing joint pains and arthritis.
We have embraced different foods from across the globe; fifty years ago pasta was a rarity in the UK yet is now a staple part of many family meals. Olive oil, aubergines, peppers – we love these Mediterranean foods and welcome the health benefits they bring for managing heart disease and cholesterol levels.
Another point in our favour is our love of gardening and growing our own vegetables. The UK has huge numbers of allotments and records show certain plots were founded in the 1700’s. Growing your own means you can eat your produce moments after picking it, thereby retaining all the valuable nutrients that are often lost in storage, transport and under the bright lights of the supermarket shelves. Vitamin C and essential fats are particularly prone to degeneration from artificial lights and inadequate storage.
Gardening organically and looking after the quality of the soil can produce foods containing significantly higher levels of antioxidant nutrients (vitamins and minerals that protect your cells against damage from toxins) and lower levels of cadmium (a harmful heavy metal compound) and pesticide residues than non-organic versions. A recent study by Newcastle University highlighted these benefits after looking at over 343 studies on nutrients in crops.
Broccoli, blueberries, garlic, salmon, beetroot – all these foods have been hailed as ‘superfoods’ because of their powerful health benefits, and are firmly part of our UK diet; maybe we just need to shout louder about it!
Sally Duffin is a nutritional therapist and writer based in Holgate, York.