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Healthy eating: vegan, free from and organic in Hertfordshire

PUBLISHED: 16:34 30 January 2017 | UPDATED: 16:38 30 January 2017

Hertfordshire is getting the health kick (picture: Thinkstock)

Hertfordshire is getting the health kick (picture: Thinkstock)

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As we look at our waistlines and resolve definitely to eat better this year, Keri Jordan explores how more and more people are taking a new approach to mother’s advice to clean our plates

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A new year customarily brings resolutions to improve one’s health and wellness by making better lifestyle choices. Every January sees a surge in new memberships to gyms and others who promise to help us transform into sleeker, fitter and more dynamic versions of ourselves. But while many workout sessions and good intentions have already fallen by the wayside come March, there is one trend that is continuing to grow in popularity year on year, and that’s the move towards healthy eating. A recent report published by Pricewaterhouse Coopers revealed that 47 per cent of 18-34 year-olds surveyed had adopted some kind of healthy eating practice in order to improve their wellbeing. The study also recorded a 23 per cent increase in healthy eating habits among participants aged 55 and over, and further data suggests these figures are set to rise over the coming year.

Changing diets

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From pursuing a gluten-free diet in a bid to combat food intolerance to excluding meat and animal products for ethical reasons, the concept of healthy eating means different things to different people. Key growth areas in the food industry focus on vegetarian and vegan diet principles, ‘free-from’ foods (products that exclude gluten, dairy, lactose etc), and organic produce that is grown locally without the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers.

These three healthy eating movements are reflected in the proliferation of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, wholefood markets, farm shops and organic food producers that have been cropping up across Hertfordshire over the past few years. When eating out a decade ago, it would have been a struggle to find a single dish on the menu that offered an imaginative meat-free option, let alone being able to trace the ingredients to producers within a 10-mile radius. Now there is an abundance of options for the discerning health-conscious consumer, all created and delivered by people who also want to make more healthy and informed choices about the food they eat.

‘The trend towards healthy eating is happening in most places across the UK, but Hertfordshire is definitely one of the most progressive counties,’ says raw food coach and author Karen Knowler, who is based in Stotfold, just across the Beds border. She has been helping people to incorporate more fresh or ‘live’ foods into their diets for more than 20 years. ‘My clients continue to ask for advice on how best to get started, but the level of conversation now is more advanced than it was a few years ago.’

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A poll by the Vegan Society shows the number of vegans in the UK has grown by more than 360 per cent in a decade. More than 542,000 people in Britain are vegan and around 1.1m are vegetarian, with the health benefits of a plant-based diet, such as lower blood pressure and cholesterol, thought to be driving the rise.

‘The trend towards veganism is really strong right now,’ Karen says. ‘I know of at least one mainstream retailer who is completely revisiting and re-labelling its foods to show if something is vegan or not. It’s a huge growth area.’

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Vegan places to try

The Chia Naturally Healthy Café in Hitchin opened its doors in 2015 and has quickly outgrown its premises due to demand for its tasty plant-based snacks and lunches. Everything from the milk in the coffee to the homemade cauliflower falafel meze is made from plants and is vegan. Many items are gluten-free too.

25 Churchyard, Hitchin, SG5 1HP. chianaturallyhealthy.co.uk

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The ethos behind the Green Kitchen in St Albans is to deliver great plant-based food in the greenest, most sustainable way possible. The menu is based on food enjoyed by the family who run it and includes fresh homemade soup, vegan sausage rolls and an array of sandwiches and wraps. Even the electrical appliances and materials used to build the kitchen are green!

419 Hatfield Rd, St Albans, AL4 0XP. the-green-kitchen.co.uk

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Opened in July 2014, Hertfordshire Life Food and Drink Award winner Mudlarks Garden Café is the only vegetarian and vegan eatery in Hertford. Using locally-sourced seasonal ingredients and produce from the Mudlarks allotment site in the town, the café serves a wide range of delicious homemade savouries, cakes and pastries. It also helps people with learning disabilities and mental health issues to work in the community.

10 Railway Street, Hertford, SG14 1BG. 01992 538515, wordpress.mudlarksgarden.org.uk/mudlarks-garden-cafe

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‘Free-from’ foods

A recent survey carried out by market research company Harris Interactive found more than a quarter of people in the UK buy ‘free-from’ products. Sales of lactose, dairy, grain and gluten-free products are booming and have been forecast to grow by another 50 per cent by 2019.

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Only 14 per cent of the consumers polled claimed they had a medical reason for choosing ‘free-from’ foods. Most said it was a lifestyle choice that they hoped would improve their health.

‘People are becoming more aware of the impact of certain foods on their health,’ explains Karen. ‘In the future, I believe there will be a lot more emphasis placed on the freshness and vitality of food, rather than simply labelling something as ‘healthy’ or ‘gluten-free’ when it is usually, in fact, still very processed.

‘Consumers want and need alternatives that can work for them and, importantly, that they can enjoy. The real evolution that’s happening right now is in making these more specialised foods just as delicious as their less-healthy predecessors.’

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‘Free-from suppliers’

Fairhaven Wholefoods is a family-run health store in Letchworth that stocks more than 3,000 wholefood products, all suitable for vegetarians. Its extensive range covers everything from organic and Fairtrade goods to gluten-free, dairy-free, parabens-free, SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) free, vegan and wheat-free products.

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27 Jubilee Trade Centre, Letchworth, SG6 1SP. fairhaven.co.uk

The team at Eat Wholefoods in St Albans care passionately about healthy eating and believe that nutrition is vital to living a long and happy life. Their mission is to sell freshly-packed, high-quality, ethically-sourced foods, using as little packaging as possible at an affordable price.

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214c Hatfield Road, St Albans AL1 4LW (or visit the stall on St Albans Market). eatwholefoods.co.uk

Natural Health store in Welwyn is stocked with natural, healthy foods ranging from basics like nuts, seeds and honey to paleo, gluten and dairy free produce.

36 Wigmores North, Welwyn GC, AL8 6PH. welwyn@naturaltherapycentre.co.uk

Digging up organics

Organic produce is food farmed without the use of pesticides, man-made fertilisers, genetically-modified organisms and other additives and is worth £1.95bn to the UK food sector. This figure shows that many consumers care about how their food is produced, from the soil it is grown in to the materials used in processing and packaging. Moreover, as most organic foodstuffs are still more expensive than their mass-produced equivalents, it shows that people are prepared to pay more for products with specific quality-assurance standards.

For a food to be labelled organic, EU rules state that at least 95 per cent of the ingredients must come from organically-produced plants or animals. This must be certified by an independent body to ensure the produce meets a strict set of regulations relating to production methods and labelling.

Organic outlets

Pearce’s Farm Shop and Café in Buntingford has won many plaudits including this year’s Hertfordshire Life Food and Drink Awards accolades for Best Independent Café and Pride of Hertfordshire. The Pearces have farmed in the county for 45 years and their farm shop sells a wide range of fresh and organic produce that is grown predominantly on their land or sourced from local suppliers.

Hamels Mead, Buntingford SG9 9ND. pearcesfarmshop.com

Foxholes Farm Shop, Butchery and Tea Room in Hertford is also a proud winner of two 2016 Hertfordshire Life Food and Drink Awards (Best Independent Retailer and Food Education Award). The Foxholes team are passionate about producing and selling fresh, ethical farm produce, reducing food miles and supporting other local farms.

London Road, Hertford SG13 7NT. foxholesfarm.com

There are a number of independent retailers at Battlers Green Farm Rural Shopping Village in Radlett that sell delicious organic produce. Stores include Battlers Green Farm Shop, Radlett Fruiterers, Westons Fish and Brimarks Butchers.

Common Lane, Radlett WD7 8PH. battlersgreenfarm.co.uk

All the above specialists are just a sample of the businesses in Hertfordshire that are flourishing as a result of the move towards healthy eating, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down, Karen Knowler says.

‘We are at an interesting time in the healthy-eating revolution,’ she says. ‘I think it’s here to stay because these ways of eating are not so much trends as necessities. We need as much of our diet to be as fresh and as close to nature as possible. We have known this since the beginning of time, but the commercial food world still isn’t quite there yet. I’m looking forward to when that time comes. It won’t be a moment too soon.’

Karen Knowler is the author of Raw Food Made Simple and Eat Right for Your Personality Type. Visit therawfoodcoach.com

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