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‘More than five ingredients? Put it back!’ Sano School of Culinary Medicine founder Heather Richards on clean eating, healthy food myths and keeping motivated…

London-based Heather Richards founded the Sano School of Culinary Medicine in 2017 with her husband Doug in a bid to provide education on real, nutritionally-balanced food.

Here, she speaks to the College of Medicine about convincing children to enjoy wholesome food over sugary snacks, the need for better nutrition knowledge amongst GPs and the social media storm around ‘clean eating’…

Heather Richards is founder of healthy food company, Sano To Go, which provides substantial, nutritionally-balanced meals

ON GETTING PEOPLE TO EAT HEALTHILY 

“It’s difficult! If you walk into a food outlet, the things that are perceived as being healthy are often boring salads; lettuce leaves with a tiny bit of chicken or a few pomegranate seeds. It’s healthy but it’s not what health should be – because you’re left hungry – and so you get this bad perception of what healthy food is.

I think you have to get people to try real, healthy food. That’s one of the reasons we opened up on the high street, so we can actually show that healthy food is delicious. It’s absolutely the opposite to hunger, you shouldn’t feel like you’re going without. You know how different you feel when you have a hot meal.”

PERSUADING CHILDREN TO EAT WELL

“With children, it’s about educating the parents because otherwise nothing will change. I think getting kids in the kitchen is essential; take them to the markets and let them see what local fresh fruit and veg is so they can know what real food looks like.

Children quickly get used to easy, healthier swaps such as switching potatoes for sweet potatoes, says Heather

Make their favourites such as burgers or pizzas but swap to healthier alternatives – instead of fries, get them onto sweet potatoes; chipped up and roasted in the oven. I mixed the two at first for my own children and eventually they asked ‘why are you still giving us normal potatoes?’

My own children make their own choices, I’ve never forced them. At home, we have healthy food within reason – we still have birthday cakes and the odd treat. When the children were small and they went to parties, we let them eat what they like – I would never have stopped them because they’d have felt differentiated and left out. Now they make the choices for themselves.”

ON CLEAN EATING

“It’s unfortunate the word ‘clean’ was taken to where it was because actually lots of bloggers and Instagrammers were essentially trying to get people to eat unprocessed, real food and cook from scratch.

Unfortunately over time, people jumped on the bandwagon and it became something else, it became about things like green smoothies, which is all very well in a balanced diet but people became obsessed by the word ‘clean'”.

ON STICKING TO A HEALTHY DIET

“None of us are perfect. If you deny yourself, that’s not healthy either. It’s about having that balance, eating for enjoyment, knowing what’s healthy

If you are going to eat cake and wine, have it and move on. I heard someone say once ‘If you have a vase of flowers and one of them dies, do you throw the whole lot out? You pull out the bad one.’ If you have a bad day, just forget it and move on.”

ON GPs AND NUTRITION

“Our big campaign at Sano To Go is giving the power back to people to take control of their health. We’ve moved from a healthcare to a sickcare state. We’re all about educating people so they’re not relying on the GP. The GP is great for when you really are sick but not for lifestyle conditions.

We’re trying to help the medics gain a base knowledge of food and nutrition. Patients often come in to see their doctors with information about their condition and they often know more than their GP about it. The GP is then totally vulnerable, because they don’t know what to do.

We want to educate GPs so they can, in those ten minutes, impart that information. Signpost to all the other sources that are available, be it healthy eating recipes or an appointment with a nutritionist.

The younger doctors coming through medical school now are more engaged; they’re going to conferences – they’re all talking about it. Some of the older generation of doctors, probably because they have more time and more money, are actually going out and training themselves – but that can take three years. Not many doctors have that luxury.

Healthcare professionals need to be better versed in nutrition; patients often known more than GPs about healthy eating

Food is our medicine, we all need it and we can’t survive without it. If you eat a good, varied diet then in an ideal world, you should receive all the nutrients you need.

My grandparents’ generation didn’t even know what a nutritionist was, there wasn’t processed food. Food was local, seasonal and there was variety – we’ve created a problem.

As a world, we’ve created problems through what we thought was progress.

If someone has a specific health problem, food can support it. In some cases, for example, diabetes, it can absolutely be helped by diet.

If you’re living in a toxic situation, turmeric is not going to help – maybe a little bit – but what you actually need to do is to move out of the toxic environment. It’s part of the big jigsaw, it’s all about the balance.

Visit sanoschoolofculinarymedicine.com for more information