THE BLOG

Rebranding Healthy Food for a Rocking Result

18/06/2014 12:25 BST | Updated 17/08/2014 10:59 BST

Healthy food has had a bad rap since I was a child, and perhaps before. I vividly remember a pretty blonde dietician sashaying around the cafeteria, saying:

'Eat your broccoli [for example], so you can learn to like it'.

Nowadays, dieticians aren't necessarily given such free reign. According to Ursula Philpot, who spoke to BBC Breakfast, while those in charge can make fruit and vegetables available, they can't suggest that children eat them; not a word.

But even if they could, would it do any good?

Probably not. This approach didn't make the grade some forty years ago. If it had, obesity levels would surely be lower. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third of adults in the US are obese. In the UK, that number is about one-quarter of the population, according to the NHS.

In a nutshell, these people have a higher body mass index than what is healthy for their height. This is a big, big problem. But in all fairness, it is one that the majority of people want to resolve. Nobody really wants life-threatening health problems, do they?

Still, most of us would rather drink shakes, embark upon gimmicky diets, turn to one-off detoxing than eat consistently healthy food, making it a way of life. Why?

'Most children don't like vegetables,' admitted one parent on BBC Breakfast recently, during a report about putting vegetables and fruit back into schools.

Come September, UK schools will be required to serve at least one portion of vegetables per day and offer a choice of fruit, too.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver welcomes this move. In 2010, he found that a group of six-year-old children in a school in Huntington, West Virginia (USA), couldn't discern potatoes from tomatoes, or recognise cauliflower or aubergines, while they knew instantly what ketchup was.

Had he shown them salsify, for example -- something that even I had to ask about in a restaurant, though my father talked about it recently as if I had grown up on it -- fair enough! But not recognising basic vegetable is not good.

Recently, while helping my eleven-year-old niece to attain a healthy weight, I came across a similar issue time after time, and not just with her, but also with onlookers, supporters etc.

Several people teased her as if eating spinach, for example, was some sort of dorky thing to do. I guess we can blame Popeye for that. But who is to blame for the rest of it? Even an older relative refused broccoli unless it had cheese.

Anyhow, though my niece -- I'll call her Ladybug -- actually likes broccoli, she felt suddenly challenged at the thought of eating it regularly when the not-so-healthy stuff disappeared.

Still, for six long months, she traded in fizzy drinks for water and fast food for home-cooked meals. She gave up junk food for the most part and snacked on fruit and limited nuts, and lost a whopping amount of weight.

Ladybug immediately saw a positive change in not only her image but also her well-being. A budding athlete, the girl's game has improved immensely. She looks great and feels great, too.

But can she maintain this way of eating, living in a world where bad food rocks? I certainly hope so. But she's going to need a little help, isn't she?

And it can't just come from parents, guardians and schools, though they have their part to play, and how. If you ask me, transformation has to come from society as a whole.

It's time to rebrand healthy food as the norm, not as an anomaly; this idea of not liking vegetables and so on has to have come from somewhere. Why not use the same source to promote liking them?

A few years ago, a cousin asked my mother how did I manage to maintain a healthy weight.

'She doesn't eat what we eat,' my mother said.

I suppose she's right. I've never had a big taste for 'soul food', so to speak. Not that soul food is all bad. It isn't, but much of it is cooked with hydrogenated fat, sugar, and so on. But make no mistake about it; I do eat some of what dieticians and nutritionists warn against: coffee, croissants, not to mention champagne and chocolate. But these four C's must never become a way of life for me. Never!

Note, however, I also eat much of what the experts suggest, not because they recommend it, but because I like it! Yes, I like spinach and asparagus, too, sans cream and hollandaise sauce, but I haven't always.

As a young woman, I learned that such foods had fringe benefits: the look and feel-good factors. And perhaps I learned to like them. Maybe that dietician's message did get to me after all. Who knows?

Since then, however, I have been bombarded with conflicting messages, like everyone else. Recently, an overweight acquaintance confessed to being confused about what is healthy and what is not: wholewheat versus white, for example, and so on. And we've all heard the debates, if not participated in them, about sugar versus other sweeteners.

I'm confused, too, I admit. But I try to listen to my body when it comes to such matters. However, by and large, most fruit and vegetables in their natural state are fairly straightforward unless a person has other health problems, such as kidney issues or diabetes, which should be managed with doctors, dieticians and nutritionists.

Even so, not everyone can employ an expert, but most of us can build from the basics and simply eat the best foods more often than not.

That's the message I want to get across to Ladybug and children everywhere ... adults, too.

Eating good food for a period of time to drop weight is a good start -- much better than resorting to a gimmicky diet -- but keeping the weight off permanently and maintaining a healthy lifestyle means believing that good food rocks.