Soil – not just mud!

“We stand, in most places on earth, only 6 inches from desolation, for that is the thickness of the topsoil layer upon which the entire life of the planet depends.” (R Neil Sampson)

Usually the only magazines I buy are The Big Issue and a TV guide but recently I bought an issue of Country Life because HRH The Prince of Wales was guest editor. He has run Duchy Home Farm organically for 30 years and he understands farming.

One topic Prince Charles wrote about was soil. Research by University of Sheffield suggested that the nutrients in the soil will run out in 100 seasons if we carry on as we are. Other researchers think 60 years unless we start to reintroduce more sustainable practices now. Forty percent of the world’s agricultural soil is now classified as either degraded or seriously degraded (meaning that 70% of the topsoil is gone). Our soil is being lost at 10 to 40 times the rate it can be replenished. In some parts of the world over-intensive farming has created desert.

Growing plants use 60 minerals and trace minerals which they draw from the soil. Artificial fertilisers do not replace all these trace elements; they focus on three that make plants grow quickly and give high yield: nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Sadly this means that the mineral content of our food is reducing. Animals and people need diverse minerals. As the soil becomes depleted, we can suffer from deficiencies that affect our health.

We often see farmers muck-spreading in Cumbria; it gives the land ‘heart’. Don’t moan about the smell, rejoice in the goodness going back into the soil!

S/W Ver: 85.83.E7P

Top tips – support our good local farmers.

Fluoride and the EU

Whist my main concerns regarding fluoride are for people’s health, that doesn’t seem to be a high priority for those who make decisions.  Money speaks loudest.  However here comes an impact on trade that could have a powerful effect.

A recent change in European food law forbids the use of fluoridated water in food or drinnk preparation.  Water is of course used in virtually all food preparation, supply, and importation so this is causing serious concern in international marketing circles. The deadline for using unauthorised sources of minerals – including fluoride – in foods under EC Regulation 1925/2006 expired in January this year. This closed the final loophole on which proponents of water fluoridation have relied to claim that it is subject solely to food law. Public opposition to fluoridation is growing rapidly around the world, with hearings before High Courts in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland now in progress.

This will effect any businesse or individual involved in food and drink preparation or trading, from the smallest trader to the largest supermarket, anyone who sells coffees and teas in a corner cafe, bakes bread in a high-street bakery, or sells imported food and beverages in a local supermarket.

Caterers in one community in Ireland have already taken action to protect their business.  The demand by Cork County Council, the largest in the Republic of Ireland, that fluoridation be abolished in Ireland, is supported by four County and forty other Town Councils, and moves to abolish the practice have full cross-party support in the Irish Parliament. The Councils argue that fluoridation constitutes a severe barrier to export trade in Irish food products, so the passing in the UK of the Health and Social Care Act last year brings our own Local Authorities directly into the centre of this controversy. The developments in Ireland are a clear warning of the implications for the continuation of this practice here in the UK.

Enforcement of the prohibition on importing any such foods by even a single EC Member State would trigger a landslide in confidence that could cause a dramatic fall in the export of UK foods from fluoridated water areas to the rest of the EC. So the recent resumption of fluoridation in West Cumbria is a wake-up call to Members in this sector of commerce in the North West.


Cumbria Business Growth Hub Join Cumbria Food & Drink Growth Network has organised an open meeting to discuss this issue, led by UK and EU legal expert Doug Cross (BSc. CSci, CBiol, FSB) at the Sheep and Wool Centre, Cockermouth, 10am to 12 noon on 3rd April.

To book your place(s) on this free event please email or call 0845 226 0040. Cumbria Food & Drink Growth Network is part of the Cumbria Business Growth Hub aiming to help businesses in Cumbria unleash their potential. To find out how you can be involved and start benefitting, have a look online at or join them on Twitter @FoodDrinkHub.


A piece has appeared in The Lancet this month on neurotoxicants.

It considers the increase in recent years of conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia.  Industrial chemicals that injure the developing brain are among the known causes for this rise in prevalence.

They have identified 11 developmental neurotoxicants including lead, arsenic – and fluoride.  They propose a global prevention strategy.

My previous post Fluoride – not my choice invites you to join Cumbria’s petition.

Fluoride – not my choice

I want to add my support to Paul Carr’s excellent letter to The Cockermouth Post on the public health issues related to water fluoridation in Cumbria (February edition).

I encourage people to drinkS/W Ver: 85.83.E7P water rather than fizzy drinks, juice, alcohol etc.  We’re blessed with very good water here and I don’t want people to feel that their water is tainted.

Fluorine is not a nutrient; it is a toxin and it builds up in your body over time (dependent on your age and kidney function). It’s added to water to improve teeth but with European coverage of only 2%, is it necessary? Too much may lead to fluorosis. Possible symptoms include:

  • Bone and joint pains

  • Muscle weakness

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Lowered thyroid function (fluoride is used in medication to slow over-active thyroids)

  • Lowered child IQ, dementia

Ironically, too much fluoride can also stain and damage your teeth!

Many of us do the best for our bodies by exercising choice.We can avoid pesticides and herbicides by buying organic. We can avoid chemicals by using natural care products. We can avoid additives by cooking our own food. We can filter chlorine out of our water (NB most standard water filters don’t remove fluoride). We can look after our teeth with simple regular brushing.

When I had anaemia once, it was my choice to take the iron my doctor prescribed. Doctors cannot force patients to take medication. They certainly cannot force a general group of people to take drugs that they do not need as individuals. Where is our choice with fluoridating the water supply? It’s like a blanket prescription made compulsory on the whole population, to help the teeth of a minority, at the cost of possible health detriments to everyone.

The world is so polluted we sadly cannot avoid all contaminants but I don’t accept that we have to meekly drink water that has been deliberately dosed with a toxic chemical. Communities around the world are halting this practice by campaigning. You can join Cumbria’s petition here:

Even if you don’t live in Cumbria, it’s worth supporting the campaign – if we lose, you might be next!

Plate Clearing

I love food and enjoyed some wonderful meals in December but have you noticed how large portions tend to be when you eat out? It’s a necessary one-size-suits-all approach; to the chef I could be a 6′, 25st bloke. He doesn’t know that I’m a 5’6”, 8½st woman. I’m often faced with enough food for two of me! But how much of it to eat?

I teach people: when you’re hungry, eat; when you’re satisfied, stop. So whenever I have a huge meal put in front of me, I don’t try to force it all down. This was hard at first. Like lots of us, I hate to waste food. I was brought up with a strong plate-clearing culture and sadly this can lead to over-eating. When you eat more than you need, your body has to work hard to process and eliminate the excess - or store it as fat. Food that you don’t need is already waste whether or not you eat it. It’s better to save it for another time or even to throw it away than to treat your body like a dustbin. To break the habit, leave something very small at first eg a pea or a chip.

Actually this delicious meal was the right size for me!

Actually this delicious meal at The Granville, Barford, was the right size for me!

Here’s my strategy when eating out. I always decline any bread that’s offered. I usually ask for a half portion of potatoes (which sometimes works but often is ignored). I’m not embarrassed to ask for a doggy-bag. If I can’t have one, I leave the rest which is a shame but better than treating my body disrespectfully. So enjoy your food when you eat out and when you‘ve had enough, stop eating and put down your knife and fork.

Top tip: Respect your body – don’t over-eat to clear your plate.

Diet not

I’ve seen a lot of adverts for diets lately; they’re designed to take advantage of the New Year motivation boost and the frustrations of having over-done things at Christmas (again). If you’ve ever lost weight on a diet, chances are you put it back on again later (possibly with a bit extra as well). Some people blame themselves for this, thinking that it’s a lack of self discipline. It isn’t true. Some believe that overweight people eat too much. That is sometimes the case but often that isn’t true either.

We’re told that all we need to do is eat less and exercise more. It sounds so plausible. As a scientist, I’m familiar with the law of energy conservation (energy in = energy out). When applied to the human body it’s more subtle and one key factor is the variability of the ‘energy out’ part of the equation. The body has a clever way of slowing down your metabolism to protect you against starvation when food is in short supply. Restrict the energy that goes in (e.g. go on a diet) and your body won’t carry on merrily burning the same amount of fuel as before, it will batten down the hatches and store everything it can.

Foods are not all the same and calories are not all equal. Some foods lead to fat storage, others boost the metabolism and promote fat burning. Limiting intake of bad foods is helpful. Limiting intake of good foods can lead to deficiencies of nutrients critical to good health. Rather than eating less of the same, many people would actually be better off if they focussed less on the amount but ate differently, ate better, ate well.

Dieting is not the answer.

Top tip – Don’t eat less, eat well!

Let’s Celebrate!

Food used to be at the centre of our lives. A home-cooked meal, eaten together was a time to talk and strengthen family relationships. We would spend a good portion of our income keeping ourselves well fed. We’d spend more of our time shopping, cooking and eating. This is still the way of life in France and Italy and is the secret of the famously healthy ‘Mediterranean Diet’. Fresh simple food, cooked with love and eaten with gratitude.

If this doesn’t describe your relationship with food, perhaps you could treat yourself to a change this Christmas. Most people get some time off work so you could make some delicious meals and spend time really enjoying eating.

I made my Christmas cake in November (to my grandmother’s recipe, complete with marmalade). S/W Ver: 85.83.E7PMince pies were last week’s job.A recent article by a cardiologist in the British Medical Journal confirmed that saturated fat does not cause heart disease so I had no qualms about using all butter for the pastry. They melt in the mouth. No sugar on top though – I didn’t want them all sickly like bought ones.

Christmas dinner is my favourite meal of the year. It takes some making and the secret is for everyone to help. Some can chop veg, some can peel potatoes, some can lay the table, others can wash up afterwards. My grandfather liked to make the starter (right up to the age of 94). Even children can do something.

I know there are some famous retailers offering to make your Christmas easier in exchange for lots of your money – just come and buy the lot. They’re missing the point. When you get people involved, the whole experience can be fun rather than a chore. The food I cook at home is tastier and better for me than pre-prepared food. If you’re a good cook who doesn’t use vegetable oil or add lots of salt and sugar to everything, the same could be true for you. As I celebrate remembering the time when God came in human form to save us, I’ll also celebrate the bounty of the earth and be thankful for the privilege of being able to eat well.

Top tip: Celebrate good food this Christmas.

Wishing all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy New Year.

Christmas lights in Harrogate

Christmas lights in Harrogate

Not such a sweet smell!

One of the sessions on my Eat for a Better Life course is devoted to the subject of toxins (poisons). It’s is a timely topic for this column with the surge in promotion of highly processed party foods for Christmas. You can avoid herbicides and pesticides by buying organic meat and veg. You can cut down your intake of antibiotics and steroids by buying free-range meat. You can avoid chemical additives and damaged fats by buying fresh ingredients and doing your own cooking.

The huge number of chemicals now in our lives is causing many problems. A lady I know suffers from Multiple Chemical Sensitivities and can be laid low for several days if she goes near people who wear perfume or who have used the new long-lasting fabric softeners. I accidentally bought this type of softener when my usual brand was changed (no doubt ‘improved’). The new scent was not only nauseating but clung relentlessly to my clothes, my skin and whatever the clothes had laid next to in the drawer or wardrobe. I got rid of it pronto and sought a less toxic alternative.

Perfume is a major theme in the Christmas adverts. There is great secrecy around the recipes for famous fragrances so they do not have to list the ingredients. That doesn’t mean they are harmless. Other ‘smellies’ sold in abundance at this time of year are room fresheners, scented candles and bathing products. Natural essential oils are fine but commonly the scent is created in a lab from chemicals and can be irritant to the respiratory system.

Many beauty products contain chemicals but there are some good companies around that use natural ingredients.  I like Neal’s Yard, Weleda and Burt’s Bees.  There’s also Pure Lakes, a family company in Cumbria, with a great ethos and gorgeous products.

Top tip – take care when buying presents – or do your loved ones some good with a Learn to Eat Well gift voucher.

Make these nifty little boxes out of old Christmas cards!

Make these nifty little boxes out of old Christmas cards!

I wish you all a very merry chemical-free Christmas!

Autumn – Season of Mellow Fruitfulness

The dark evenings and morning nip in the air leave us in no doubt that summer is over; but wasn’t it a great summer?

Autumn is the season when your body wants you to put on weight so that you will survive the bitter temperatures and food shortages of winter.

In these modern times, we 02-11-08_1035have houses, heating and year-round food so we don’t need an extra couple of stone to stop us from dying before spring arrives. Your body doesn’t know that things changed only a few short decades ago; it’s still working the way it always has.


Suddenly we have irresistible urges to eat ‘comfort foods’ like blackberry and apple crumble. Yum. The autumn harvest is rich in fruit which contains a type of sugar called fructose. Your body deals with fructose differently to other carbohydrates and most of it is turned into fat.

Autumn also brings nuts and seeds which are rich in omega 6 fats. We used to get foods rich in omega 6 only before winter and we’re programmed to store it. Now, we get it all year round and far more of it than we need, in the form of cooking oil (eg sunflower oil). If you check the labels you’ll find that most bought products (puddings, cakes, biscuits, pastries) are made with vegetable oil.

Omega 6 and fructose create a recipe for piling on the pounds that assured our stone-age survival. We instinctively love them. However, your mind might not agree with your body about the desirability of laying down extra fat so when you smell a fruit pie or your mouth waters over a sponge pudding, be aware of the consequences to your figure of over-indulgence.

Top tip – Resist omega 6 and sugar urges.

Antibiotics in factory farming

Does it matter whether your sausages come from a free-range farm like Louise’s?

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), antibiotic resistance is a major threat to public health worldwide.  The primary cause is their widespread over-use which occurs in medicine and also in food production. In America about 80% of antibiotic use is in farming.

Animals are often fed antibiotics at low doses for disease prevention.  In America, but not the EU, they are also used for growth promotion. Those antibiotics are transferred to you via meat and through manure used as fertilizer for crops.

Antibiotics are needed in factory farming because of the crowded, unsanitary living conditions – yet another reason to buy free-range.  Of the ~9 million pigs slaughtered each year in Britain, only about 1.5% are organic.Factory farmed pigs. Credit: Compassion in World Farming

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention4 (CDC) estimates 22% of antibiotic-resistant illness in humans is linked to food and recommends that antibiotics use in livestock be phased out.

American researchers have found MRSA in pigs and workers at factory farms but not in pigs on antibiotic-free farms.  Once MRSA is introduced, it could spread to other animals and the workers, as well as to their families and friends.

Over-exposure to antibiotics takes a heavy toll on your gastrointestinal health.  Your immune system is mostly down to the good bacteria in your gut so you can become more vulnerable to diseases.  We can support the Soil Association’s ‘Not in My Banger‘ campaign against the escalation of industrial pig farming in the UK for the sake of our own health as well as to oppose the keeping of wonderful, intelligent pigs in such unnatural conditions.

Not in my banger