Jenny Tschiesche is a nutritionist and No. 1 Sunday Times bestselling author of five cookbooks. Her work involves helping people make the best food and drink choices to support their own health, wellbeing and to optimise performance. Here, she discusses some simple life hacks that could help us all eat more healthily, and explains how she worked with BuddyBoost to create the Good Food Challenge.
How did you get into food nutrition?
Through sport. When I was 14, I went to the camp for future England hockey players, and when I got there, I discovered this new mentality that was all about what you put into your body helping you to perform better. So, there was a new equation to take into consideration. That’s when I realised that nutrition could influence how your body performs. Not just in a sporting context, but so many other areas of my life, as I went on to do exams, and then my degree, and so on. I was still playing hockey into my mid-20s, playing in the National League, and then I got injured which meant I had to stop playing. It was a watershed moment and I thought “Gosh, what am I going to do?” So that's why I started looking at other things and so enrolled at university again.
What was the second degree in?
Nutritional Therapy. That’s looking at the body more holistically than a traditional nutrition degree or dietetics degree would; it’s about looking how the systems interact as a whole rather than just looking at one part of the body or a specific function.
And you’ve gone on to write a number of cookbooks, haven’t you?
Yes. I was sharing some of the ideas and recipes from my work through social media, I got a little bit of a following, with people asking for recipes, then people asking for a recipe book. To cut a long story short, I got a deal in 2018, and started writing cookbooks then. Yesterday I signed another contract, for my sixth cookbook – I would never have predicted that!
Why are you passionate about this subject? Why is it so important?
I think it’s such a powerful tool. I’m not naïve enough to think it’s the only tool – I work alongside some other amazing people in the mental and physical wellbeing fields, but I think people underestimate the power of nutrition in relation to not just their physical performance, but also how they perform at work, how well they sleep, how their mind works – all of those sorts of things. I’m really keen for people to understand the connection between the two. And not just what we eat, but also how, which is why I love to encourage people to cook, and the cookbooks help people because they’re really simple and practical.
What is BuddyBoost Good Food all about? How does it work?
It’s a 26-day programme aimed at everyone from beginners upwards, taking people through a program that helps you to make more informed food choices. Every day there’s a video with a bite-sized snippet of information you can connect with, understand, and take some action as a result of. It’s about building confidence in your ability to make the best decisions for you personally, around the food that you eat and the supplements that you choose, and also some practical skills, like how to utilise your freezer well, meal preparation ideas and meal planning ideas. It’s a practical approach to nutrition and healthy eating, but in a very accessible format, including daily challenges to spice things up a bit!
One of the areas you look at is how food can affect mood. Could you explain a little bit more about that?
Yeah. One of the first concepts that was important for me to understand in nutrition was something called blood-sugar balancing. As a former athlete, I was really good at carbs, not so good at everything else. I found that I needed to get a better balance of protein and complex carbohydrates – those that release energy more slowly – and good quality fats into my diet. That was a revelation to me. It’s one of the first things I work with people on. It gives you more energy, it gives you more control over your decision-making. You’re not going to be desperately ‘hangry’ and unable to make a decent decision because you’re so hungry.
Hydration is really important too, in terms of our ability to concentrate. We often work in air-conditioned offices, and we don’t necessarily consume enough water throughout the day, and that’s an important consideration when it comes to what we consume and how we feel from a mood perspective. Probably the biggest one that everyone’s been talking about is gut health. There’s a massive connection between the gut and the brain – it goes via what we call the vagus nerve – the brain will react and respond if the gut is not in a good place – if there’s an imbalance of bacteria, too many of the wrong bacteria. Things like parasites and yeasts can overgrow if there’s an imbalance in the gut, and that can create a lot of problems with mood and mind, certainly in terms of things like production of serotonin. Some of our positive neurotransmitters can be affected by core gut health.
Consuming sufficient protein is important for mood, and getting the right balance of protein and carbohydrates. Another key aspect of nutrition affecting mood is found with anti-inflammatory fats. Omega Three and Omega Six are essential fats – essential means the human body doesn’t make them, so we have to consume them in the form of food (like oily fish) or supplements. They have a great influence on how the mind works as well as the body. All of those factors need to be taken into consideration – there’s a massive connection between what we eat and drink and how we feel.
There are a lot of faddy diets out there, promising to revolutionise the way people feel and look. Do any of them work?
My response to that is: Define ‘work’. What people are often looking for is weight loss, and there are lots of diets out there that will achieve that. But, whether you are ultimately going to have a healthy relationship with food at the end of it and whether you’re going to be able to sustain that weight loss is questionable. However, some methods can really work. For example, intermittent fasting has a lot of research behind it. That’s where you don’t eat for a period of the day, and then all your meals are all within a period of the day. That’s probably the closest to any way of eating that I would subscribe to. But I would say it’s not for everyone. A version that is most achievable for most people, if you want to try and see whether this works for you, is a 12:12 pattern, and that means 12 hours of not eating and 12 hours of eating. Have your last meal and 8pm and your first meal at 8am, say, that’s a good way of getting on top of a better pattern of eating for most people.
Could you explain a bit more about the ‘buddy’ element of the Good Food challenge? Why do you encourage people to work with their buddies?
There’s a lot of research saying that connecting with someone else who wants to change and do things differently can be really supportive. That element of buddying up with someone else makes you more accountable, and it gives you greater support and motivation to achieve your goal. That’s why I think it’s a brilliant way of working to say “You’re not just doing this in isolation, you don’t just have yourself to be accountable to, there’s someone else to be accountable to as well.” There’s also someone else who wants your support in turn. It works really well.
Is it okay to have treats once in a while?
Oh yeah, definitely. One of the things I talk about in the BuddyBoost programme is the 80:20 rule. That means 80% of the time, if we look after what our body really needs from a nutrient perspective, 20% of the time it’s important to think about the ‘want’ foods that we connect with on a more emotional level. So that could be something that we had as a child, or something we associate with comfort. Provided that’s just 20% of the time, it’s good to get that balance, because if you deny, deny, deny, the first thing you want to do with forbidden fruit, when you get access to something, is over-consume, over-eat, or have it too often. So, 80% of the time, if you have what your body really needs, and 20% of the time you have what it really wants, that’s a really good balance, in my opinion.
There are various messages we are given, whether it’s eating five, or seven, or nine portions of fruit and veg a day, drinking two litres of water, avoiding red meat and processed foods. Are these messages correct?
The interesting thing about things like 5-a-day, is you go to a different country, and it’ll be seven-a-day or 11-a-day. We’re all the same, fundamentally human beings are all built the same way, so I would say they can’t all be correct, but, there must be an element of truth in them. So we must try our best to eat as varied as possible, eat as seasonal as possible, but I think creating strict rules around things can be quite a negative way to influence people’s behaviour.
I’m much more an advocate of having some idea of what should be healthy – so for example, rather than saying “You should be drinking two litres of water every day,” say “Are you weeing eight-times-a-day, and is your wee the colour of straw? Those are much better ways of measuring, as far as I’m concerned. You might be someone who needs more than two-litres-a-day, you might be someone who needs less than that. The colour of your urine is a far better measure.
As for avoiding red meat, some people are low in iron, and they benefit greatly from having red meat in their diet. So, I wouldn’t want anybody to have to say “ I can’t” or “I won’t”. I don’t think it’s healthy from a mindset perspective, but also I don’t think it’s healthy from the perspective of having variety in your diet. As far as I’m concerned, you can listen to all this guidance, but you make your own rules, you make your own decisions. My biggest thing is people don’t eat intuitively enough, because we have so many messages in our society.
People’s budgets are taking a battering at the moment. Is it possible to do all of this on a budget?
One of the things that I think is great about BuddyBoost is that that is taken into consideration – so we’re not talking about really expensive foods, we’re talking about accessible foods. And you can do all of it on a budget. If you’re going to supplement, there will be a cost involved, but as far as the food and drink element is concerned, we’re talking about real food here, and that doesn’t have to be expensive. It is about knowing where to go to get certain things. So, for example, I’m a big, big fan of the budget supermarkets. They’re great, you can get whatever is on offer in terms of fruit and veg, and you can make a fairly good stab at a recipe or meal from that. So it is possible – the only caveat I would make to that is supplementation, which can be a bit more expensive. But then you weight that up against what price for health, really? It’s about investing in your future rather than, say, having a takeaway coffee every day. And you might be saving on bills for your healthcare later on in life.
And, as well as often being financially poor, people are time-poor. Doesn’t cooking everything from fresh take a long time?
I’d say there are lots of hacks that you can adopt that will get you past this really easily. Some of the things I talk about in the program are batch cooking and using your freezer efficiently. There are loads of frozen vegetables that you can buy that are already chopped and prepared, that you can just add into a meal, so that takes out a lot of time. And using bits of equipment like an air fryer can make things much quicker – you don’t have to stand there stirring things, it’s just cooking away at a much quicker rate – and a much lower cost – than your oven. So, there are definitely ways and tricks that you can adopt that would be a quicker way of cooking from fresh. And cooking from fresh means that you are in control, you have the choice, and a lot of people want that these days.
Is it important to get all these nutrients from food, or can people get the same benefits from supplements?
It’s difficult to say that one person can get absolutely everything they need from food. A lot of people will need vitamin D supplementation, certainly in the cooler months if they live further from the equator. And it is difficult for certain people, if they’re not into eating certain things - for example vegetarian or vegan - and those two ways of eating will prohibit, for example in the case of veganism, B12 absorption. And other nutrients you might be deficient in are things like Omega 3, because you’re not having any fish. And iron can be low as well. So, it can be quite difficult for some people to get everything they need from food.
And farming methods have changed, so the soils crops are grown in may not be as nutritious. We could buy flour from one part of the world that would be far more nutritious than from another part of the world. So, taking all of that into consideration, most people can eat brilliantly, and still find themselves deficient in certain nutrients. Therefore, I would recommend that most people would benefit from supplementing – certainly Omega 3 if they’re not eating two portions of oily fish every week, certainly vitamin D during the cooler months. And furthermore, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you may want to look at B12 supplementation and multivitamin supplementation as well.
If you could crystallise one message for people to take away about how they eat, what would it be?
Try and make your own food as often as possible, slow down with your eating food, and find a few important rules that work for you – like five a day – and try to stick to them!
To find out more about the BuddyBoost Good Food challenge, visit this page.