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Happy Food

Happy Food

Plenty of research has suggested a connection between diet and gut health – but can the food we eat also impact our mood? We speak to Niklas Ekstedt and Henrik Ennart about their new book, Happy Food, and how our diet can affect our wellbeing.

Happy Food

What inspired you to write this book?

Two things, at least: The science on how the mind, body and gut is connected has exploded during the past few years, mainly due to a technical breakthrough in how to analyse gut bacteria. This new knowledge influences everything in our understanding of food, health and disease to at least some degree. And we have both been interested in food for a long time – Niklas as an international Michelin chef hosting several TV series, and Henrik as a multi-award-winning science journalist and author. We like following the latest advancements in science, and creating from that a new lasting gastronomy which is both healthy and sustainable. Most other books either focus mainly on science, or on food – we’ve put them both in the same book.

What do you like to eat at home?

We both like to eat a really good and healthy breakfast like a traditional Scandinavian barley porridge, or sometimes steel-cut oats, berries, nuts and a small knob of butter, together with a shot of ginger, lemon and apple juice.

How would you describe your food philosophy?

Food should be delicious and good for your health at the same time. We have both travelled a lot and been to all the so-called ‘Blue Zones’ like Okinawa and eastern Sardinia, where you have the greatest chance on the planet to live to be 100 years old and healthy. The people there have some important things in common: they eat mainly vegetables, they eat a great variety of foods, and they eat food that is locally grown, often full of colours and lots of herbs. They also gather with other people for dinner. They have a healthy life filled with physical activity and social networks, but it’s centred around food, growing it, producing it, cooking it and eating it. These people have been living like this for thousands of years, but now the western scientists are catching up and we can see empirical evidence as to why all this seems to be very good for your health.

What should we be eating more of to feel good?

We eat far too little dietary fibre. We need lots of it – but even more important perhaps is a great variety. According to some of the latest research, it’s better to eat more than 30 different vegetables or herbs a week, than eating an even a greater amount of a few favourites. To stay healthy, you need lots of different species of microbes in your gut, and they all graze on different kinds of fibre and other bioactive compounds. You need to learn that you are not just feeding yourself when you eat. You have 1000 different species of gut bacteria that also demand to be fed properly. They depend on you, and your health and immune system depend on them.

Are there particular foods we should be avoiding to maintain good gut health?

There are things that are bad for you – like too much sugar, refined carbohydrates, and refined oils – but we prefer to emphasise what you can add to your diet and the positive effects of eating with variety. A lot of things become unhealthy if you eat too much of them, and very few things are dangerous, even sugar or red meat, if you eat just a little of them. Dieting is often very black and white. Think more of the good things you do – every good thing is a small step in the right direction.

What’s the most common misconception you see with regards to diet?

Probably that everyone is expected to react in the same way to the same foods, when new research points out that our individual differences can be quite extreme. This explains why some can’t eat gluten at all, or why some people get food allergies, and why some can eat lots of cookies without getting fat. Basically some diets, like the Mediterranean diet, are good for everyone – but there are also individual differences and possibilities for fine-tuning that we will be more aware of in the future.

If there’s one change everyone should make in their diet, what would that be?

Avoid a one-sided and unbalanced diet. Learn to use a great variety of vegetables in different colours, and use different methods when you cook your food.

Maintain good gut health with this Roast Chicken with Mojo Rojo, Almonds & Fried Lettuce and Kimchi Salad from Happy Food. 

Happy Food by Niklas Ekstedt and Henrik Ennart is published by Absolute Press (AU$39.99, NZ$41.99) and is available now.

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