James Harper

Watercress – part of a sustainable British diet

James Harper
Watercress – part of a sustainable British diet

Love British Food Fortnight is here!

Time to celebrate our bountiful British harvest at last.

British food producers are of course working hard year-round, but our harvest is at its most bountiful at this time of year and I for one am always relieved to make it to this time of year when we start to see British apples on our shelves again, if only to combine them with the many blackberries in our hedgerows, into the glorious British crumble!


What is British Food Fortnight?

  • Held in the autumn at the same time as harvest festival, British Food Fortnight is the biggest annual, national celebration of British food and drink

  • Established in the wake of the Foot and Mouth crisis in 2002 in response to the fact that, though there are numerous food initiatives, projects and events taking place across Britain, there was no overall flagship event to bring them to the public's attention

  • British Food Fortnight has become THE opportunity for those who work in any aspect of food and drink to come together and promote the benefits of buying and eating from our home produced British larder

  • A range of Ambassadors support and champion Love British Food including Raymond Blanc OBE and his son Oliver Blanc, Liz Earle MBE , BBC Bakeoff’s and Strictly’s Candice Brown and Michelin- starred chef Phil Howard

However, as Global Warming and Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGe) become pressing issues of our time, sustainable food production and food choices are becoming key. Globally, food production accounts for 25% of GHGe with the rearing of livestock for meat, dairy and eggs generating 18% of this. But as our population increases, so must food production and our fish supplies are already depleted, despite the wonderful work of the Marine Conservation Society and the Marine Stewards Council in addressing this.

So what is a ‘Sustainable Diet’ and how can it benefit our British Food Producers/ Providers, our health and our planet? The Food and Agricultural Committee (FAO) provide this definition:

‘Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable, nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy, while optimising natural resources.’

Our recently updated UK Eatwell Guide reflects the recommendations – plenty of whole-grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables, sustainably sourced fish twice weekly and meat and dairy in more moderate quantities. This move towards a diet higher in fibre, unsaturated fats and plant protein while lower in saturated fats is being shown through extensive research to help promote long-term health, specifically by reducing the risk of obesity, heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes and Cancer, the top causes of premature death. Type 2 Diabetes alone costs the NHS an annual £6 Billion

So where does watercress come in?

Nutritionists have an emerging role therefore, to encourage a sustainable diet; choosing British, local and seasonal goes a long way to support this. Choosing seasonal food also ensures the most nutrients, highest flavour and cheapest cost when produce is at its most plentiful. However, we also have to ensure that nutritional needs for different life-stages are adequately met. Currently in the UK for example, nearly 50% of teenage girls have an iron intake lower than the lowest recommended intake level (RNI)1. Red meat forms an excellent source - the iron from this food source being extremely easy to absorb – known as having a high bioavailability. If we are to promote sustainable food choices in line with current Public Health England recommendations, we have to ensure we inform on how to ensure nutrients like iron can also be absorbed from plant sources which generally have low iron bioavailability.

Watercress is unusual in being a green leaf with not only a high level of iron but also Vitamin C, which is required by the body to absorb iron from plant sources. It is therefore, a great example of an ideal plant-based food to include in a sustainable diet. And, there’s the added benefit that it’s packed with antioxidants, protecting against DNA cell damage and forms part of a diet high in fibre too.


British growers The Watercress Company supply small grocers through to national supermarkets and work extensively to promote the health benefits of their product, currently partnering with their local Dorset County Hospital. Such food producers are invaluable in moving towards a more sustainable diet, good for our health our environment and our planet too.


 Facts about British food

  • We grow around 50% of the food consumed in the UK here, the rest is imported*

  • The UK exports around £22 billion in food and drink every year*

  • Around 70% of land in the UK (20 million ha) is used for farming. Of that 36% is for arable cropping

  • The UK grows and consumes more watercress than any other country in the world, about 2.5 million kg each year

  • There are around 35 million sheep and lambs in the UK - more sheep than any other country in Europe 

  • The agri-food sector contributions £113 billion to the annual economy *

    *source Gov.Uk

I was lucky enough during our glorious British summer to hike the entire Ridgeway National Trail with my husband, our two teenagers and Tim the border terrier. It passes through 87 miles of stunning scenery and ancient landscapes from beautiful Avebury in Wiltshire, through Areas of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB) such as the North Wessex Downs and The Chiltern Hills, before ending at Ivinghoe Beacon in Hertfordshire. For us it encompassed all that’s good about life – family time together (24/7 in fact!), overcoming difficulties (we all carried our own gear including tents, in over 30 degrees much of the time), celebrating our great and beautiful British countryside (at times it felt more like hiking in southern Spain!) and, of course we passed by and tasted excellent British produce en-route.

Lucy family.jpg

87 miles later, we made it to the end-point of The Ridgeway after savouring some of the best local produce and countryside Britain has to offer.

 It’s been a fabulous summer; let’s hope it’s a fabulous Autumn too as we celebrate our bountiful British Harvest!

About me:

I am a Registered Nutritionist working to inform and inspire better health for all. Previously a Vet and with a family of my own, I understand the need for practical, evidence-based Nutrition advice within busy lives. My focus is on achieving healthier, happier lives through sustainable good food choices, giving clarity amid confusing ‘healthy eating’ messages. Sharing Nutrition knowledge is my passion and, I believe, beneficial to all!


To find out more about how Lucy can promote your Food Business, provide Personal Nutrition advice, speak at your Event or her work within Schools, click HERE. You can learn more about her work as the Nutritionist for Love British Food HERE

Follow her on Instagram @lucywilliamsonnutrition for practical meal ideas for busy families too!

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