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Food & Drink

Food Impacts Mood Says Chef Making Healthy Changes For All

Healthy snacks and breakfast company heralds better options

Skipped breakfasts, supermarket meal deals and 60+ hour weeks fuelled by energy drinks were plunging chef Ben Cochrane’s health all in the wrong direction, but now he is back with the message food impacts mood and a business to help others make the right dietary choices. 

The business, Benergy, came about after he and his girlfriend, Jessica Thompson, began to re-evaluate how they were living, and then the Covid-19 lockdown scuppered plans to travel to the Himalayas.

While initially disappointed, having to remain at home in Northern Ireland has led to a new life for both Ben and Jessica – personally and professionally.

 “Once the lockdown began, life stood still,” said the 23-year-old Annahilt chef, “but, as with many other people, it gave me the opportunity to reflect on my life and take a good, long hard look at myself.
“One glance in the mirror showed a pale, skinny and unhappy man and I didn’t like what I saw.

 Ben believes that he was making all the wrong choices in his own diet while he was, ironically, serving up healthy meals.

 “Looking back now, I’m not surprised that I looked as bad as I did,” he said. “Prior to lockdown, I’d spent two years in hospitality, working as a chef for some well-known restaurants, including Shu in Belfast. I worked four fourteen-hour shifts, working from 9am to 11pm and then an additional half day. Most weeks I was working between 60 and 70 hours a week. 

 It was what he was eating that now is clear to Ben that was compounding matters.

 “To make matters worse, I wasn’t eating breakfast, which is arguably the most important meal of the day,” he explained. “If I did have something to eat in the morning, it was usually a sandwich meal deal, which lacked the level of nutrition which I needed given the hours that I worked.

 “I also drank a lot of energy drinks on busy shifts. While they would give me an initial boost, they’d also give me sugar crashes, particularly during service. This made me tired and lethargic.”

 Despite the fact that lockdown was a major lifestyle change for everyone, Ben soon found that it was to bring some unexpected benefits to his life.

 He spent lockdown in Annahilt, where his family have some land, and began growing his own vegetables and spending a lot of time in the open air.

 “I realised very quickly that my general appearance and overall health and wellbeing was down to a lack of nutritional food,” he continued. “There’s no doubt that life is all about balance. It’s about what you eat, how much you sleep, how much you exercise, how much caffeine you drink. 

 “Prior to lockdown, I wasn’t paying any attention to any of these. I didn’t understand how my body actually functions and hadn’t realised that my calorie intake was negative. Put simply, my body was burning more calories than I was taking in through food.

“That’s why I was losing weight and feeling exhausted all the time.

 My diet was also lacking in particular micronutrients, such as vitamin C, that I needed to prevent me from becoming ill. No wonder I looked and felt so bad.

 “Once I was in Annahilt, however, I not only started eating three meals a day, but I also began researching about what certain foods do to the body.”

 The changes that Ben made to his lifestyle were to have quick rapid and dramatic results. Not only did he look and feel better – and healthier – but he also found that the change in his diet had a major impact on his mood. 

 “There’s no doubt,” said Ben, “that food impacts mood. My diet had left me with little energy and, as a result, I frequently suffered from both low mood and mood swings. I now understand that our brain is the ‘engine’ of our body and our body is the ‘car’. The car can function on non premium fuel, but it simply won’t work as well or last as long. The same goes for premium food in relation to your body and your brain.” 

 Over a period of time, Ben found that certain health conditions, such as his irritable bowel syndrome, had more or less disappeared – all of which he realised was the result of his switch to a healthier diet and lifestyle. 

 “I knew that the change in my diet was the reason why I looked and felt better, and I wanted everyone to have access to education on this subject, so that they too could benefit as I had.

 As an experienced traveller, I had had access to a wide range of food cultures and I was aware that more and more people were opting for a vegan diet, it was my focus on putting whole foods into my body and no processed that I really saw the changes in myself, mood, motivation and energy wise.

 The Himalayas’ loss was ultimately to prove Northern Ireland’s culinary gain, as Ben and Jessica launched Benergy: with a range of plant-based, gluten and dairy-free range of snacks and breakfast pots. 

 “Benergy isn’t just an ordinary nutrition company,” Ben continued. “We’re all about educating people about food – particularly food that will benefit people both physically and, most importantly, mentally, because that’s where good health really begins. 

 “You don’t have to be an international sports star or be heading out to the gym every day to eat the right things and get the best out of your life. Good nutrition is for everyone and should be a very basic part of everyday life.

 “Our products are all plant-based, gluten and dairy free, which is very unique as vegan is the world’s fastest growing food market in the world today. We don’t just want to cater for one dietary requirement, we want to combine them all. 

 “When I read or hear about vegan food, I hear a lot of negative remarks about the taste and such like. As a chef, I felt it was a challenge to create a selection of tasty fresh treats and a filling and, more importantly, a fulfilling breakfast option. If food tastes good, does it matter if it is vegan friendly?”

 The Benergy range contains a great selection of breakfast pots to start the day off well, and a fabulous mix of treats to keep people going in between meals. 

 “I now realise that breakfast provides you with the necessary fuel to start your day,” Ben said. “That’s why I created these breakfast pots, to give people a ‘grab and go’ pot, which would provide them with a nutritious and delicious start to their day, regardless of time constraints.

 “They’re a macro-friendly breakfast: a mixture of oats, fruits and nuts that’s nutritionally balanced, so they’ll give you all the necessary fuel to get you through the day.”

 Ben believes there is important nutritional advice for people’s overall wellbeing.

 “Food and mental health are directly related,” he said, “One thousand per cent. It’s now my ultimate goal to educate people on the importance of this, particularly since we’re facing the biggest mental health pandemic that this country has ever seen.

 “It saddens me to see people struggling and reaching for medications when there are some simple steps that can be life changing. 

 “Food, as I said, impacts mood. 

 “It’s as simple as that.”

 To find out more about Benergy Nutrition and their delicious range of healthy snacks head to https://benergynutrition.com/

Food & Drink

New Business Venture Provides Mood Boost after Mental Health Battles

Lifestyle changes bring lockdown business success

When a difficult time in her life left Jessica Thompson struggling with mental health problems, she thought she would never be able to recover, but now she is at the helm of a new company, Benergy with her partner Ben Cochrane.

The nutritious snack company aims to bring foods to boost physical health and mental health, promoting better lifestyle and positivity.

 It all started when Jessica and Ben’s plans to hike across the Himalayas were scuppered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“When we first met, Ben’s health and wellbeing weren’t good and neither were mine,” she explained. “He had a dreadful diet, even though he was working as a chef. 

 “From my own perspective, my weight was fluctuating drastically over the years and it was only when Ben started to look at the internal processes, as well as the external ones, such as his diet and lifestyle, that I realised that I also needed to change the way I was living. 

 “We looked at a lot of different lifestyle changes but realised very quickly that our diet and lifestyle was the first thing that needed to change. As lockdown went on, we increasingly realised that those who were eating a clean diet were so much more active. We took a really close look at how we were living and eating.”

The link between diet and mental health is one that the couple realised was more crucial than many realise.

“Your mental health is not something to be taken lightly,” said Jessica. “Neglecting your mind can have a disastrous impact on every aspect of your life and on those of others in your life as well.

 “It was only after I’d gone through a really bad period in my life that I realised that my mind and body were in a really bad place. I couldn’t understand why one day I’d feel great, and the next I’d feel terrible.”

 After meeting, 23-year-old chef Ben Cochrane, Jessica began to look at both herself and her choices and led her to monitor what was going on in her life.

 “When I met Ben, he was starting out on his own journey where he’d started looking at his lifestyle and his diet in particular.

 “Ben had spent two years in hospitality, working as a chef for some well-known restaurants. He was working four fourteen-hour shifts a week, plus an additional half day. Most weeks he was working between 60 and 70 hours a week. 

 “We started going out on walks and began eating healthily and I began to realise how much I was able to focus on my mind and how I was feeling. 

 “I’d love to say that I just changed my diet and everything was fine,” said Jessica, who was born in Belfast, but grew up in Australia, before moving back to the province, “but that was not the case.

“It was a long, long road out of the darkness. But I am so happy to say that my sad days are becoming few and far between and my mood is the best it has been in years. 

“I do still experience panic attacks from time to time, but that is to be expected. I’m only human, but I’m always trying: the healing process is a long one.”

Jessica, whose background is in digital marketing and technical SEO, first met Ben in 2018 and realises how much their lives have changed since that first, meeting.

Spurred on by the positive changes in their own lifestyles, the couple decided to pass their new-found knowledge on to others by creating a range of breakfast pots and snacks for those ‘on-the-go’ moments.

“We’re not simply a nutrition company,” Jessica continued. “We’re all about educating people about food – particularly food that will benefit people both physically and, most importantly, mentally, because that’s where good health really begins. 

“You don’t have to be an international sports star or be heading out to the gym every day to eat the right things and get the best out of your life. Good nutrition is for everyone and should be a very basic part of everyday life.

“Our products are all plant-based, gluten and dairy free, which is very unique as vegan is the world’s fastest growing food market in the world today. We don’t just want to cater for one dietary requirement, we want to combine them all. 

“Our snacks include protein balls, healthy doppelgangers of the favourite blondies, brownies and truffles, and our new breakfast pots that have proved to be our biggest hit yet in the trials with some of Northern Ireland’s big names in personal training.

“Put simply, we want to break down the stigma around food restrictions and to provide products that can be enjoyed by everyone. Nutrition is not just for those that are involved heavily in the gym; all you have to care about is your mind and you can go from there.

“There is such a gap in the nutrition market. Products, for example, that are marketed a lot of the time aren’t great for you yet use the words ‘skinny’ and ‘high protein’ and people will opt for them even though they’re packed with other nasties and will often leave people suffering in other areas.

“It is so important to let people know that many studies have found a correlation between a diet that’s high in refined sugars and impaired brain function. While it’s important to understand this, it’s just as important to understand the benefits.”

Jessica explained that the link between healthy eating and mental wellbeing is being backed up by the science.

“Research undertaken by MIND in people suffering from depression showed that after they ate a banana they felt better,” she said. “This is because bananas contain tryptophan: a type of protein that the body turns into serotonin, which makes you relax and generally feel happier through an elevated mood.” 

The Benergy range contains a great selection of breakfast pots to start the day off well, and a fabulous mix of treats to keep people going in between meals. 

“Mental health applies to both Ben and me in different ways,” Jessica explained. “I suffered tremendously with my mental health through negative experiences, while Ben’s mental health took a hit through poor nutrition a few years ago when he was blissfully unaware and travelling, not to mention working so many crazy hours. 

“Since we got together almost three years ago, we’ve made small, consistent changes and the results have been genuinely incredible, especially in the last year.

 “I believe that physical health is just as important as mental health, but I believe that they are linked in more ways than a lot of people are aware of.

“The pressure that weight – or a lack thereof – can put on the body’s ability to function is tremendously misunderstood. Every day, I am learning something new that leaves my jaw on the floor. I think that everything starts with the mind – your perceptions, your thoughts, your function – everything happens internally first. I think getting yourself in check internally leads to a better ability to look at your physical health and reassess your goals. 

“Good nutrition is the first step to your physical health.

“The benefits to your mental health are an added bonus.”

To find out more about Benergy Nutrition and their delicious range of healthy snacks head to https://benergynutrition.com/

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Food & Drink

‘LegenDerry – Great Place, Great Taste’ Celebrating Local

LegenDerry Food will continue to celebrate high-quality local produce and the food heritage of the city and region as hospitality businesses welcome more customers back as restrictions ease.

LegenDerry Food was the result of the City and District’s Food and Drink Strategy, which was launched in February 2019 by the Council as part of its wider plan to drive tourism and firmly place the region on the map as the number one food destination on the island of Ireland by 2025.

The past year has seen the development and launch of the LegenDerry brand, complete with a new website that provides a central hub for accessing unique food, drink and experiences in the region. As a certified LegenDerry provider, businesses are showcased on the LegenDerry website and receive a suite of marketing material to signpost their venues or produce with the LegenDerry stamp of approval.

There are now a total of 70 members who are part of the network, including 17 new members who joined in 2021.

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Cllr Brian Tierney, said: “LegenDerry Food has gone from strength to strength since its launch, and at a time when we are starting to see our hospitality businesses welcome customers back and return to normality, LegenDerry is a vital service to encourage everyone to support local and to delve into the simply incredible food and drink, and exciting experiences, that we have here on our own doorsteps.

“Membership of the network continues to grow, and with impressive plans for the months ahead that will aid the COVID-19 recovery and support the further development of new food experiences in our city and district, we know that LegenDerry will only get bigger and better, with even more offerings and experiences for locals and visitors alike.

“The providers who are part of the LegenDerry Network are dedicated to producing the highest quality and showcasing this region as one of the best food destinations on this island, and new businesses are always welcome to get involved.

“Now more than ever it’s important that we support local, and I would encourage everyone to check out the LegenDerry Food website and find out more about the fantastic offerings we have right here in our own city and district.”

James Huey, Chair of the LegenDerry Food and Drink Network, added: “It’s incredibly exciting for our hospitality businesses and producers to be reopening again after a very difficult 15 months.

“At this point the Legenderry Food and Drink brand is now more important than ever as when you shop at an accredited business, you’ll be reassured that you are supporting local jobs and local produce. This will help our city and district get back on track to become the number one food destination in Ireland by 2025!”

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