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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

Food & Drink

Lidl Northern Ireland Crunches New £11 Million Supply Deal with Newtownards Producer

Pictured celebrating the announcement is Enya Rooney, Senior Buyer at Lidl Northern Ireland, John McCann, Founder and CEO of Willowbrook Foods and Tanya Neilson, NPD & Hub Innovation Manager at Willowbrook Foods.

Lidl Northern Ireland has awarded Newtownards-based fresh food producer Willowbrook Foods an expanded supply deal worth £11 million – almost double its previous contract – to supply 25 new lines of fresh convenience foods across its network of 210 stores throughout the island of Ireland.

Established in 1968 by the McCann family, Willowbrook Foods is the largest salad and vegetable processing company in Ireland, operating from its two sites on the shores of Strangford Lough. The local company has been supplying Lidl Northern Ireland with premium bagged salads and fresh deli products since 2011.

The new contract with Lidl Northern Ireland represents an 83% boost on last year – taking the former £6 million annual contract to a cool £11 million – and will see 25 new product lines introduced across its premium range of ready meals, stir fry and deli salads.

Enya Rooney, Senior Buyer at Lidl Northern Ireland said:

“Lidl Northern Ireland has held a long-standing partnership with Willowbrook Foods and over the years we’ve seen the company enjoy exponential growth. As a proud supporter of local agri-food producers, we’re delighted to reaffirm our commitment to the partnership and provide a significant sales boost through this expanded new contract.

With a strong focus on new product development, Willowbrook Foods is continually innovating to introduce new lines in response to changing consumer demand. We’ve seen a real increase in demand for our fresh convenience foods range and we’re excited to now launch an expanded line of great tasting, home-grown salads, cold deli foods and stir fry meals to thousands of customers across the island of Ireland.

Through this new supply deal we’re thrilled to offer shoppers even more choice of fresh, quality convenience food at the same great value customers can expect from shopping with Lidl Northern Ireland.”

Headquartered in Killinchy, Willowbrook Foods opened its £5.5 million state-of-the-art production facility in 2011 to support its ambitious growth plans and enhance production capability. The site is also home to its dedicated New Product Development hub where it operates an innovation centre utilising the latest food production technology. In addition, the company operates a cooking facility at its site in Newtownards where it manufactures ready-meal products.

Lidl Northern Ireland crunches new £11 million supply deal with fresh food producer Willowbrook Foods: Pictured celebrating the announcement is Tanya Neilson, NPD & Hub Innovation Manager at Willowbrook Foods, Enya Rooney, Senior Buyer at Lidl Northern Ireland and John McCann, Founder and CEO of Willowbrook Foods

John McCann, Founder and CEO of Willowbrook Foods said,

“Since the early days Willowbrook Foods has been a leader in providing premium prepared fresh vegetables and salads, cooked and ready to cook products. Over the last 50 years we have focused on mastering our craft of growing the highest quality, great tasting vegetables and continually developing our product offering.

Key to our success is our established partnership with Lidl Northern Ireland. As the region’s fastest-growing supermarket, we’ve been able to realise our ambitious growth plans, break into new markets, reach new customers and grow our brand exponentially through the partnership.

Willowbrook Foods is delighted to secure this increased supply deal with Lidl Northern Ireland and embark on a new period of growth whilst providing its 300,000 weekly shoppers in the region with a fantastic new range of locally grown, quality products to enjoy.”

Since the beginning of its relationship with Willowbrook Foods in 2011, Lidl Northern Ireland’s supply deal has helped to create 100 new full-time roles, in addition to providing access to sales in the UK and Republic of Ireland markets.

Lidl Northern Ireland is a major supporter of local food suppliers.

An independent report into the economic impact of Lidl Northern Ireland’s operations revealed that the retailer spends at least £290 million annually with suppliers across the region while also supporting 3,500 jobs.

In 2020, Lidl Northern Ireland announced a £24 million contract with Fermanagh-based bakery, Crust & Crumb, to supply an expanded line of pizza products across more than 1,000 UK and Ireland stores whilst top Northern Ireland horticulturalist Greenisland Flowers secured a new supply deal with Lidl Northern Ireland to ship over four million stems of freshly cut tulips, lilies and scented stocks, building on their existing partnership worth more than £7.2 million.

Earlier this year Lidl Northern Ireland confirmed a new and expanded contract with Irwin’s Bakery after a successful 20-year partnership deal worth more than £50 million. Under the new supply deal, worth £2.7 million annually, the family-run bakery will continue to supply customer favourites including Nutty Krust batch bread, Irwin’s Veda malted loaf and Jammy Joey’s buns to Lidl stores across the island of Ireland.

In addition, Lidl Northern Ireland announced a new supply deal worth more than £500,000 with Antrim-based coffee producer, SlumberJack Coffee in 2021 to supply their premium Italian Espresso whole bean and ground coffee across all 210 Lidl stores within the island of Ireland.

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Food & Drink

Anthony Flinn Set To Cook Up A Storm With Asda at Balmoral Show

Join ASDA at this year’s Balmoral Show, taking place from 22 – 25 September and enjoy a range of cookery demonstrations from renowned chef Anthony Flinn. 

With years of experience, Anthony has worked in some of the world’s best restaurants throughout the UK and Europe including the esteemed 3 Michelin Star, El Bulli in Barcelona. Having attained 3 AA Rosettes as well as numerous regional & national accolades, Anthony has a first class reputation for creativity, quality and attention to detail.

ASDA will be situated on Alexander Avenue in the centre of the Balmoral Showgrounds and during the four days of the Show, Anthony is set to cook up a storm using the best of British beef that is readily available from local ASDA stores.

Why not try his mouth watering Dirty Burger recipe for yourself and get a taste of what the Show has to offer.

Dirty Burger Recipe (Serves 2)

  • 1 pack of ASDA Extra Special 4 Seasoned Beef Burgers
  • 2 brioche buns
  • 1 bottle of BBQ sauce
  • 2 kraft cheese slices
  • Sliced gherkins

Beef Stock Mayonnaise

  • ½ Oxo Cube
  • 100gr Good Mayonnaise

Crumb the oxo cube into a bowl and add 1tsp of warm water and mix until fully dissolved and smooth. Add the mayonnaise and mix until the stock and mayonnaise are fully incorporated.

Crispy Onions

  • 1 white onion, thinly sliced
  • 2tbsp plain flour
  • Toss the sliced onions in the flour and deep fry until crispy. Season with salt.

Cheese Sauce

  • 8 kraft cheese slices.
  • 150ml double cream.
  • Warm the cream in a pan. Add the cheese slices and whisk until the cheese is fully melted and smooth.

Simple Steps

  1. Cook the burgers as per the cooking instructions on pack.
  2. Toast the burger buns.
  3. Spoon the beef stock mayonnaise on to the top and bottom halves of the burger buns.
  4. Place a burger on to the bottom half of the bun and top with cheese.
  5. Stack the second burger on top and drizzle the BBQ sauce.
  6. Add the crispy onions and finally the bun lid.
  7. Skewer through burger to stop it from tipping over.
  8. Pour the warm cheese sauce over the whole burger and serve.

The Balmoral Show will run from Wednesday 22nd September to Saturday 25th September, that’s four action packed days of family fun.  Come along and visit us this year, whether you’re from the city or countryside, a first time visitor or repeat show-goer, we hope to see you there.  Tickets are now available to purchase online at Please note this year tickets are day specific only and must be purchased prior to the Show. Conditions of entry can also be found online.

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