SOME might say urging us to eat more healthily in the run-up to the biggest gastronomic blow-out of the year is over-optimistic.

Alison Aldred believes otherwise.

“Focus on what you can eat rather than thinking, ‘I can’t eat this, I can’t eat that,’” she said.

“That’s just miserable, isn’t it? Nobody wants to have a life where they’re concentrating on all the things that they can’t do, especially at Christmas time when it’s all about families getting together, having fun.

“On average, the people I see are having about two to three portions of vegetables a day, so to say to people, ‘Well, you need to completely change your diet and you need to have upwards of 20 portions of different types of vegetables a week’ is just unrealistic.

“I would be looking more toward what people can do. You’ve got to start somewhere, so even if that’s a really small change, starting is the big thing.

“If that means you make sure you have one portion of green vegetables a day when you’ve previously been having none, that is a good start.

“If you don’t like your Brussels sprouts at Christmas time, pick a green vegetable that you do like or mix those Brussels sprouts with something that’s going to make them a bit more tasty.

“Maybe with some cranberries or some chopped bacon or in the traditional way with the chestnuts, rather than boiled until they’ve got a sulphurous smell!

“If you’re currently only having one portion of vegetables a day, try and up that to two.

“A good way of trying to do that is to have it at breakfast time so you’ve got it out of the way and you know you’ve had at least one portion at breakfast.”

“A lot of people don’t want just steamed veg, but you can dress them up. So for example, in season now we’ve got Cavalo Nero, the dark cabbage which is full of magnesium and calcium and all sorts of vitamins and minerals.

“You can dress that up with garlic, lemon juice, anchovies – that’s a typical kind of Italian dressing that you put on black cabbage and it’s really tasty. It’s a strong taste – some people, when they’re changing over, really need a strong taste.

“Everything you eat makes the cells in your body – it’s simple science. If you’re putting rubbish in…”

Alison is originally from Borrowash, an industrial town in Derbyshire. She is the third of four children born to a full time mum and a chemical engineer. Her father’s work meant a move to Witney.

Alison studied at Swindon College and worked for many years as a home care manager, supporting people with learning difficulties, sensory loss and progressive medical conditions.

She loved the job but the 80-hour weeks were stressful, and following the birth of her son she decided on a change.

A degree in nutritional therapy from the University of West London was followed by her setting up in business.

“It’s the perfect combination. I’ve always done care work, I’ve always wanted to support people. I’m still doing that but I’m not working 80-hour weeks,” she said.

Her interest in nutrition began when she struggled with a hip condition which began in childhood, and realised that the emotional impact was causing her to make poor food choices.

The job satisfaction in her current role is immense.

“When you see people losing weight and they’ve been trying for years, that’s really positive,” she said.

“You can see it changes their whole demeanour. When people reduce their blood pressure and their prescription drugs – with their doctor’s advice – and have their health under control.

“For some, their mood changes because they’re having food that their body needs to function properly.”

According to Alison, it is not just our food intake which affects our health.

“One thing I would start with is sleep. We’re all so busy and not sleeping properly,” she said.

“One of the reasons is using electrical things with screens late at night. The blue light interferes with our melatonin, which helps to get our sleep pattern right.

“We need to, if we can, switch off electrical things later in the evening and try to get to bed before 11pm . Once you’ve got your stress in check, you can implement other lifestyle changes like your diet.

“With regard to sedentary lifestyles, even if it’s a quick walk at lunchtime it’s going to a make a huge difference to the way you’re feeling about life.

“This time of year, it’s darker evenings. It’s dark when we get up and we’re not seeing the sunshine, so if we can get out that’s good.”

Alison counters the common argument that using fresh ingredients is time consuming and inconvenient, and that microwaved dishes or ready-meals are easier.

“How quick is an omelette? It’s thirty seconds, a minute in the pan. It’s the quickest convenience food you can get, “ she said. and yet we’re relying on ping-its that take about seven minutes.

“We’ve just lost our cooking skills. Our parents haven’t shown us and we’re not showing our children, so we need to reintroduce that, but also we need to prioritise our health.

“We’re relying on the NHS to fix everything. Well, it’s not going to. It hasn’t got the money for that and it hasn’t got the resources.

“We’ve got to be proactive about our health, and using a ping-it meal is not the way to get our bodies working well. Start today. Make a small change and then build on that.

“Swap your sugary cereal for eggs in the morning. Swap your sandwich for a salad.”

Details about Alison’s work can be found at