Pic­ture OF HEALTH

Belfast nutri­tion­ist Jane McCle­naghan on eat­ing well and her bliss­ful ru­ral child­hood

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Vi­tal Nu­tri­tion by Jane McCle­naghan, pub­lished by Colour­point Books, £12.99, avail­able from Water­stones, Ea­sons, Ama­zon and all good book­stores

Grow­ing up in a home where din­ner meant go­ing out into the gar­den to har­vest fresh veg­eta­bles, it is hardly sur­pris­ing that Jane McCle­naghan de­vel­oped an early pas­sion for healthy eat­ing. Just like her par­ents and grand­par­ents, who grew their own food long be­fore it be­came trendy, she broke the mould when she an­nounced at school that she wanted to be a nu­tri­tional ther­a­pist.

Ca­reers ad­vi­sors had never heard of it and per­suaded Jane to take a food tech­nol­ogy de­gree, con­vinced it would open more doors for her.

When the 45-year-old even­tu­ally set up her own busi­ness, Vi­tal Nu­tri­tion, in Belfast in 2001, she was the first per­son in North­ern Ire­land of­fer­ing a clinic on healthy eat­ing.

Nowa­days she is one of many prac­tis­ing nu­tri­tion­ists, but she still stands out thanks to the pas­sion she brings to her work, which has seen her be­come a reg­u­lar on lo­cal TV and ra­dio (she has a monthly slot with Carolyn Ste­wart’s U105 lunchtime show and is of­ten on BBC Ra­dio Ul­ster with Kerry McLean).

Jane also re­cently be­came the first per­son in North­ern Ire­land to re­ceive a UK CAM (Com­ple­men­tary and Al­ter­na­tive Medicine) Award for out­stand­ing prac­tice.

As well as ad­vis­ing clients on a one-toone ba­sis in her Belfast clinic, she has brought healthy eat­ing into our homes via the in­ter­net, host­ing what have be­come very pop­u­lar ‘we­bi­nars’.

Jane also runs cook­ery classes and well­be­ing work­shops and spe­cialises in de­vel­op­ing work­place health pro­grammes for com­pa­nies across Ire­land.

On top of all this, she finds time to write and has just launched her sec­ond book, Vi­tal Nu­tri­tion: How to Eat for Op­ti­mum Health, Hap­pi­ness and En­ergy.

Her phi­los­o­phy of health and well­be­ing is one of balance — sim­ple, ef­fec­tive and prac­ti­cal changes that can fit into any­one’s life­style and are de­signed to re­ju­ve­nate your mo­ti­va­tion for eat­ing well.

A go-to guru on nu­tri­tion, Jane en­joys a healthy life­style with her longterm part­ner Neville Walker (52), a con­ser­va­tion vol­un­teer whom she de­scribes as “an out­doorsy per­son”.

To­gether they like to spend their leisure time walk­ing in the Mournes, kayak­ing, cook­ing and, of course, grow­ing their own veg­eta­bles in the gar­den of their Belfast home.

Jane grew up in Camp­sie in the north west and spent a lot of time as a child on her grand­par­ents’ dairy farm. Her child­hood very much in­flu­enced not just her choice of ca­reer, but also her life­style. “Farm­ing goes back in our fam­ily for gen­er­a­tions and as a child I would have spent ev­ery week­end and evenings at my grand­par­ents’ farm,” she says. “As well as grow­ing crops for a liv­ing, my grand­fa­ther had his own veg­etable patch and my mum grew her own veg­eta­bles. “From an early age my mum taught me and my brother, Aaron, to cook and bake and she would have en­cour­aged us to grow our own veg­eta­bles and be aware of where our food comes from. “Aaron now also grows his own and en­cour­ages my nieces and neph­ews, so it is still be­ing passed down through the gen­er­a­tions. “In our house for din­ner you would have dug up your own spuds and got your peas and cab­bage from the gar­den. “Liv­ing in Belfast, we have a medium-sized gar­den and an ed­i­ble hedge, which I love. Dur­ing the sum­mer we got rasp­ber­ries, black­ber­ries, wild straw­ber­ries, goose­ber­ries and blue­ber­ries from it. “We also have a raised veg­etable patch where we grow peas, beans, car­rots and beet­root. We are now try­ing to grow kale over the win­ter months.” Al­though grow­ing your own food has been pop­u­lar for some time, with even court­yard gar­dens in cities boast­ing pot­ted veg­eta­bles and herbs, some peo­ple still find it daunt­ing.

But Jane in­sists you don’t have to be green-fin­gered to grow fresh pro­duce, and the re­wards make it worth­while.

“One of the eas­i­est things to grow is peas,” she ex­plains. “You put this tiny lit­tle dried pea seed into the ground and get this mas­sive plant full of peas, which are so sweet when eaten straight from the pod.

“Cel­ery and car­rots can be a bit harder to grow. I would ad­vise peo­ple to start with some­thing very easy like salad leaves. They can be ex­pen­sive to buy in the shop and yet if you put them in a ter­ra­cotta pot they will just keep grow­ing.”

Turn­ing her pas­sion for cook­ing and healthy eat­ing into a ca­reer was a bit of a chal­lenge at first. Jane, a for­mer pupil of Li­mavady Gram­mar School, says while her peers were as­pir­ing to be lawyers, engi­neers and doc­tors, her favourite sub­ject — un­sur­pris­ingly — was home eco­nom­ics.

She re­calls her meet­ing with ca­reer ad­vi­sors and their sur­prise when she an­nounced she wanted to be a nutri­tion­ist: “It wasn’t a thing back then and the ca­reers ad­vi­sors thought it was ridicu­lous and ad­vised me to study food sci­ence, which I did at Read­ing Univer­sity.

“I’m re­ally glad I did be­cause it had a nu­tri­tional com­po­nent to it. I then went on to study nu­tri­tional ther­apy at col­lege in Lon­don and never looked back.

“I found it mind-blow­ing how what we eat can have such a big ef­fect on our health and well­be­ing. I loved ev­ery day of that course.”

Jane stayed in Eng­land work­ing with a num­ber of com­pa­nies and also got a teach­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion so that she could lec­ture on nu­tri­tion.

Af­ter 10 years liv­ing in Eng­land, she missed her mother and was feel­ing very home­sick, so she de­cided to re­turn to North­ern Ire­land in 2001.

Jane opened her own clinic in a room above the Fra­mar Health store on the Lis­burn Road, where she still prac­tises one day a week. Apart from the well-known late natur­opath Jan de Vries, there was no one else of­fer­ing the ser­vice lo­cally.

But that didn’t stop the nutri­tion­ist from very quickly es­tab­lish­ing her­self and, as peo­ple found her ad­vice on mak­ing sim­ple changes to their diet was trans­form­ing their health, her clinic very soon took off.

“I loved liv­ing in Eng­land, but I could never see my­self liv­ing there for ever” Jane says. “I got a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence and wanted to set up my own busi­nesses — and I wanted to come home and do it.

“It was still very new in North­ern Ire­land. The only other per­son do­ing any­thing like it was Jan de Vries.

“No one was prac­tis­ing nu­tri­tional ther­apy and yet it is so dif­fer­ent now as there are so many peo­ple do­ing it.

“I’ve met so many won­der­ful peo­ple along the way since I set up my busi­ness. As well

I found it mind-blow­ing how what we eat can have such an ef­fect

as my clinic, where I have one-to-ones with clients, I have en­joyed go­ing into the work­place do­ing pre­ven­ta­tive health­care.

“We are def­i­nitely a lot more aware now than we were in 2001 about the im­por­tance of good nu­tri­tion. Back then it was seen as a bit off the wall.

“Now, most peo­ple would know to eat their oily fish three times a week and their five-a-day, and I think peo­ple are a lot more scep­ti­cal and bet­ter in­formed about read­ing food la­bels and tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for their health, which is bril­liant.”

While Jane does see peo­ple with weight prob­lems, she doesn’t be­lieve in fad di­ets.

A lot of her work is about treat­ing peo­ple for a range of health is­sues that can of­ten be tack­led through sim­ple changes to their di­ets. Af­ter an ini­tial con­sul­ta­tion, Jane de­vises a tai­lor-made nu­tri­tional pro­gramme, fol­lowed up with an­other ap­point­ment af­ter four weeks. It is the trans­for­ma­tion in the qual­ity of her clients’ lives dur­ing these four weeks of fol­low­ing their in­di­vid­ual plan that gives Jane most sat­is­fac­tion.

“Usu­ally when peo­ple come back they feel very dif­fer­ent and much bet­ter,” she says. “They are usu­ally sleep­ing bet­ter and have more en­ergy.

“Usu­ally it is just a few small changes to their diet that are very easy to fol­low, and when peo­ple tell me it has made a dif­fer­ence to them there is no bet­ter re­ward for me than that.”

Mak­ing it easy for peo­ple to adopt health­ier food choices is what it is all about for Jane and the rea­son for her new book.

Set out in easy-to-fol­low chap­ters deal­ing with var­i­ous com­mon is­sues such as sleep, stress, ex­er­cise and sugar, as well as eat­ing for your age and im­mune boost­ers, she de­vised it as an es­sen­tial hand­book that peo­ple could dip in and out of for ad­vice.

“I wanted some­thing that would be ac­ces­si­ble for ev­ery­one and some­thing that they could pull down from their book­shelf as a handy ref­er­ence,” Jane says.

“It is ba­si­cally a hand­book on how to eat for op­ti­mum health and en­ergy.

“I ask peo­ple what is on their plate and en­cour­age them to al­ways go for the best-qual­ity food.

“Al­though or­ganic isn’t for ev­ery­body, there is ad­vice in there on how to make good lo­cal meat and other pro­duce stretch to a few meals, get­ting the best value as well as qual­ity.

“It also deals with how to re­duce sugar in­take and also eat­ing for ex­er­cise — what to have be­fore and af­ter train­ing — as well as sleep is­sues and stress.”

Eat­ing for your age is an­other im­por­tant topic in her book, and Jane ad­vises on how to nour­ish teenagers, what to eat dur­ing your party years in your 20s and also in your 30s when you are start­ing to set­tle down, right up to nu­tri­tional ad­vice for peo­ple in their 80s.

While healthy eat­ing has al­ways come nat­u­rally to Jane, she ad­vo­cates the 80/20 rule where, if you are eat­ing well 80% of the time, you can in­dulge your­self in some sweet treats.

“I love choco­late and a lit­tle bit of what you fancy does you good. There is too much fin­ger-wag­ging and telling peo­ple off if they are not eat­ing healthy 100% of the time,” she says.

Chronic fa­tigue and burnout is one of the most com­mon com­plaints Jane deals with, and her book fea­tures a sec­tion on eat­ing to im­prove your en­ergy.

She has also em­braced mod­ern tech­nol­ogy to bring her mes­sage to more peo­ple through reg­u­lar on­line ses­sions.

Her we­bi­nars are de­signed for peo­ple who have lit­tle free time and find it dif­fi­cult to get into a clinic.

It al­lows them to ben­e­fit from ses­sions with Jane via the in­ter­net in their own homes.

This new ser­vice has proved so suc­cess­ful, with be­tween 15 and 40 peo­ple tak­ing part in what are usu­ally four weekly ses­sions, that she has plans to ex­pand it next year.

Jane has also set up the Vi­tal Nu­tri­tional on­line VIP club where, for £89 a year, you can en­joy a Vi­tal Nu­tri­tion health check with your own tar­geted diet ac­tion plan, a free copy of her cook­book and ac­cess to a monthly video from Jane with cook­ery demos, health ad­vice and nu­tri­tion coach­ing.

There is also an ex­clu­sive mem­bers only fo­rum when you can ask ques­tions di­rectly and meet other mem­bers.

“The on­line cour­ses cover ev­ery­thing from eat­ing for the menopause to eat­ing for en­ergy to Fat Blast weight man­age­ment,” Jane ex­plains. “It re­ally is aimed at peo­ple who don’t have enough time to at­tend a one-hour ses­sion in a clinic and it al­lows me to get my mes­sage across and help a lot more peo­ple in one hour.

“I de­vel­oped the on­line club to try and keep peo­ple en­gaged and ex­cited about their health and well­be­ing while not hav­ing to make too big a com­mit­ment.”

Jane does prac­tise what she preaches: as well as en­joy­ing a healthy diet with pro­duce from her own gar­den, she is a mem­ber of the Tribal Fit­ness boot camp, which she at­tends twice a week, and also en­joys run­ning.

She has been with Neville for seven years and, while she doesn’t have a fam­ily of her own, she loves noth­ing bet­ter than spend­ing time with her niece Bethan (15) and neph­ews Owen (12) and Sam (8).

“I love hang­ing out with them as they keep me grounded,” Jane says. “Bethan is at a great age to go shop­ping with and Owen keeps me up to date with tech­nol­ogy.

“I also love to eat out and try new foods that I wouldn’t cook at home.

“Neville and I also en­joy cook­ing to­gether and hav­ing peo­ple over for food — they aren’t din­ner par­ties but what I re­fer to as ‘gath­er­ings’, where we put a big pot in the mid­dle of the table and peo­ple help them­selves.”

Ul­ti­mately, Jane says that sim­ple, easy, ev­ery­day changes to your diet and life­style can have a ma­jor im­pact — and she hopes that her new book will prove a vi­tal guide to help­ing peo­ple make the op­ti­mum di­etary choices for the best pos­si­ble nour­ish­ment.


PER­FECT SERV­ING: Jane McCle­naghan at home in south Belfast and, right, with her book

HEALTHY LIV­ING : Jane and her part­ner, Neville

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