Health Food Nation (ÁA)

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asta02_dlThe diet of the average Icelander is healthier now than a decade ago. This is great news. Consumption of hard fat, sugared soda and added sugar has decreased, making way for more vegetables, fruit and whole wheat bread.

These are the results of a brand new national survey, exploring the eating habits of 1,312 people aged 18-80.

Even though we are far from reaching the recommended ideal diet, thankfully, we are on the right path.

In the last couple of years, it has become evident that Icelanders are becoming increasingly aware of what they eat, realizing that it has an effect on not just their body but their soul.

I should know. I am one of them. You see, since last summer, my refrigerator and pantry have been stocked with deliciously organic, eco-friendly and wholesome goods.

One fine day, I simply grabbed a bag and banished every trace of white wheat and white sugar from my pantry.

Which was quite a lot, I must admit. I also gave away anything processed or had too many strange ingredients.

This, I replaced with buck wheat, spelt, honey, agave syrup and all kinds of nuts and seeds. And anything fresh, of course.

The grandest gesture was forever bidding farewell to the giant bottles of Coke that had been a trusted friend in my fridge as long as I can remember.

But enough was enough.

To be clear, I have always enjoyed a healthy, balanced diet. Thankfully, that is how I was raised. However, with all those new health food products suddenly available, I realized that there was still room for improvement.

And at the same time I got to wondering about the products we have, in good faith, consumed all our lives.

Without criticizing any particular brand, products in the shelves of the supermarkets tend to contain all kinds of ingredients that aren’t ideal. Reading the fine print at the back doesn’t even occur to us. After all, who can understand it?

What is really in our cereal? Our soft drinks? Our cookies? Our cold cuts? Our poultry and pork?

And what is really in our daily bread? Yesterday it was revealed that some of what is labeled as whole wheat bread is actually classified as white bread. 

Even the majority of the dairy products we thought were so wholesome is full of sugar—oh, and until recently, a pinch of industrial salt…

Yes, we have been finding out the hard way that surveillance is not our strongest suit, whether it is financial affairs, silicone breast implants or food grade salt.

Only a few years ago, the Icelandic health food landscape was quite barren, with only a couple of vegetarian restaurants offering food which I remember finding bland and unappealing.

That has all changed now, with health food restaurants continuing to surface all across the capital, much to the nation’s delight.

Gló is run by Solla, Iceland’s leading lady of health food and raw food. Happ is also popular. Grænn kostur is a classic, and so is Á næstu grösum. Then there’s Krúska.

However, my favorite is the wonderful Lifandi markaður, which happens to be located right across the street from Iceland Review’s offices. I go there many times a week and savor their varied lunch specials, soups and salads.

More than a restaurant, this Mecca of wholesomeness offers every possible ingredient and food product, as well as vitamins, skin care products and so on. One-stop-shopping for a healthy, green lifestyle.

Following the cleaning out my cupboard, I went to a nutritionist who informed me that I was egg intolerant. I feared that living with that would be impossible (there is egg in everything isn’t there?), but it has been quite easy.

I also quit dairy, instead, opting for calcium-fortified rice milk. I have returned to eating cheese, though, which I absolutely cannot live without. The nutritionist also recommended trying a gluten-free diet, which I highly recommend.

That’s what so great about health food stores. There you can find products that are gluten free, dairy free, sugar free, egg free…

Everything you need to make your body function properly. But first, it is vital to listen to it. To find out what it wants and—just as importantly—does not want.

I make my own nut bread now. Not just because it is a great feeling to know exactly what goes into my food. Or that I find the process relaxing and enjoyable. I make it because it is the best bread my husband and I have ever tasted.

And making it couldn’t be easier. Who knew? The myth that eating healthy food is more complicated is just that. A myth.

The recipe is from a fantastic new book by Gló’s Solla called Heilsuréttir Hagkaups. As an example of the nation’s added interest in healthy living, it stays at the top of the bestsellers’ list week after week.

Þorbjörg Hafsteinsdóttir has published a pretty good bestselling book called 10 árum yngri á 10 vikum, which tells you how to get your health back and look younger.

Not about idealizing youth, her point is that with our eating habits and lifestyle we have prematurely aged ourselves.

Last but not least, there’s Ebba, a glowing picture of health. She does popular segments at the online publication mbl.is, teaching us how to make wholesome muffins, pizzas and chocolate shakes the entire family will love. Yes, healthy doesn’t have to equal boring.

All I can say is that this journey has been revolutionary. My body thanks me every day—I feel light as air. After all, it doesn’t have to deal with all those useless toxins anymore.

And minding what I eat has not been a problem. In fact it has been quite enjoyable, giving me a sense of control.

Of course I’m no fanatic. I do have an occasional slice of cake at parties. I can still enjoy a juicy burger with all the trimmings at my favorite burger joint, Hamborgarabúllan. This is a lifestyle choice, not some strict diet. And, after all, life is supposed to be enjoyed.

More and more Icelanders are catching on to the benefits of mindful eating. I guarantee you that in 2022, we will be well on our way to reaching all the recommended nutrition goals.

One healthy bite at a time. 

Ásta Andrésdóttir – asta@icelandreview.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.