Dave Shaw 's Opinion

NZ dietitian, performance nutritionist and health expert. Dave does his best to make sense of what we eat.

Dave Shaw: 7 healthy hints from farmers

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The lifestyle children get on the farm is far from what's considered normal for city kids.
The lifestyle children get on the farm is far from what's considered normal for city kids.

You don't need to know anything about nutrition to eat healthy. I'm reminded of this every time I visit my friend's family farm in Ararua, just north of Auckland.

Ararua is an agricultural wonderland that produces not only good food, but also good people. There is something we can all take away from this tiny community and it's not the produce of their edible crops.

1. Escaping the Western diet
Ararua has snubbed the Western diet in favour of real food. City slickers are bombarded with commercialised, marketed and packaged foods, with many falsely claiming they are the gateway to a healthier, more fulfilling life. But you won't find that here. Instead, real food with real health benefits is grown, produced, cooked and served.

There are jobs for everyone to do on the farm. Photo / Thinkstock
There are jobs for everyone to do on the farm. Photo / Thinkstock

2. From fast food to slow food
There wouldn't be a need for slow food if fast food didn't exist.

Yet, you wouldn't exactly call life in Ararua slow. Everyone plays a part on the farm from feeding the hens to milking the cows. It's an active life with an air of serenity and a meal cooked from scratch at the end of the day. No food served in 2 minutes belongs here. The saying holds true - "slow and steady wins the race" to better health and vitality.

3. Growing what you eat
Ararua has turned its heels on the saying "you are what you eat" and now live by "you are what you grow". Eating is one of the most intimate relationships humans can have with nature. It links us to the elements of the earth and the energy of the sun. And by growing what you eat, you're able to better access all the nutrients nature has to offer.

On the farm you grow what you eat. Photo / Thinkstock
On the farm you grow what you eat. Photo / Thinkstock

4. Sharing the love
This is a community that values others above themselves. There is something viscerally appealing about this place, which I cannot explain. But I would certainly say their good health isn't simply down to a good diet. It may be from the togetherness and friendships that have been built over years of sharing good food, good times and good chat.

5. Simplifying decision making
When you can essentially eat anything, what do you eat? A question many of us struggle to comprehend. But Ararua has answered it by going from complexity to simplicity. With no supermarkets, fast food joints or convenience stores, deciding what's for dinner is restricted by what is available. We often say choice empowers us to improve our health, but that's not completely true. With less choice, the healthier options are sometimes easier to find.

Going for a walk and enjoying the fresh air is a great way to stay active. Photo / Thinkstock
Going for a walk and enjoying the fresh air is a great way to stay active. Photo / Thinkstock

6. Exercise with a meaning
Being active is good for the body, mind and soul. But everyone here doesn't go for their 30 minute jog everyday. Instead, activity is built into their lifestyle and has a meaning beyond health. Why drive when you can walk and why watch the box when you can enjoy the fresh farm air. No one here is sedentary when there's work to be done - and there's always work to be done.

7. Shaping children's futures
The lifestyle children get on the farm is far from what's considered normal for city kids. Learning first hand how to grow vegetables, where milk comes from, which animals give us the different types of meat and understanding the difference between free range and caged chickens are lessons that should never be under valued. This is what builds a healthy relationship with food and knowing what's good to eat.

If you're not convinced you can learn a thing or two from farm life about how to live and eat better, I challenge you to stay at one. There's a heap around that are accommodating.

Here are some links to get you started on your journey:

Rural Holidays
Farmstays for Tourists
True NZ

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Dave Shaw

NZ dietitian, performance nutritionist and health expert. Dave does his best to make sense of what we eat.

Dave works in public health and alongside some of New Zealand’s top athletes. Whether it's for vitality, performance, identity or spirituality, Dave loves the way food brings people together. He believes that no one diet is the cure for our growing rates of chronic disease, but a diet based on wholefoods is the perfect start. Always keeping up-to-date with current evidence and food trends, Dave is a relentless researcher for how we should eat and likes to challenge what we may think about nutrition.

Read more by Dave Shaw

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