Niki Bezzant: Our world is set up to make us overweight and unhealthy

We are so bombarded by the noise around healthy eating that it has acquired this veneer of difficulty – we think if we’re not going vegan or paleo or buying special super foods we must not be doing it right.

You’ve worked for many years as a food writer and editor, and sing the praises of sensible, healthy eating. Is it hard to get across the message of moderation when there’s so much nutrition ‘noise’ from so-called experts out there in social media? 

It’s really hard. We are so bombarded by the noise around healthy eating that it has acquired this veneer of difficulty – we think if we’re not going vegan or paleo or buying special super foods we must not be doing it right. When actually, as I say many times, in many different ways, we all actually know how to eat to be healthy, and it is not difficult or expensive. So what I do in my talks and in my writing is to kind of remind people about that. A lot of the time they’re almost relieved to hear it; it’s reassuring.

Do you think food fads will ever end, or are they getting more frequent/noticed?

No, they’ll never end. It’s human nature to look for a silver bullet; a quick fix; the answer. Now it’s really easy for a fad to get oxygen and attention via social media. So they just keep coming. But just remember – there’s nothing really new, especially in the world of diets. So I think perhaps what will end is people blindly following every trend that comes along, as we get more savvy about this stuff.

When did you first become interested in healthy eating? What inspired you? What keeps you interested today?

I’ve always been quite interested in healthy eating, but really it’s because I’m interested in eating, full stop. I could never have food without pleasure. So I guess what inspires me is my love of eating! I actually love creating food that tastes really good but also happens to love you back.

What keeps me interested is that I never stop learning. In the world of nutrition where I hang out, there is always, always, something interesting and new going on. The science is always evolving and I find that really fascinating. And today we face some of the biggest (pun intended) challenges we ever have in terms of health with the ‘diabesity’ crisis that’s growing every day. Big things are going to have to happen to put the brakes on that.

Why do you think people are so big and unhealthy when so many of us have access to quality information and fresh foods, more than ever before?

That is such a complex question and my take on it from talking and listening to many, many experts is that there is no one answer. It’s a whole combination of things, from psychology and physiology to our environment, economic status and lifestyle. The environment is a big one, though. Our world is set up, really, to help us be overweight and unhealthy. It can be really hard to fight that, and clearly many of us just can’t. We’re overwhelmed.

If you had to choose your top five favourite food ingredients, what would they be?

This changes all the time. Right now: miso, chillies, eggs, cheese, broccoli.

Niki 2
Niki sharing her “carrots and cupcakes” philosophy at the TEDx Queenstown event, April 2016.

Do you ever get sick of talking about food? Do people confess their food sins to you?

I rarely get sick of talking about food. It’s a fascinating topic! Sometimes I don’t want to read or watch TV shows about it, though! So maybe I do get a bit overloaded at times.

I’m not sure about the sins… people are often quite reluctant to invite me over for dinner. I think they think they need to cook something really impressive and amazing, but actually I love it when anyone cooks for me, even if it’s just eggs on toast.

If you had three key pieces of advice for people when it comes to healthy eating, what would they be?

  1. Try and listen to your body; eat when you’re hungry and don’t eat when you’re not, and stop eating when you’re full. Sounds simple but it’s not so easy; but if we can do this we’re half way there.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up about what you eat. Don’t let food make you feel guilty or ashamed. That’s giving food far more power than it should have. And likewise, try not to obsess about eating ‘right’. Just try and eat well most of the time.
  3. Eat lots of veges. However much you eat, add more.
Niki Bezzant
Niki in clothes she sewed, at the Zealong Tea Estate.

You’re also a vintage fashionista, with an interest in ethical clothing. What led you down that path?

I’ve always loved fashion and style, and always loved vintage to some extent. I guess a couple of years ago I had a bit of an epiphany when I watched the film The True Cost. It really changed the way I think about what I buy; and from then on I got into vintage in earnest, and also revived my love of sewing. So now my clothes are either old, or home-made, for the most part. I love vintage because the clothes have stories to tell. They are special and precious. A lot of what I wear is older than I am; I love the idea of these dresses having had a whole life and adventures before they came to me. It’s much better than a boring chain-store thing that hundreds of other people also own. A vintage/home-made wardrobe is truly individual, and for me it’s a way of expressing myself, too. It’s a creative outlet.

Niki Bezzant is passionate about food, healthy eating, nutrition and food culture, and marketing and policy.  She is editor-at-large of Healthy Food Guide magazine, a columnist for the Herald on Sunday and a frequent contributor to radio and television. She is also a lover of vintage fashion and a keen sewer. She also really, really loves veges.

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