The Health Food Craze: Is It Worth Embracing?

When it comes to Australians’ eating patterns, the population is split – at one end of the scale obesity rates continue to soar, meanwhile a community of healthy living advocates exist at the other.

The latter seek raw, vegan and gluten free alternatives at breakfast, lunch and dinner. They expect coconut milk in their coffees, and sweet snacks that are free from refined sugar to enjoy on-the-go.

A freshly made green smoothie spinkled with ‘super foods’ including chia seeds are their post-gym fuel of choice, and they prefer bread products that are made from the likes of quinoa.

Everyday Australians are opting for these foods in an effort to lead healthier, more balanced lifestyles, which raises the question: could venues that fail to include healthy alternatives on their menus be left behind?

Nicole Kandis and her husband Kosta opened Bella Natural Food Co six years ago following a move from Sydney to Terrigal on the NSW Central Coast.

They found the seaside suburb and tourist hotspot was lacking when it came to healthy food options, which prompted the couple to open their own venue.

“The availability of not only organic, but healthy food was minimal compared to Sydney,” she says.

“It is really important for us that our children always have access to healthy and organic food options, as well as informing the general public that healthy food is the key to happiness and health.”

It seems the cafe has filled a much needed gap in the market – both locals and tourists alike have embraced the venue.

“Our customers are definitely more adventurous and are always willing to try new items that we have at the cafe.

“People always comment about how wonderful it is to have such fresh and innovative food available in the area,” she explains.

Menu development is a continuous process – the husband and wife team devote much of their time to educating themselves about the latest in food trends.

“Kosta and I are always researching, watching DVDs/documentaries and attending various seminars that address health and nutrition, food, lifestyle and so on.

“This ensures we are always well informed about the benefits of certain foods, juices and smoothies which are fantastic in assisting with menu ideas,” Kandis says.

She agrees that Australians are becoming more health conscious, which highlights the need for business owners to embrace healthy menu items.

“People … are changing their way of life and eating habits.

“It is really important for customers to know that business owners care and are passionate about what they do.”

Business owners are often apprehensive about including healthier options on their menus due to the additional costs involved, however Kandis believes is it possible to serve healthy food without breaking the bank.

“I think it is a myth that healthy food is expensive. We at Bella don’t believe that eating well should have a hefty price tag attached to it.

“All people, regardless of demographic, should be able to afford good food. This is what drives us!”

At Melbourne cafe Yong Green Food, the focus is first and foremost around fresh, organic produce. Health foods also play a starring role – dishes are free from flour and white sugar, desserts are sweetened with dates, agave or brown sugar and brown rice is a menu staple.

The cafe was born out of Seonmi and Seonjoo Lee’s love of healthy, wholesome foods, and its a reflection of the difficulties they faced in finding venues that catered to their eating habits.

“We couldn’t find anywhere that was based on the kind of food we liked,” they explain.

“We also wanted to create a place with an extensive menu that would appeal to a wide range of people, who could come and enjoy tasty food that is good for the environment and healthy too.”

They’ve noticed people’s food preferences have changed over the last four years – the healthiest dishes on the menu are fast gaining traction.

“In the beginning we sold lots of wraps and burgers, and now our raw food and macrobiotic dishes are really popular.

“Australians are definitely eating more consciously as we learn more and more about the role that diet plays in the development of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.”

The pair recognise food needs to be both healthy and tasty if it is to be well received – a key challenge for the business. “Serving healthy food in itself is not enough; it has to be tasty as well.

“When it comes to eating out, people still want to eat interesting and creative food that they can’t or wouldn’t necessarily think to make at home. For us, the challenge is finding a balance to provide amazing food that also happens to be good for you and good for the environment,” they add.

Yong Green Food’s buckwheat crepe. Image: Shelley Judge.

Venues unlike Yong Green Food that don’t specialise in healthy food items can still incorporate healthier dishes onto their menus, it just means they’ll need to be a bit more adventurous.

“Use interesting ingredients and creative ideas, rather than rely on old standards like a heirloom tomato salad or risotto. If you think healthy means simple vegetables and tofu, you’re not going to set yourself apart.

“Come up with dishes that everyone will like, without even noticing they’re healthy,” they advise.

While healthy items can cost more, the pair says it shouldn’t underline business owners’ approach. “When we started our main goal was to provide high-quality, tasty food. Of course, that means we spent more to buy organic ingredients, but we’ve found that as our customer base has grown, we now have more buying power.”

They advocate for buying produce in large quantities, and reiterate the role of the supplier. “If you buy in bulk, organic produce is only a little more expensive than conventional, and you can find ways to incorporate those ingredients across your menu.

“Building a good relationship with your suppliers is also key. They’ll help you out with suggestions and special,” the pair adds.

Customers are particularly fond of Yong Green Food’s macrobiotic dragon bowl, which includes seaweed, shitake mushroom, carrot, cabbage, bean shoots, brown rice and organic tempeh served with miso tahini sauce and miso soup.

The cafe’s curries, soups and juices with ginger trade well during the cooler months, meanwhile in summer, raw food and salads are more popular – which points out that its important venues update their menu in line with seasonal changes.

Kandis says Bella’s organic quinoa waffles, which are served with house made coconut ice-cream, as well as its breakie jar, both of which are dairy and gluten free, are most popular with customers.


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