We've long been fans of Ancient & Brave, so when we got the chance to catch up with their Head of Nutrition, Jo Woodhurst, we were delighted. We discussed all things health and loved her insights.
As Head of Nutrition for Ancient & Brave, what does your role entail?
Something I absolutely love about my job is how many different aspects it covers. From staying abreast of all the nutritional research, to helping our audience understand our existing products, such as the importance of provenance and the benefits of each one, to working with the product development team in formulating new lines and sourcing new and interesting ingredients, to supporting the customer service team in delivering personalised responses for health queries, to leading talks and workshops and speaking on panels, to linking with other experts in health, writing copy, articles and blogs and speaking directly to our audience on social media - it keepsme on my toes!
We understand that nutrition needs to be tailored to the individual as everyone has different needs, however are there any guiding principles that you think would benefit most people?
Absolutely. Personalised nutrition is a great approach, however many people benefit from first mastering the foundations. For this I always like to look to our ancestors, as they lay the blueprint for us. Think of the 6 pillars and then start to build small changes around these; Eat, Move, Mind, Sleep, Nature and Connection. ‘Eat’ is the nutrition aspect of this and whilst there are many tweaks we can all look at depending on what’s going on in our lives and our health, there’s a few key principles that work well for most of us;
- Focusing on whole, minimally processed foods:
This isn’t to say you can never eat something that’s been ultra processed ever again, but by trying to get the majority of your diet from whole foods simply helps you meet your nutrition needs. Minimally processed foods usually contain more satiety-boosting nutrients, take longer to eat and fill you up on fewer calories meaning that you are able to balance your macro and micronutrient intake more effectively. In terms of macros, I often see people lacking in their protein and plant intake and this is often a focus for my clients. It sounds easy and in principle it is, but there's also a skill set needed to go alongside this, which leads me onto point 2...
- Learn how to cook from scratch and plan your meals:
Again, it sounds simple, but if you don't already do this it can be one of the changes with the biggest impact. Cooking from scratch, learning how to ‘make something from nothing’ and understanding how to plan your food and meals isn’t a learning experience we all have the privilege of in childhood and if that’s the case, it's never too late to learn. Connecting with the food you eat this way not only helps you understand what ingredients you are using but also sends the message to yourself that ‘I matter and I’m prioritising my health’. A simple start would be to schedule time in the next week to shop for and prepare a few meals based around minimally-processed foods, such as batch-cooking a chilli, boiling some eggs to keep for snacks or making a homemade granola you can use across the week to sprinkle on your greek yogurt.
- Variety is the key:
One of the pitfalls I often see, is the trappings of same-ness. Repetition of the same foods or food groups over and over again. Whether that’s someone having gluten for every meal (cereal, toast, pasta) or relying on the same breakfast everyday. Our body and microbes in our gut love variety - this variety can be getting a variety of different sources of protein from animal or plant sources, or getting a variety of different phytonutrients from plants or a variety of different fats from oily fish to seeds to coconuts. Variety helps us to gather all different vitamins, minerals and compounds that we need to not just survive but thrive - and there are many!
- Thinking about when we eat, not just what we eat:
Fasting is something that I believe most people have started dipping their toe in and whilst we are now understanding different fasting protocols suit different people, almost everyone does benefit from at least a 12 hr overnight fast. On top of this, when people focus more on balancing their meals well and therefore feel satiated enough that they no longer feel the need to constantly graze and snack, they benefit even further. This is because it allows the gut to properly rest and for the full digestion and absorption process and internal clean up to take place.
What products from the Ancient & Brave range do you use to support you?
I honestly like to dip in and out of all the products depending on what my body or brain needs that day, so I take quite an intuitive approach. Consistently though, I take the True or Wild Collagen every day (I switch between them both to give my body a variety of sources of collagen) as studies show the benefits of this particular supplement works best when taken consistently over time. Before a workout I love the True MCT oil. It gives me so much more endurance and extra oomph! And to wind down from a busy day in the office, I go for the Cacao + Collagen - the most comforting (yet highly nutritious) hug in a mug.
We recently tried the Ancient & Brave True MCT oil, which we thought was great. How do you like to use the True MCT oil?
I’m so pleased you enjoyed it! My absolute favourite way to use MCT is to pop it in a blender with my coffee and collagen. It makes such a delicious, creamy drink and really gives me that extra boost of energy and focus when paired with the caffeine from the coffee. It sounds intense, but the protein from the collagen seems to blunt the ‘jitters’ and the healthy fat from the MCT keeps me satiated. Other than that, I often use the MCT as a salad dressing, either on its own or with some tahini and lemon or I often pop it into my smoothies as the fat supports the absorption of some fat-soluble vitamins from my veggies and fruit.
We saw that you recently became a B Corp, and already have a number of other accreditations and initiatives that you support. How important is operating consciously and sustainably?
It’s the heartbeat of the brand. Our health is intricately tied to the health of our environment and our communities - we can’t nurture one whilst neglecting the others. We are meticulous in the sourcing of all our ingredients, not just for nutritional quality, but also for the benefit of the planet. Especially when it comes to using animal-based products such as collagen; our bovine is from grass-fed cows in the EU, not from areas where deforestation is a major issue and our marine collagen is MSC certified, which is one of the highest certifications you need to look for in sustainability. Above this, we look for organic ingredients where possible and to reduce any negative impact on the planet wherever else we can; whether through our packaging or even our office environment! It’s not perfect, and we are learning all the time about different ways we can keep improving, but we are always aiming high, which is why we are one of the highest scoring wellness brands under B-Corp and we are determined to beat our score when we are reassessed. We know our community and customers share our respect for the natural world and our place within it and we’re passionate about delivering this.
Aside from diet and nutrition, what other areas do you focus on to support your health and wellbeing?
The other pillars we spoke about get a lot of my attention. Sleep is so crucial to our health and wellbeing, and as such I really prioritise getting to bed early and circadian rhythm supporting routines (getting enough sun exposure in the morning, using low lighting in the evening and stepping away from screens).
I’m also big into meditation, it really did change my life when I started practising it consistently around 7 years ago. I often talk about micro-doses of calm across the day too - this can be creating small rituals such as making yourself a delicious Cacao + Collagen or creating alchemy when adding all your powders and oils to your coffee, taking a few deep breaths, sitting for a moment and enjoying each sip to bring our nervous system back into balance.
Connection is a part of wellbeing that doesn’t often get enough airtime, but it’s crucial to spend quality time with your humans - so connecting with my partner and little girl at the beginning of each day is part of my morning wellness routine.
And finally nature, it’s my happy place - the beach, the woods, on top of a hill, amongst my plant-babies at home. I need a daily micro-dose of nature and a big dose at the weekend as an absolute must.
Thank you so much to Jo for giving her time and wisdom. For more information on Ancient & Brave please visit their website ancientandbrave.earth.