Banish the image of the traditional Ulster Fry. Northern Ireland, it seems, is keen on getting healthy and in doing so by improving its diet. That, at least, is the impression given by Jane McClenaghan, whose business, Vital Nutrition “is thriving” she says.
Jane is based in Belfast, while her Vital Nutrition colleague Morna Nelson covers the north coast from Coleraine. Both have full diaries providing a range of services designed to help us eat better and improve our physical and mental wellbeing as a result.
The business was started by Jane in 2001, when she returned to Northern Ireland after living in England for several years, first studying nutrition at Reading University and then at London’s Institute for Optimum Nutrition. Afterwards she worked in Birmingham with a shop to provide nutritional health advice. But Jane, who is from Campsie, near Londonderry, was keen to return to Northern Ireland.
Her gradual journey back to living in Northern Ireland began by working part time with the Framar Health shop on Belfast’s Lisburn Road, while still also working with another health business in England.
Jane’s opportunity to return full time here came when she was offered the chance to run health and wellbeing workshops for the civil service – which she continues to provide. Since then, Vital Nutrition has expanded substantially.
One of Jane’s big breaks was through becoming involved with Women in Business, which gave her an entry into running health and wellbeing workshops for large corporate clients, including Translink, Ulster Bank and Phoenix Gas.
“I guess about a third of my work these days is one to one nutrition consultations,” she explains. “But most of my work now has developed into corporate health workshops.”
Another big project for Vital Nutrition at present is conducted with Libraries NI, called Health and Mind – helping people to understand the connection between the food they eat and their mental health. This is a connection which Jane makes through the phrase ‘good mood foods’. “We are what we eat,” she adds.
“It’s one area we tend to neglect,” says Jane about most people’s approach to their diet. She argues that too many people regard their health as an issue they go to their doctor about, “take a pill when you are ill”, as she says. Instead, Vital Nutrition seeks to persuade people to take more responsibility for their own health, through their diet, lifestyles and exercise.
“It’s about getting people excited about food and nutrition,” argues Jane. Once people can focus on how they want their health to improve, change can occur she says. Often people need to understand the long-term impacts of poor choices regarding diet and exercise before they will change their behaviour. “Sometimes I challenge people to change one small thing about their diet.”
This is a busy and clearly exciting time for the business. Jane recently published her Vital Nutrition Cookbook and the business wants to provide more cookery related services. “This year the focus is about doing much more cookery courses,” she says. “Getting out and about and widening our market a bit. We do a lot of work with the Belfast Cookery School.
“And we are developing our corporate workshops and this year we will be developing that market. I love that work and going back after a month to see how people have changed.
“In the spring time we will hold a food nutrition retreat – a weekend when you eat really nutritional food, with cookery workshops and so on.”
Jane’s energy, enthusiasm and commitment to her work and business shine through. It is an approach that is serving her business – and her clients – very well.