I have been struggling with my concept of the “traditional Scottish diet” in terms of meeting The European Cancer Code guidelines for diet advice:

  • Plenty of whole grains, pulses, vegetables and fruits.
  • Limited high-calorie foods (foods high in sugar or fat). Avoid sugary drinks.
  • Avoid processed meat; limit red meat and foods high in salt.

My understanding of traditional means the foods that can be grown and produced in the country and prepared using long established methods of cooking. In Scottish terms the following items would be a great starting basis for planning healthy eating – with some seasonal variation:

  • Oats, barley, peas, scotch broth, potatoes, swede, carrots, raspberries, apples.
  • Oatcakes (limited), excellent water.
  • Chicken, occasional beef, lamb, veggie based dishes like stovies, herring, trout, salmon.

What might the Scottish five a day look like?

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I’m not sure when a “tradition” starts but somewhere down the years it seems that some new “traditional” foods appeared. These weren’t necessarily produced in Scotland but they were commonly eaten and widely available.

  • White bread
  • Clootie dumpling, shortbread, “tablet” (fudge), chips
  • Haggis, cooked breakfast (bacon, black pudding, square sausage), steak pie

These are the foods that appear in The Broons – Scotland’s best loved working class family who reside in the pages of The Sunday Post inside the cartoon images of an unnamed Scottish town.

broons cropped                                         © DC Thompson 1992. Used for illustration under fair dealing.

A glance at the 2005 Broons annual (surely every home has one) depicts haggis, fish suppers and scotch broth. Food appears on 23% of the pages, modern cuisine is added in the form of barbeque prawns and a Chinese take away. Ten years later, in the 2015 edition, food coverage has expanded to 34% of pages, and cuisine is extended further to include pepperoni pizza, kebabs and chocolate. Both annuals are notable for their almost complete absence of fruit (with the exception of a special appearance of a picnic apple and banana).

Talking about food choices stimulates memories of happy days, occasions with family and friends and re-enforces much of our cultural identity. It is difficult then to talk about changing diet and the reason why healthy diet is important. Food Standards Scotland (FSS) didn’t mince their words when they published their report in December entitled simply “The Scottish Diet: it needs to change”.

FSS front cover

The annual collection of dietary data shows in figures what the Broons showed in pictures… too much sugar, animal fat and too little fibre, vegetables and fruits with very little progress toward our dietary goals. In addition, the last few years also show an increased consumption of cakes and pastries. Keeping words to a minimum, the images were not of a cartoon nature but told the tale of our best loved working (and every other) class in terms of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

FSS 1

Fss 2

This month FSS set out a brilliant (and brave) plan of actions for government to help create a new tradition of a healthy diet in Scotland. A long overdue portfolio of actions are laid out including work on price and promotions, advertising and marketing, reformulation and taxation.

So, as the 25th January approaches (Burns night) let us remember our traditional diet fondly and think wisely how we can help our next generation enjoy a “new traditional”.

P.S. We welcome images of the Scottish #healthyshelfie and please note the haggis in the picture for the 25th January is veggie and contains no processed meat!

 – Professor Annie S. Anderson

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