Bristol medical students lead the way on nutrition for health benefits

Ally Jaffee and Iain Broadley founded the Community Interest Company (CIC) Nutritank in 2017 while studying Medicine at Bristol. Jaffee is currently in her fourth year and Broadley is a member of the cohort who have graduated early [April 2020 instead of July 2020] in order to quickly support the NHS during the COVID-19 crisis.

Described as ‘an innovative, informative hub for food, nutrition and lifestyle medicine’ Nutritank is a one-stop shop for students of medicine, current medical practitioners and anyone interested in food for health. In a world where many widespread conditions such as heart disease and diabetes have contributory dietary factors, the founders are passionate about advocating healthy eating for all, promoted by those working in the health sector.

Both Jaffee and Broadley were discouraged by the fact that they were seeing very little nutrition in their formal studies, and wondered why they were learning the biochemistry and anatomy of digestion but not about the effects of food itself. In her second year as a medical student Jaffee started running a group for fellow students interested in nutrition for health. Broadley attended one of the meetings and, matching her enthusiasm, the two brainstormed together and Nutritank was born. Broadley had previously completed a degree in Biomedical Science and had already gained experience in the start-up process and in scientific research, alongside a growing passion for nutrition and wellbeing.

With the support of the Bristol Medical School, and a city renowned for its interest in food and healthy living, Nutritank quickly gained traction. Together with Professor Trevor Thompson, Professor of Primary Care Education at Bristol, they approached Dr Rupy Aujla of The Doctor’s Kitchen, and Culinary Medicine, to trial an optional course unit in nutrition at Bristol. Its success has ensured that this module remains, although their preference would be for it to be compulsory! The pair also work very closely with Jamie Oliver.

Their work has garnered them many awards, not least the inaugural BBC Food & Farming: Pat Llewellyn New Talent Award in 2019. They were also invited to present at the Royal Society of Medicine Medical Innovation Summit in 2019 which was an extraordinary honour. And in March of this year, prior to social distancing, Nutritank held a widely-regarded conference on ‘Food, nutrition and health in medical education’, also at the Royal Society of Medicine.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic Jaffee, Broadley and the Nutritank team have swung into action to support where they can. They lead on the nutrition section of the junior doctor-led Beat COVID campaign which is an online wellbeing strategy for healthcare workers. They have also created the Facebook platform Healthcare Students United Against COVID-19, where students can share volunteering opportunities, discuss responses to the pandemic and provide support for each other.

In addition to this, they are collaborating with food brands to ensure that products are donated to frontline NHS workers to keep them going, as well as creating the social media campaign #togetherevenwhenapart to promote community wellbeing. And they still continue with their research – they are currently surveying NHS workers’ attitudes to food, to monitor their nutrition whilst working during the incredibly difficult circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

Jaffee and Broadley continue to promote nutrition for wellbeing and look forward to the day when nutrition is part of the medical curriculum at universities across the UK. Since Nutritank was founded the organisation has inspired a network of medical students nationwide, who have become regional Nutritank ambassadors and have established their own Nutritank branch at their medical school.  There are 33 UK medical schools in the UK and, in under two years, there are now Nutritank medical student ambassadors at 20 medical school with 15 medical schools that have established Nutritank branches.

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Top tips on healthy eating during lockdown

While we appreciate that some of us are struggling to access food at all, and times may be difficult for many people self-isolating, Jaffee gives us some tips for keeping healthy if you can:

  • If you are not self-isolating try to cook and eat together and be sociable. Having the support of those you live with can help.
  • If you are alone, try making a video call to a friend during mealtimes so that it feels like you’re eating together.
  • Bulk cook if you can – try to mix up a grain, some veggies, herbs and protein. Make a lot then freeze portions and mix and match with other ingredients throughout the week.
  • Keep some staples in the cupboard, but remember not to stockpile!
  • Improvise! Don’t stress if you’re missing an ingredient from a recipe, sometimes it can be left out or swapped for something you do have in stock.
  • Although it can be hard to get hold of fresh food, do try to eat proper food – even things like frozen veg are fine – and try to stay away from processed snacks.
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