Balance Festival; what’s hot in fitness and wellness according to the festival
Updated: May 15, 2019
Last Friday I had the opportunity to wander the aisles and workshops of Balance Festival. Held at the Old Truman Brewery in the heart of cool East London, the event exuded healthy, happy vibes. I’ve never seen so many beautiful people clad in gym gear in one place before. It seems the wellness movement is very much in full swing in East London.
The event claims to be the UK’s largest celebration of wellness and fitness and it certainly did feel like that. From the live cooking theatre and pounding beats of enthusiastic gym sessions, to serene yoga and aisles of stands selling all the latest and greatest in food and technology, the industry feels vibrant and excited about the future.
Wandering around this event gave me a really clear understanding of the changing wellness landscape. Below I have highlighted three areas which particularly stood out on the day.
Adaptogens may be able to change the way we deal with stress
One of the most important takeaways I had from Balance Festival was becoming aware of a new superfood ingredient. I am a sucker for a superfood, my morning smoothie religiously includes a plethora of super powders already. But on Friday while watching a cooking demonstration by the amazing Pollen + Grace, I learnt about ashwagandha. This incredible medicinal herb is classified as an adaptogen, meaning that it helps the body manage with stress. It’s not a new discovery, in fact it’s been used for about 3,000 years in natural healing. But importantly, it's scientifically associated with relieving stress, increasing energy and improving concentration. It has also been linked to lowering blood sugar levels, reducing cortisol and helping in the fight against anxiety and depression. A super ingredient indeed!
While ashwagandha is a superfood in itself with numerous benefits, it was the term adaptogen that really captured my attention. It sparked an evening’s research into the various adaptogenic herbs and their potential impact on wellness. The word adapt is key as that is exactly what these herbs allow us to do; adapt in an ever-stressful world. Non-toxic and readily available, they are marketed to help people adapt or better cope with the physical, chemical and biological stresses placed on us. An article on Time’s website, nailed the impact these herbs may have, saying ‘adaptogens may do for your adrenal glands what exercise does for your muscles.’
Ashwagandha powder seems to be the most common form of adaptogen, alongside Asian ginseng which also has its own set of unique health benefits. At Balance Festival, I saw ashwagandha added as an ingredient to pancakes and it inspired me to buy some myself to add to healthy bakes and breakfasts. I only found one brand, Super Nova Living, adding them to vegan protein shakes but I don’t think they’ll be the last. While not hugely well-known at the moment, I feel we may see a lot more of adaptogens in the future. As people continue to seek ways to balance stress and mental health in an increasingly hectic society, these ancient herbs may be a welcome dietary addition to relieving future stress.
The market for convenient protein is packed
There was a huge variety of products on offer at the festival but by far the most frequent, or maybe noticeably frequent, were the protein products. As a nutritionist I’m aware of the importance of protein in our bodies and it seems to be a hot topic in the industry. Whether it’s an on-the-go drink for busy lives, complementary work-out shakes for the fitness enthusiast, or convenient protein packed balls and snacks, it seems the industry offers numerous ways to get our protein fix.
It’s easy to understand why the protein market is growing; after all protein is one of the most important components in the human body. Not only are our hair and nails mostly made of the stuff, our bodies use protein to build and repair – particularly important for fitness fans. It is a building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood; all-in-all, pretty important stuff. As a macronutrient, it is also needed in abundant supply and cannot be stored, so regularly topping up is key to keeping our bodies healthy. It’s no wonder products containing it are flourishing.
I have always aired on the side of caution when it comes to adding supplementary protein through shakes, bars or snacks. Without realising, you can very easily have too much of a good thing and that can lead to an unbalanced body. More often than not, this has a knock-on effect on digestive health, and if you’re not highly active, consuming high levels of protein can cause other problems. Unfortunately, many of these products are also packed with preservatives, additives and added sugars, so while the intake of protein is high, there are hidden nasties to watch out for.
At Balance Festival, there were several products which take a responsible and healthy approach to protein, lowering sugars and encouraging natural ingredients. Bam Organic, Missfits Nutrition and Brave Foods come to mind. This is very welcome but as always there are no short cuts when it comes to a healthy diet. Essential components like protein should, where possible, be gained from natural food sources (lean meats, poultry, eggs, milk, legumes, nuts etc) and consumed based on lifestyle and activity levels. If there’s still a protein deficit, by all means reach for the most natural supplement you can find.
Kombucha is big business but is it actually beneficial?
Aside from protein, the other abundant product I noticed was kombucha. I hadn’t really heard of this ingredient before the show and it seems I may be behind the times, as it’s clearly already a big player in the wellness industry. Its popularity is soaring, mainly thanks to the increasing public interest in gut health and the known links between our guts and our brains. It is believed that an unbalanced microbiome – the population of microbes (bacteria) which have made our guts their home – may be associated with brain diseases such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression. Mental health is rightly getting the attention it now deserves and keeping our microbiome healthy is becoming a large part of that.
This is where kombucha comes in; fermented products are intrinsically linked with gut health and kombucha is just that. A fermented sugared tea created with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, known as a SCOBY. The fermentation process causes a number of probiotic bacteria to be produced, and these have been linked with helping to balance our microbiome and benefit digestion. Entrepreneurial companies are adding this probiotic-rich product to flavoured sparkling drinks; with chic branding and packaging, it’s proving popular.
As a person who has struggled with mental health and is very aware of maintaining a healthy microbiome, you’d think I’d be jumping for joy that this wonder ingredient is now readily available. But this seemingly trendy drink is potentially one that is yet to prove its marketing hype. I’m happy to be proved wrong, but while kombucha claims to be beneficial for various ailments there is almost no clinical evidence to prove the claims. Evidence is also slim in proving whether the beneficial probiotics found in kombucha can even survive the harsh acidic environment of the stomach.
It was interesting to hear companies sell the kombucha story as it’s a very convincing one. I think while it's brilliant that people are interested in gut health, for me, this ingredient is yet to prove itself and may well be a wellness ‘trend’ rather than a miracle product.
To find out more about Balance Festival, visit the event website: https://www.balance-festival.com/