PLANTS are amazing things. Edible powerhouses which turn the goodness of soil and sun into nutritious bites which help our bodies to grow, heal, and flourish.

We all know we can eat our way to better health through positive food choices, but – for many of us – there are barriers in the way.

For most of my life, the welfare state ensured people on low incomes or without work had enough money to buy food, had the power to cook it and a roof over their heads.

How different things are for my children’s generation, growing up with zero-hours contracts and the welfare safety net slashed by successive Westminster policies, leaving people falling into the unspeakable misery of hunger and despair.

READ MORE: Brexit brings yet more damage to UK food brand

Food poverty, something I thought unimaginable for most of my life, is now normalised, leaving me to wonder where it will end, how much more people will take before demanding the change which must, surely, come? In the meantime, how do people make the most of the food choices available to them?

“Embrace frozen and tinned!,” says nutrition consultant Dr Laura Wyness. “When you pick a food, it begins to lose its nutrients quickly. Vitamin C starts going in a few hours. Freezing prevents nutrient loss, so frozen food can be more nutritious than produce which has been on the shelf for several days.

“Tinned food also keeps its nutrients but the salt or sugar content should be checked; the texture can also be affected so it might not have as good a mouth feel, but it still works for your gut biome.

“Tinned beans, lentils, and chickpeas are very easy to use. If you choose a can of mixed beans and some frozen veg to make a stir fry, that’s an easy way to prepare a quick meal that is very nutritious.”

Eating foods as they come into season helps keep freshness and variety in your diet, with berries, pak choi, and wild garlic good examples of Scottish produce available through the summer.

My weekly delivery from Colin at the Blairgowrie Farm Shop – which is bursting with fruit and veg from local producers – comes a little later just now as the strawberries are picked fresh and delivered before he sets out. I love that I look out across the strath and see the farms some of my food is coming from. Clear places of origin on food labels are an important element of feeling part of a world where so many of us are, increasingly, isolated.

“Being connected through the food we eat is so good for our mental health,” says Gin Lalli, a psychotherapist based in Edinburgh. Eating well often features in her Stress Bucket podcast.

‘SOME 80-90% of serotonin, the happy hormone, is stored in your gut. If your gut health is poor, you can’t produce serotonin. You have to have good gut health to regulate your mental health.”

Wyness points out that a wee shoogle of spices can increase your gut biome activity within 20 minutes of eating a meal, leading to better sleep and raised energy levels.

A regional food tourism ambassador for Edinburgh, she is keen to see people buy local and in season, with evidence to show the quirky veg from varieties found in zero-waste shops and market gardens can have more nourishment and taste than supermarket staples, often grown more to look good and have a long shelf life than flavour.

Wyness says: “We should be eating around 30 different plants in a week to give us a better gut biome. Growing herbs on your windowsill is a cheap and easy way to transform meals and add flavour.

“Fresh herbs in salads are delicious! The act of growing something is so good for your mental health; it helps you connect with your food too,” Wyness says, with a smile. “Zero-waste shops are a really good way to get a little bit of lots of flavours and foods to give you variety which keeps meals interesting and keeps you healthy. Try to eat the rainbow.”

While beans on toast is a healthy and nutritious meal, Lalli says we need to feed our wellbeing in other ways too: “If you are on your own, find a way to make a connection. Smile at someone in a queue, chat to the cashier. Micro connections make a big difference.

“If you have family or friends round, put a blanket on the floor and have a picnic in your living room. Do something fun. It is not selfish to look after yourself.”

Community gardens are great places to pick up a few seeds so you can have tasty lettuce, basil, mint, chives, or parsley growing in an old yoghurt pot by the kettle.

You don’t have to pick it all at once, just nip a leaf or two here and there over the summer to add fresh greens to a meal. Your gut will love you for it.

Ruth Watson is the founder of the Keep Scotland the Brand campaign