Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Healthy Eating - We Need Honest Information Not Expensive Ingredients


I am currently breast feeding a small baby. Which means two things: 

1: I spend a lot of time idly scrolling through Facebook. 
2: I am constantly hungry. 

So I was very happy for the random algorithms at face face to offer me a recipe for a “Healthy” chocolate dessert.

I am not one of those women for whom the baby weight simply falls off because they breast feed. Nope, it makes me crave cake and biscuits and all the things that add up to far more calories than I’m expending. So healthy chocolate pud? Yes please.

But a quick glance at the ingredients left me disillusioned.

Annoyingly (those bloody algorithms again) I now can’t find the recipe but I do remember some of the key ingredients:

150ml coconut oil
120ml honey
100g dates

All wholesome natural stuff right? This must be a healthy, natural food, to nurture this empowered Mama through her breast feeding journey? (Sorry I think the snark snuck out again, it’s not a ****ing journey, I’ve been stuck in the same chair for so long I’m loosing feeling in my bum).

Anyway…

I thought I’d check out the healthiness of those ingredients by plugging them into the MyFitnessPal recipe function. Assuming I could restrain myself to only a ⅙ portion then each slice, based on only these ingredients, provides 347 calories, 23.7g of fat and 34.1g of sugar.

I guess we could argue about the definitinon of healthy but I, and I suspect most people, would assume a healthy food was low in fat, sugar and calories. 

This dessert has almost as much fat as a Big Mac (which has 25g). Both make up around a third of an adult daily allowance. The recommended amount of sugar for an adult is 90g so the “healthy” dessert gives more than a third of that, almost as much as a Mars bar (35g of sugar) and that’s without the other ingredients. They are mostly almonds and cashews. I’ve not included them as I don’t have the quantity but while both are great for their protein content they are also high in fat and therefore calories.

Ah but it’s natural sugar and natural fat!

Your body doesn’t care. Honey may seem more wholesome, but our our bodies are only interested in the molecules of glucose and fructose, they don’t really care if they come highly refined from a big company or straight from your local organic bee herder.

I’d agree that coconut oil is great. It did a wonderful job of sorting out my dry scalp last autumn (though it’s a pain in the ass to wash out) and the health visitor advised using it as a moisturiser on the baby (it’s slippery but as MissM puts it “mmmm she smells like sweeties”). But as a health food? There are all kinds of claims about coconut oil but the evidence for most of them is weak, relying on extrapolation or studies done only on animals. Stripped back to the molecules again, coconut oil contains more saturated fat than lard. Yes, lard. The American Heart Association has issued a warning about it’s use. (There is more info on all this in this Guardian article)

Don’t get me wrong the recipe sounds absolutely delicious. I love all the ingredients, I’m a big fan of honey in particular, it has way more flavour than caster sugar. but the idea that recipes like this are healthier than the traditional alternatives is misleading.

Why am I bothered?

Because I have three daughters. I want them to grow up to be healthy but also to have a healthy attitude to food. To be able to enjoy the pleasure of a cool bowl of Gazpacho on a hot summers day or a rich meaty stew in the depths of winter. I want them to have a piece of cake, but not too much and without any guilt. I don't want them to worry unnecessarily about every single thing they consume. Food should be a fun, social part of life not a burden.

I’m also uncomfortable about the elitism in a lot of these “healthy” foods. While far too many people are struggling to to buy enough to feed their family, these recipes demand exotic and expensive ingredients. You can get Sunflower oil for around 11p per 100ml The leading brand of coconut oil costs £2 for the same amount (I’ll admit to looking this up on Ocado so cheaper options may well be available!). These recipes offer an exclusivity, follow them and aspire to be part of the elite, the instagram ready wellness warriors, the good and the clean. But what do "good" and "clean" imply about everyone else? Should I be feeling dirty because I had butter on my baked potato tonight?

I admire the skill and ingenuity of these kinds of recipes. What I don't like is the marketing. Make them because they are delicious, because they are gluten and dairy free if that appeals. Make them to experiment, because the ingredients offer subtle differences in taste and texture and you can afford that luxury. Make them because food is a vital part of life but one that can also be a pleasure, something to share with loved ones or take a moment to yourself to enjoy. But don’t think there are magical ingredients, and that a cake made of coconut oil and honey is any healthier than a good ‘ole Victoria sponge and please, don’t make your money or earn your clicks by telling people something is healthy when it isn't.

Most of us, and I definitely include myself in this, need to eat a little better. It’s hard when you are busy and tired and reaching for something quick and sweet seems irresistible. But we can only make good choices if we have good information, not garbage wellness fads that will only shed the pounds from our bank accounts.

SBx

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