Monday 23 May 2016

Fats... are they the baddies or the innocent victims of government hype?

It's only Monday and already there is a difference of opinion about the health effects of fats in foods:

"Official advice on low-fat diet and cholesterol is wrong, says health charity" in a Guardian headline, where the article goes on to claim, 
"In a damning report that accuses major public health bodies of colluding with the food industry, the National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration call for a “major overhaul” of current dietary guidelines."
Meanwhile, over on the BBC, their headline says, "Advice to eat more fat is irresponsible and potentially deadly, Public Health England's chief nutritionist has said" and goes on to say, 
"Dr Alison Tedstone was responding to a report by the National Obesity Forum, which suggests eating fat could help cut obesity and type 2 diabetes. The charity said promoting low-fat food had had "disastrous health consequences" and should be reversed."
So, at the risk of being shot down in flames by either side (or both of them!) here's my take on the issue...

From birth our first food is milk, which contains natural fats which are needed for an infant to develop healthily. As a species we are omnivores and as such eat meat and animal products, and vegetables/fruits, which contains natural fats. Therefore fats are a normal part of our diet which our bodies are adapted to cope with and process, in moderation. By that I mean that if we eat foods which contain small amounts of fats that's fine. If we lived only on fatty foods then we'd have a problem!

Fats are necessary for good health, as explained on the NHS website,
Not all fat is bad
A small amount of fat is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet. Fat is a source of essential fatty acids such as omega-3 – "essential" because the body can't make them itself.
Fat helps the body absorb vitamins A, D and E. These vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning they can only be absorbed with the help of fats.
The key message in this appears to be, eat fats but not to excess. Some fats are required to ensure that your body does what it is supposed to do with vitamins, and to provide you with the energy you need to be able to function.

So why is there all this fuss about fats? Well, it seems to be because there are natural fats, e.g. animal products such as milk, butter, cheese, nuts, coconut, olives, fish, and there are processed fats, e.g. margarines, butter substitutes, shortening, etc...  and the latter are highly processed products rather than simply natural fats.  If you want to know how margarines are made, there is a fascinating (if somewhat off-putting) explanation of the process on The Real Food Guide website.

The real bad guys seem to be trans fats, described in an article on the Harvard University website as,
"a byproduct of a process called hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy oils into solids and to prevent them from becoming rancid."
Now I am sure that none of us want rancid fats in our diet, but the important bit in the above sentence is the word solids...  as by changing the nature of fats from oil into solid we are setting up the environment for blocked arteries, cholesterol, and suchlike nasties.  Fats need to be absorbed into the body to do their job, and it seems that oils absorb easily, solids are more problematical, Harvard explains,
Eating foods rich in trans fats increases the amount of harmful LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and reduces the amount of beneficial HDL cholesterol. Trans fats create inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. They contribute to insulin resistance, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Research from the Harvard School of Public Health and elsewhere indicates that trans fats can harm health in even small amounts: for every 2% of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%.
By their very nature, such highly processed foods are harder for our bodies to process properly and so can cause problems. Our personal experience is that margarines cause hubbie and me to endure terrible heartburn / acid reflux, something which simply does not happen with butter. A story in the Dail Mail on 7th February 2013 claimed that, "
At last, the truth: Butter is GOOD for you - and margarine is chemical gunk" 
Saturated fats are not as bad as trans fats but still come in for a hard time from the folks at Harvard, who describe saturated fats as,
... solid at room temperature — think cooled bacon grease. Common sources of saturated fat include red meat, whole milk and other whole-milk dairy foods, cheese, coconut oil, and many commercially prepared baked goods and other foods.
The fact that they are solid at room temperature gives us a clue that they are probably not great to be eating in large quantities, and indeed Harvard says,
For that reason, most nutrition experts recommend limiting saturated fat to under 10% of calories a day.
So what are the good fats? Again Harvard has the answer,
Good fats come mainly from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish.
But even amongst the good fats there are two types... monounsaturated (e.g. olive oil, avocados, peanut oil, nuts) and polyunsaturated (e.g. safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil) both of which are considered to be better for your health than trans and saturated fats. Confusing, isn't it?!

One of the biggest issues for anyone following a low-fat diet is the level of essential fatty acids in their system will be reduced. Omega-3 and Omega-6 types are essential for good physical health, and the inclusion of Omega 3-6-9 in the diet also has benefits with brain development.

So, how much fats should we be consuming?  For us the key phrase is in moderation as hubbie and I use butter not margarine, but only use a small amount on certain foods, e.g. on a slice of toast or a scone, and neither of us use dairy milk. Fats from nuts are a no-no due to my allergies, along with my intolerance of coconut and avocado, and my son's dairy intolerance so he uses soya milk and spread, and we have to think about what we eat and how we avoid bad fatty foods and eat good fatty foods whilst coping with the allergies and intolerances. It makes cooking far more interesting and creative!

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Easy party food: Chickpea Swirls (V)

It's been such a busy few weeks that we've not been able to do much cooking, but today I decided I wanted to try something out.  We've been thinking up easy party food recipes and this is another of them...

Chickpea Swirls

1 sheet ready made puff pastry
1 tin drained and rinsed chickpeas, mashed
8-10 green olives, mashed
1 green Oxo
1 tbsp mixed herbs
½ tube tomato puree
2 tsp curry powder
beaten egg for glazing (or soya milk if you want to avoid egg)

Mix all together as a thick paste, spread across pastry sheet and roll from long edge. Cut into 15 sections, glaze pastry on each with egg or soya milk. Bake in oven for approx 30 mins. at Gas 6.  Leave to cool before eating.

How easy was that?! :)