Monday, January 12, 2015

The big FAT misunderstanding and a recipe for figgy flapjacks

Fat and the role it plays in our diet and in our bodies has been in the news a lot lately. From the way it's been reported in the media, the current prevailing wisdom is that fat is no longer a culprit in the fight against obesity. We've been getting it wrong all along. The new villains are sugar and refined carbohydrates.

Sigh of exasperation.

There is some truth to this but, as per usual with the way the media pounces on any stories relating to food, it's over-simplified. For years we were told to replace butter with margarine spreads (yuck!) and now we're being told to eat butter to our heart's content. The true nutritional understanding lies somewhere between the two. 

I don't claim to be an expert but because my Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis diet is all about fat, I've done a lot of research into this issue. Based on what I've learned, here's what the general population should know about fat:

1: Saturated fat (the fat found in foods such as meat, cheese, butter, cream, milk and coconuts) is not bad. In fact, a little of it is actually very good for you. But there's the rub: I do mean a little. As always, it's a case of everything in moderation.
(If you've got MS, the advice regarding saturated fat is VERY different but that's another blog post entirely.)

2: Very few of us get enough omega 3 fats from the food we eat. These fats are vital to our body's overall health, especially the strength of our immune system. Most of us know we can get omega 3 by eating oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and herrings. But with the world's fish stocks under severe pressure and the health and environmental risks associated with eating farmed fish, it may not be possible (or even desirable) for everyone to get their omega 3 by eating fish.
There are other options. Flaxseed and flaxseed oil are both high in omega 3. Flax is grown here in Ireland and it's a sustainable healthy product. Chia seeds and walnuts are good sources too.

3: Sunflower oil, vegetable oil and oils that come in clear plastic containers are generally to be avoided. Although they have been sold as healthy alternatives for years, this is not the case.
In pre-industrial times, oil was perishable. It deteriorated quickly because it reacted to light, heat and air so traders would sell small quantities of oil which would be stored in ceramic sealed containers in the home. 
(You know those pretty ceramic oil dispensers you see for sale in gift shops in the south of France? Well, they had a practical purpose as well as an aesthetic one. The opaque container meant the oil wasn't exposed to light. The seal prevented it from being exposed to air. And the heavy insulation of the ceramic material meant it never got too hot either. It wouldn't go rancid before it could be used. The same thinking is behind the reason why all good brands of olive oil - and other oils - are sold in dark bottles of thick glass.)

So, how come oils can be sold in clear plastic containers, exposing them to light for months on end while they sit on supermarket shelves and kitchen counters? It's because they have been chemically treated so that they are no longer perishable. This is good for the companies who sell these oils but not for the people who consume them. The chemical treatments destroy any health-giving nutrients originally contained in these oils and, in many cases, create dangerous toxins instead.
There's a huge amount of reading you can do on this topic. If you're interested, I'd recommend starting with Fats that Heal: Fats that Kill.

I don't want to turn into a ranting evangelist so I'll leave it at this.
- Saturated fat is good for you IN MODERATION.
- Most of us need more omega 3 in our diet.
- Be careful what oils you use when cooking. Oils that come in clear plastic containers and are able to sit in your kitchen for months without spoiling are not beneficial to good health. 

Now as a thank you for putting up with my lecture, here's a delicious recipe for fig-filled flapjacks. It's packed with good fats and naturally unrefined sugars.

The ingredients are simple:
225g oats
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
60g chopped dried figs
60g chopped almonds
100g walnut oil
75g maple syrup

You will also need a rectangular baking tin measuring 23cm by 28cm (or 9 inches by 11 inches)

  • Pre-heat your oven to 160 C/320 F
  • Chop the figs and almonds.
  • Mix all of the dry ingredients in a bowl.
  • Pour in the oil and the maple syrup and combine all of the ingredients thoroughly using a wooden spoon.
  • Tip the mixture into the baking tin and flatten it with the palm of your hand.

  • Cook in the oven for 25 minutes or until golden on top.
  • Leave to cool in the tin and then cut into 9 squares.
  • Enjoy with a cup of tea or eat as a snack on the go.

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