Fat chance they’ll wean Alf from butter

The “food miles” concept, encouraging people to buy local foods rather than foods shipped in from afar to reduce carbon emissions, isn’t the only threat to this country’s dairy exports to Britain.

The Food Standards Agency there recently launched a multimillion pound advertising campaign featuring TV adverts and cooking tips to encourage consumers to cut down on their saturated fat intake.

More ominously, an outfit called The Fat Panel – which is leading a sort of culinary temperance movement – has struck a blow against butter by urging consumers to beware of the recipes from celebrity chefs.

It reckons a single serving from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein can contain more than 100 per cent of the recommended daily allowance of saturated fat. Swapping butter for margarine or a vegetable oil spread would reduce the fat content of some recipes by at least half, they advise.

And guess what? The Fat Panel receives funding from the UK’s Margarine and Spreads Association, according to The Telegraph.

Butter, praise be, butter has its defenders.

The Telegraph’s cooking writer, Rose Prince, laments:

What a blow they have struck. If there is one thing left in this gloomy, credit-crunched life where every pursuit is spoiled by over zealous health and safety measures, it is the comfort of eating.

Cooking out of our favourite books is a cheap way to cheer ourselves up. Restaurants may be going bust left, right and centre, but cook books have come into their own. What are celebrity chefs for if not the sensuality of their hugely indulgent creamy soups, buttery sauces and rich puddings?

The idea of Nigella Lawson licking a finger dipped into a bowl of cake batter made with margarine makes me feel sick, but it makes perfect sense when there is butter in the mix.

Rose Prince goes on to say she is most rankled by being taken for a fool “by the panel of moderators”.

Unless you have been asleep for the past 20 years, you will be well aware that too much saturated fat is bad for the heart, so a creamy dish is not for every meal. And the panel’s advice is miles off target, anyway.

It is well known that the obesity problem does not belong to the cookbook-buying, home-cooking class but to people who fill themselves with convenience food and hardly ever cook at all. It is a poverty problem, and much as cookery writers would like their books to sell to the people who really need them, the truth is that few in this demographic can or will fork out £20 for a tome packed with recipes.

Rose Prince also challenges The Fat Panel’s advice, especially in relation to alternative fats.

To say that margarine or vegetable oil spread is a healthy alternative to butter is highly debateable. The recommendation that has insisted upon this since hydrogenated margarine started to replace butter in convenience food is currently being rewritten.

Butter is not the bogey man of the bad diet, as we have been led to believe. Butter contains vital nutrients; the vitamins in the fat help us absorb calcium and it also has strong anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.

There is also evidence that our bodies are much better able to process the fats in butter than those in refined vegetable fat. The only truly healthy vegetable oils are expensive, unrefined, cold pressed “virgin” oils, such as olive oil.

Margarines, or “spreads”, on the other hand, are made from refined vegetable fats.

They can be hydrogenated – a thickening method that produces harmful “transfats” that increase the risk of heart disease, cancers and, according to the Food Standards Agency, have no known nutritional benefit.

The report in The Telegraph to which Rose Prince responded was based on a press release from The Fat Panel, which in turn was based on a report teasingly titled The Guilty Secret of Celebrity Chefs.

This reports the results of analysis of the saturated fat content of a variety of starters, main courses, side orders and desserts from popular cookbooks.

The Telegraph highlighted these aspects:

On average, people are eating 20% too much saturated fat, the report says, and there is evidence that it can increase levels of LDL cholesterol, which is a risk factor for causing heart disease, Britain’s biggest single killer.

Recipes by Jean-Christophe Novelli and John Burton-Race are singled out for containing a lot of butter and cream. A single portion of Novelli’s honey roast pumpkin soup generated 43.2g of saturated fat – well over twice the daily allowance – even before adding the full fat cheese garnish.

One portion of Gordon Ramsay’s sticky toffee and chocolate pudding contained 23g of saturated fat. Delia Smith and Jamie Oliver are given overall approval, but they are admonished for their frequent use of butter.

Burton-Race and Rick Stein are criticised for being “keen to use high saturated fat ingredients constantly”, and Nigella Lawson is criticised for using butter instead of margarine in her egg and bacon pie, with a single serving brimming with 36g of fat.

The report says some simple swaps can make a dramatic difference to saturated fat content, without adversely affecting the overall flavour and food experience.

The Fat Panel describes itself as

a new, independent, group, which will provide objective information about the important dietary role and benefits of oils and fats and how we can all get it right. It brings together experts in the areas of lipid metabolism, public health, general practice, nutrition and pharmacy.

Its zealous members are not among the only killyjoys on the march in modern Britain.

In Lanarkshire, a GP – Dr David Walker – has called for a “chocolate tax”. His absurd motion has been defeated by the British Medical Association.

But there are nutrition nuts everywhere and similar absurd taxes have been advised for this country.

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