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A little of what you fancy

My grandmother lived by the adage ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’; a slice of excellent bread (not the whole loaf); a nip of good brandy (not the bottle); a few squares of the best chocolate (never the bar).

The phrase was made famous by a risqué́ music hall performer, Marie Lloyd, towards the end of Queen Victoria’s reign. She sang: I always hold in having it if you fancy it. If you fancy it that’s understood. And suppose it makes you fat? I don’t worry over that ‘Cos a little of what you fancy does you good!’

The little, then, the operative word. Though the ‘fancy’ is pretty key too; I don’t know about you, but I never fancied a bowl of broccoli?

And a lot of foods that get bad rap ­ especially in these days of lean ‘clean’ zero carbs eating, are actually imperative to good, wholesome, happy health.

So this piece is a small celebration of the six apparently deadly foods that are good for you ­ in moderation, remember, always in polite (I’ll just have the one …) moderation though not so polite you’re reduced to the paper thin slice of cake that Kristin Scott Thomas’s Alette Naylor, insisted upon ­ ‘un petit peu, un peu plus petit’ ­ in Confessions of a Shopaholic: you must at least taste the stuff.

Bread
Gluten is deemed the social pariah of food now: everybody’s on a Gluten Free diet. But not all flours are grown, or ground, equal. Dozens of studies demonstrate that gluten­containing foods ­ whole-wheat, rye and barley ­ are essential for good health and for the 98% of people (yup, that many of us don’t need to avoid the stuff) that don’t have gluten issues, those same whole grains—which do contain gluten (did I mention that?) — are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer and here’s why: gluten helps boost immune function. After less than a week on added gluten protein, volunteers of one study showed increased natural killer cell activity, which could help us fight cancer and viral

infections. Another study found that high gluten bread improved triglyceride levels more effectively than regular bread. And yet another study ­ see what I mean: dozens of them ­ found that a month on a gluten­free diet may reduce (our natural, healthy, important) gut flora and immune function, potentially setting those on gluten­free diets up for an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in their intestines. Why? Because the very components wheat sensitive people have problems with, like FODMAP and fructans, may act as probiotics and feed our good bacteria.

So, there you are. Have a piece of that delicious, freshly baked bread, hot out of the oven, infusing the kitchen with its warm life­affirming scent. And slather it with butter. Yup. Really: butter, not some sweaty yellow goo in a tub masquerading as the Real Thing.

Butter
Butter is the ultimate in unhealthy: the shameful fat face of obesity and rampant appetites, blamed for everything from heart disease to high cholesterol. But butter’s reputation is undeserved. Sure, it’s high in fat but that’s not altogether a bad thing. Fat means fat soluble vitamins which means A, E and K2. K2 is a fairly hard vitamin to find, butter is a primary and valuable source of K2 which has health benefits. It is involved in calcium metabolism and a low intake has been associated with many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis. Dairy from grass-fed cows is particularly rich in vitamin K2 so in the end, happy cows mean happy health. Additionally, butter contains short and medium chain fats which are metabolized differently from other fats. They lead to improved satiety (that is, you’ll feel fuller, longer) and ­ ironically ­ increased fat burning.

And replacing butter with margarine compounds the loss of ‘good’ fats that come with butter ­ especially the stuff that comes from those contented grass-fed cows: margarine is highly processed and chock full of harmful trans fats; in one study, scientists examined the effects of butter and margarine on cardiovascular disease Margarine significantly increased the risk of cardiovascular disease, while butter had no effect.

Butter also contains butyrate. Science suggests butyrate prevents weight gain on an unhealthy diet by increasing energy expenditure and reducing food intake (see: there’s that satiety and fat burning thing again) and lends an anti-inflammatory component.

Grass fed butter, is a great source of a fatty acid called Conjugated Linoleic Acid which has a positive effect on metabolism and is actually sold ­ ironies abound ­ as a weight loss supplement.

So whilst it is not advisable to wait for your toast to cool and then top it with butter cut to cheese slice thickness (as my father did), it’s perfectly OK ­ recommended even ­ to spread it on warm bread so its richness sinks deep in and is evident in your first bite.

Eggs
Egg white omelettes. Ever eaten one? Ever heard of anything so insipidly patently pointless?

Persecuted by the persistent myth that dietary cholesterol should be avoided, egg yolks have had bad press since the seventies. For years we’ve been warned to discard the yolks. However, the reality is that by discarding the yolk, you’re denying yourself the most nutrient dense part of this incredible food. There is little to no evidence that links egg yolks with heart disease, if anything, they protect against it. A single egg packs 6g of protein for the cost of just 80 calories and provides 13 essential nutrients, all in the yolk; a whole egg is a rich source of protein, providing a complete range of amino acids, omega­3 fatty acids, B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin A, selenium, and magnesium.

Eggs, far from being the demons of the breakfast table, are actually a mean, lean protein packed machine, delivered in an incredibly clever totally bio degradable capsule designed by Mother Nature herself. That, surely, has got to prove they’re a good thing.

Chips
Ok. Not Chips exactly, but Potatoes.

Another innocent staple banished needlessly from the supper table by those No and Low Carb zealots. But potatoes are a wonderful food: humble, generous. The ultimate in warm, floury comfort eating. It’s the way we cook them that’s key: chuck them into a deep fryer with week old fat and you’re not doing to do them ­ or yourself ­ much good but bake them with their skins on, split them open and add a knob of butter, see above, and you are transported to some safe, soul­restoring place where everything in the world is soft and kind. And potatoes, for their unassuming modesty are a powerful food, low on phytic acid they are easily digested but simultaneously jam-packed with vitamins and minerals, you’d be hard pressed to find so economically packaged a food at the same price.

One of the nutritional benefits of eating potatoes is their vitamin B­6, content. B­6 helps your body produce neurotransmitters which afford communication between nerve cells, as well as between nerves and muscles. Eating a large potato provides your body with 98% of your body’s recommended daily intake of this important vitamin. They’re also rich in Vitamin C, the same potato will give you a quarter of your daily requirement of Vitamin C which helps protect you from cancer and strokes.

As to the other nutrients, potatoes contain manganese ­ which supports metabolism and bone health ­ and potassium which is imperative for muscle function and a healthy nervous system.

Recent studies suggest that potatoes may be an especially important food given our highly stressed contemporary lives. Scientists at the UKs Institute for Food Research have identified blood pressure lowering compounds, kukoamines, in potatoes.

Avoid the deep fat fryer, instead mash them with low fat Greek yogurt, top a baked spud with broccoli (we can’t avoid it altogether) and sea salt or dress a potato salad with roasted garlic and olive oil.

A (Quality) Fatty Cut of Meat
The myth remains that all fatty meat is bad and we ought only eat lean meat ­ that means no crispy bacon, no gloriously marbled beef, no browned, salted pork crackling. But in truth both are important in our diet. For years, we have been warned to focus on muscle meats ­ chicken breasts and lean cuts of beef ­ but avoiding the odd cuts of meat (moderation, remember) is completely unnecessary. Chicken legs, thighs, wings and even skin are whole foods that can be incorporated into a healthy diet, as well as rich cuts of beef ­ brisket, shanks, ribs, lamb shoulder, even bacon. Think about it, traditional cultures (pre-the contemporary low carb, gluten free, fat free, clean eating, green juicing brigade) did not have the option ­ read time or luxury ­ to pick and choose what cuts of meat they wanted to eat, they used the whole animal. The benefit of these richer sources of meat is that they contain higher amounts of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K2, as well as glycine (from skin, bones, cartilage) which is an important amino acid that plays a role in nearly every part of the body.

We don’t get all these goodies from smugger, leaner cuts of meat. But when it comes to fatty cuts of meat, do consider the quality of the cut: conventional sources might not contain a well-balanced omega 3 to 6 ratio, so do like Butter and opt for happy grass­fed animals.

And whilst you do that, whilst you’re in your local butcher’s considering a rolled sirloin for your Sunday Roast, admiring the dense flesh, ribboned with white fat, whilst trying not to salivate guiltily, remember that we’ve been trying to reduce animal fats in our diets for thirty years ­ but we’re not healthier, we’re just heavier.

And, saving the best till last … Chocolate.
Chocolate is rich in fat and sugar so that’s not ­ it must be said ­ altogether a good thing but, and it’s a big BUT, there are loads of good reasons to eat it in mindful moderation ­ chocolate contains flavonoids, substances known to have anti-inflammatory effects and antioxidant properties that help mop up disease prompting agents in the body. It’s also full of the amino acid tryptophan, which is an essential ingredient in the production of the happy hormone, the neurotransmitter serotonin. As well as tryptophan, chocolate contains phenyl ethylamine which the body converts to dopamine, which helps us experience pleasure.

Dark chocolate is especially good for us ­ so good in fact that four squares a day are virtually prescribed. Researchers in Switzerland ­ and one must assume they know their stuff ­ report that eating dark chocolate every day for two weeks reduces stress hormones, including cortisol, even in super anxious people. There is an abundance of global research that proclaims chocolate is a sound dietary choice (not one of our five ­ or is it seven a day ­ admittedly, but almost): the Swedes established that eating 45g a week reduced stroke risk, the boffins at Cambridge seem to agree; a team of Italian scientists found that eating small amounts increases insulin sensitivity which reduces the diabetes risk; German scientists believe that the flavanols in dark chocolate could protect women’s skin from the sun’s UV rays and British psychologists found that those same flavanols can render a person more numerical but as one who has never been able to add up despite a lifetime of nightly chocolate, I’m not sure I agree with this one.

The last word must go to French woman Jeanne Louise Calment who was born in 1875 ­ long before people conceived of green, clean, lectin/lactose/gluten/fat/fun­free food ­ who apparently ate a kilo of dark chocolate every week and lived to be 122. I bet she ate baguettes in abundance, enjoyed butter, steak, cream and cheese in happy-go-lucky pre-animal fat anxiety days and slugged Bordeaux regularly too.

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