For those of us who came of age in the last century the idea that fat is a health food used to sound like crazy talk. But there’s been report after report in recent years on the benefits of fat (and we’ve covered many of them on Kale & Cocoa) and I’ve finally got the image of Rosemary Conley and her fat-free diets out of my mind. The latest research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine show that a diet with no restriction on fat may reduce the risk of breast cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes compared to other diets. These are obviously heavy hitters in terms of morbidity and mortality in the Western world, so this research is important. Researchers looked at the effect of a Mediterranean diet and found that its emphasis on a high intake of vegetables, whole grains, legumes and – most importantly – a high monounsaturated-to-saturated fat ratio due to the use of olive oil, is a healthier option.
To reach this conclusion the researchers reviewed other available evidence – previous studies, in other words. They had plenty to choose from – there have been innumerable studies on the benefits of fats and the Mediterranean diet in recent years, so why aren’t we all downing olive oil and skipping around like children? Is it just that it doesn’t compute in our low-fat-addled brains? Possibly, but there is a lot more to it than that. The answer, to some extent, is in a fascinating book I’m reading at the moment by Sir Michael Marmot, who is – among other things – Professor of Epidemiology at UCL.
Marmot is a doctor who believes firmly in prevention rather than cure. He has dedicated his career to examining the impact of social standing on health inequalities, and how those inequalities can be improved. He argues that socio-economic position is an important determinant for health outcomes. The more social advantages we have in life, the more autonomy we feel and the more responsibility we take for our own health. Marmot argues that helping everyone – regardless of status – to take responsibility for their health is a critical role for government and society as a whole.
In The Health Gap, he discusses the fact that the conditions in which we live our lives have a profound impact, but good conditions are unequally distributed. Being at ‘the wrong end’ of inequality is disempowering and deprives people of control over their lives, and ultimately of optimal health. It’s not as simple as rich = healthy, poor = unhealthy. It’s about degrees of social advantage. He looks at the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet but points out ‘if all it took was evidence of benefit then everyone could be healthy’. In other words, knowing that something is good for us is not enough. We need a positive environment in which to flourish and take control of our behaviours. He ends the book by advising countries to ‘Do Something. Do More. Do It Better’ to help people help themselves to good health. I do think we can all do something to take control of how we age and improve our outcomes. That, after all, is what Kale & Cocoa is all about!
There are lots of initiatives to get us thinking about eating healthily. Next week (Aug 1-8) is Meat-free Week. https://meatfreeweek.org which challenges us all to give up meat for seven days and see what impact it makes on our lives. There are lots of lovely recipes on the website too. This week’s recipe is meat-free and vegan too so perfect for next week if you’re taking the challenge. I find it easy to eat more meat in the summer with BBQs and garden lunch charcuterie on offer, so this is a good recipe to have up my sleeve. Don’t be put off by the idea of a stew in summer – this one is tasty but packed with veggies so not heavy. Talking of summer, we’re off on our hols but will be back with lots more Kale & Cocoa in September!
PEANUT STEW (serves 6)
- 500g sweet potato or butternut squash, peeled and cubed
- 1 tbs olive or coconut oil
- 1 onion, peeled and diced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- pinch of chilli powder, or to taste
- 1 tbs pulped ginger
- 1 green or red pepper, seeded and chopped
- 600ml-700ml vegetable stock
- 300ml tomato passata
- 1 tbs tomato puree
- 100g smooth peanut butter
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 courgette, washed and cubed
- 2 handfuls of kale or spinach, washed and roughly chopped
- 2 tbs fresh chopped coriander
- 1 tin chickpeas or cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 tbs salted peanuts, chopped
Heat the oil in a large pan and gently saute the onion for around 5 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, chilli and ginger and cook for a minute more before adding the sweet potato or squash and red or green pepper. Turn the veg in the oil and spices then add the stock, passata, puree, chickpeas or beans and bay leaves. Simmer gently for around 30 mins, or until the veg is cooked through and soft. Stir in the peanut butter, courgette, green veg and 1 tbs of fresh coriander. Loosen with a little water if it’s looking too thick. Cook for another 5 minutes then season to taste. Serve with rice and top with chopped peanuts and the remaining coriander. Leftovers keep, and freeze, well too.