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Maria Broadbent of CASA takes a look at the science behind whether we find it easy or hard to resist food and offers us some healthy ‘fast food’ alternatives




The song from the musical Oklahoma ‘I’m just a girl who can’t say no’ resonates with me. Why do I struggle to resist all manner of delicious temptations? Maybe it’s not entirely my fault!

Dr Giles Yeo is a graduate tutor and fellow of Wolfson College, a college at Cambridge University for mature and graduate students. His current research focuses on understanding how pathways differ between lean and obese people, and the influence of genes in our feeding behaviour.

Many of us think we’re in control of what we eat. We are told that the simple science is eat less + exercise more = slim. Genes, the established theory goes, have minimal effect if any on our size. BUT. . . what if we are misguided? What if, in fact, our genes do have a powerful influence over how we gain or maintain weight? What if that ‘self destruct’ of dieting, the inability to leave that box of chocolates once opened is rooted deep in our DNA?

Feast or famine? (44236425)
Feast or famine? (44236425)

Dr Giles Yeo has been inspired to investigate this controversial concept, a concept which has certainly gained acceptance in the past two decades. He is one of the presenters on BBC Trust Me – I’m a Doctor. I, however, came across him whilst out on a Saturday morning delivery. I was listening to Radio 4 and found myself sitting in the car until he had finished.

The first thing that caught my attention was ‘flabradors’. Apparently, a tabloid headline when research was published on the propensity of guide dogs to possess an ‘eating gene’ at much higher levels than the average Labrador. Most of us, who have ever met a Labrador, will know they have an ‘eat anything’ mentality – including, in my experience, a wheatie bag (a cloth bag containing wheat that you heat in the microwave and use like a hot water bottle). Interestingly, there is a gene that is present in 20 per cent of the Labrador population and this makes them much more responsive to food as a reward.

In guide dogs this percentage rises from 20 per cent to 80 per cent. This, Yeo believes, is what makes them so trainable. If a guide dog were to see a wild rabbit, he may rate his chances of ‘dinner’ at 50 per cent. If, however, he completes his duties then he is 100 per cent guaranteed of his reward. Pavlov’s dog theory is very well known, but this indicates the varying degrees of it’s effectiveness based on a genetic predisposition.

As far as humans are concerned, he believes that we too have differing susceptibility to food. Some of us find it much harder to say no. It seems the underlying problem is that we are still fundamentally genetically programmed for a feast or famine existence. Now, you may have noticed that whilst the weather is giving us storms and floods and there is a pandemic going on, we are not in modern Britain facing a famine. That is not to say that everyone can afford access to ample and healthy food (but that is a whole other article).

Take a bear, for example – bears can eat 100,000 calories a day! Impressive, huh? This is because a bear will hibernate, plus it cannot eat 365 days a year as salmon is a seasonal delicacy. Interestingly, when the bear is ‘stuffed’ with the whole salmon, it will move onto the fat, skin and caviar (fish eggs) as these parts contain the greatest number of calories per gram. Rather like our puddings – and yes, this is why we have a separate tummy for puddings (but all children know that. . . don’t they?).

Having established that we may well be programmed to be cuddlier than our genetically blessed friends, family and colleagues, does that mean resistance is futile? Yeo, says ‘not entirely’. I joined a weight loss group after the birth of my eldest daughter and had the most inspirational group leader. Her mantra was always diets are 90 per cent organisation and 10 per cent willpower. This, 32 years on, aligns beautifully with Yeo’s philosophy. Which basically says remove temptation from your daily routine.

He explains the cumulative effect of many small decisions is what results in the weight gain.

I also feel, from personal experience, that high calorie foods, especially those with a high sugar content, fuel the ‘addiction’ to food. We as a nation eat increasing amounts of highly processed food, much of which contains unnecessary calories in the form of added sugar. We have already established that our minds/bodies are programmed to seek high fat and high sugar foods – so the crisps, chocolates and biscuits are simply too tempting.

I know a number of seasoned dieters who buy the ‘diet treats’ such as low calorie chocolate bars and under 100 calorie bags of crisps. Great in theory, but most confess they merely eat more than one if not all the box or multi-pack. (Not only this, many go on to then eat what they were truly craving in the first place.) I guess there is no single quick fix for this and the logical approach is one decision at a time. In previous articles I have suggested we ask ourselves ‘Are we hungry?’ before eating. Although, I imagine we all have to find our own path. I do hope though, by understanding it’s not about anyone being weak, this helps with people’s state of mind. It should also help in the planning of removal of temptation from day-to-day situations.

Due to Covid we are generally moving less and eating more. We are bored, fed up and in many cases stressed – all of these are often triggers for comfort eating. Takeaways are currently much more acceptable as a treat because of the interminable lockdown. More businesses than ever are delivering to our doors. This is not a bad thing, as you don’t need to think about food shopping, planning or cooking. However, if you are ordering a number of times a week, do consider some of the healthier options. Bury currently has so much choice (see the facebook page Eat & Drink in Your Bury St Edmunds).

Some slimming clubs work on the basis of allowing you to eat unlimited amounts of specific food groups, especially carbs, but with minimal fat. Other diets encourage you to reduce carbs, in fact eliminating refined carbs entirely. Low fat yoghurts are hailed as the lifesaver and in others unadulterated full fat yoghurts are deemed the most natural. It is a minefield and my only advice is to follow what works for you. There is plenty of good scientific research on the internet and a whole load of fake news. The only consensus, and from my own experience, is avoiding heavily processed food and opting for fresh ingredients is undisputedly a logical path.

If we are going to eat more natural, unprocessed food, then that involves a little more planning. Fast food is not just something from McDonalds – you can make food fast at home. The recipes this week are therefore, quick, easy, healthy AND, of course, tasty!

EGGS

For me, these are the ultimate fast food. Scrambled, boiled, poached, omelettes. . . the list goes on. I like an omelette as it is more of a solid carrier for other foods, and means having a gluten intolerance I can avoid cereals and bread.

SIMPLE OMELETTE

You will need a non-stick frying pan, a bowl, regular fork, spatula and a wooden spoon or better still, a wooden pasta fork (wood does not damage your non-stick pan).

Ingredients:

I allow 3 eggs per person

A pinch each of salt and pepper (to taste)

A little oil (or butter if that’s your preference – but if you are working on lowering your cholesterol levels stick with oil or a very non-stick pan and a spray oil)

Filling of your choice could include, but not limited to:

Cheese

Cooked mushrooms

Fresh chopped parsley or any herb of your choice

Peppers

Spring onion chopped

Cooked bacon or ham

Spinach

Smoked Salmon

Potatoes – in fact all sorts of leftovers

Method:

It is important to have everything ready and be prepared to work quickly.

Break your eggs into a bowl or jug.

Add a pinch of salt and pepper and herbs if using.

Whisk using a regular fork – you’re not aerating it, just mixing.

Check your fillings are prepared. Put your pan on the heat until it is hot, then add your oil and at the very last minute the butter, if you are using.

As soon as the butter has melted and is going nutty brown (but not burning) pour in the egg mixture.

Use the wooden fork (spoon) to draw the egg mixture into the centre, forming gentle folds of egg. The remaining runny egg will run to the edges – you can encourage this by tilting the pan. Continue with this until your egg is nearly cooked as you like.

Sprinkle on your filling, allow it to ‘stick’ to the remaining uncooked egg. When you are happy with the consistency of you egg, using a spatula fold the omelette in half.

Use the spatula to pat it down and ‘glue’ together. l Slide out the pan onto a warmed plate and serve.

CHEF’S TIP

Once you are more confident you can, for example, cook the bacon and mushrooms and chuck the beaten eggs in and go from there.

International variations of omelettes include Italian Frittata and Spanish Tortilla. There are many recipes around for these and are great for sharing.

SALMON

Another simple ‘go to’ ingredient is salmon. Full of Omega 3 and protein – easy to cook and incredibly versatile. Oven bake, pan fry or microwave. Previously, I have shared a recipe for salmon baked in parchment with vegetables, last week we had a fish tagine – so as we are talking fast food, let’s go microwave this week.

‘POACHED’ SALMON with DILL SAUCE

You will need a glass or plastic shallow dish with a cover of some description (cling film or a plate) that will fit in your microwave, and a spatula.

Ingredients:

Per person:

1 piece of salmon fillet (about 125-150g)

Squeeze of lemon juice (about half a lemon)

Salt and pepper

4 tablespoons natural yoghurt mixed with 1 teaspoon fresh chopped dill (season to taste)

Method:

Most microwaves will have auto cook for fish – this is worth using as it is very easy to overcook fish. Have potatoes or rice ready before cooking the salmon (any veg needs to be almost ready).

Weigh your salmon and place in the shallow dish. Lay some dill fronds on it, season and add lemon juice. Cover with cling film and pierce a couple of times.

Programme your microwave to cook the correct weight of fish. If you or your microwave are less technical then cook for about 1 minute 30 seconds per piece and then take a peek. You can see by the colour if it is cooked – and it will continue to cook even after you take it out. You can always cook it further but you cannot un-cook, so err on the side of caution.

Lift the salmon onto a warmed plate and serve with a wedge of lemon, the sauce and your chosen side dishes.

CHEF’S TIPS

Cook more salmon then you need and use in a salad in the coming days. Cold salmon is very filling so goes a long way in a lunchbox, especially with some homemade new potato salad. Or if serving mash then how about making fish cakes with the leftover fish and mash?

Cooking potatoes and a variety of veg? Use one pan and calculate back for serving time – 20 minutes for potatoes, add Chantenay carrots after 12 minutes, add broccoli after a further 6 minutes and sugar snaps 3 minutes after that. All will be perfectly cooked and only one

pan to wash!

PRAWNS

A bit of a luxury, but they are usually ready to eat and feature in many ‘diets’.

VIETNAMESE PRAWN NOODLE SALAD

(Serves 4)

You will need a sharp knife, chopping board, a big bowl, a saucepan and either a colander or sieve.

Ingredients:

50g peeled cooked prawns, defrosted

5 crabsticks

75g fine dried rice noodles

50g beansprouts

½ red pepper

2 spring onions, cut into diagonal slices

½ carrot cut into thin strips

¼ cucumber – cut into thin strips

2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

15g salted peanuts, roughly chopped

Dressing:

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime (about ½ a lime)

1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce

1 teaspoon light muscovado sugar

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 teaspoon minced ginger (out of a jar or tube)

¼ fresh red chilli, finely chopped or a pinch of chilli flakes or ¼ teaspoon from a tube or jar of minced chilli

Method:

Cook rice noodles per packet instructions and allow to drain and cool.

Wash and drain beansprouts.

Mix all salad ingredients together.

Put the dressing ingredients into a clean jam jar or similar and shake!

Pour dressing over salad and mix again.

Valentine’s Day CASA style

No-one can argue that this has not been a tough year. Even the most loving relationships have been put under pressure. Whether that is enforced separation or enforced full-time togetherness – it has not been easy for most of us.

Food has always been a wonderful way of showing love and appreciation and I really wanted to give our customers something special for Valentine’s weekend.

I have designed sharing menus to eat together and also some sharing platters with wine to share apart. Who knew zoom and team meetings would become so popular?

A takeaway for me is either a thing of convenience when I simply cannot be bothered to cook or a treat of something I wouldn’t cook at home. Tapas and mezze – whilst many of the dishes are fairly simple, many are not. And, to be fair, who would want to buy all the ingredients needed to make 14 or so different dishes?

This is our classic Spanish but do take a peek at our website CasaBSE.co.uk for full details of face-to-face sharing menus and ‘zoom’ sharing platters. We will be running this Friday evening and all day Saturday and Sunday. Book early to avoid disappointment.

CASA Classic

Freshly baked bread

Little pots of:

Olives

Boquerones

Salted Spanish Almonds

Tzatziki

Chorizo in Red Wine

Homemade Aioli

A tasting portion each of:

2 homemade Spanish meatballs in a tomato sauce

2 pieces of Middle Eastern slow-cooked belly pork with Moroccan potatoes

2 Persian-spiced

lamb koftas

Andalusian chicken with rice

Patatas bravas

Garlic King prawns

Creamy garlic mushrooms

Feta and pomegranate salad

Mini sweet and cheese to finish:

Sherried chocolate truffle

Spanish almond cake

Manchego & membrillo

£75 for 2, including a bottle of Prosecco (to one destination)

Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant CASA in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds

Call 01284 701313

See casabse.co.uk