For decades official nutritional guidelines have warned us that saturated fats cause heart disease.
This guidance was based upon the findings of a single, biased research project carried out in the 1950s, but it has taken the best part of sixty years to overturn those findings.
Earlier this year Cambridge University became the latest respected institution to publish research which concluded that saturated fats are not, and never have been, the problem.
The real culprit is, and always has been, sugar.
There is no longer any doubt that it is excess sugar that is the major dietary cause of heart and cardiovascular disease. It is also a principal cause of type 2 diabetes and of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
The NHS currently spends over £16 bn treating these diet-related chronic conditions, and this figure is rising steadily. A 2012 report published in the journal Diabetic Medicine projected that within 25 years the NHS will be spending 17% of its entire budget on treating diabetes.
So where is all this unhealthy excess sugar in our diet coming from?
Possibly of relevance here is the fact that over half of British citizens eat ready meals or takeaways at least once a week. A recent study found that many ready meals being sold in British supermarkets contained more than double the daily sugar limit recently proposed by the World Health Organisation. A 2011 Food Standards Agency investigation found a similar picture across a range of takeaway meals, which alongside excessive levels of sugar, were also found to contain high levels of salt, food colouring and cheap meat.
Sugar is a cheap ingredient. Adding it to our food not only appeals to our sweet palates but helps manufacturers to reduce the overall cost of what would otherwise be a more expensive product.
Cooking your own food from fresh ingredients may take a little time, but at least you know what has gone into it, and if you cook your own food regularly and use good quality, natural ingredients you will significantly reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and other chronic conditions caused by eating bad food.
This is the fourth of my recipes created for the Suma Wholefoods Cooperative. For each of these recipes I choose a selection of ingredients from the extensive range of organic, ethically sourced products from Suma Wholefoods, which Suma provide to me free of charge, and I then create a recipe using those ingredients.
There is no processed sugar in this dish, the overall balance being achieved by the natural sweetness of dates enhanced with a little natural organic maple syrup.
For a vegan version, substitute 75 g of melted extra virgin coconut oil for the butter in the pastry, and add a little water instead of the egg to make the dough pliable (but do not refrigerate as the coconut oil will set, making it very difficult to roll the pastry) Similarly, substitute an equivalent weight of coconut oil for the butter in making the caramel for the filling.
Pumpkin seed, cranberry and nut tartlets
for the pastry
150 g plain organic flour
75 g organic butter, cut into small cubes (use 75 g melted coconut butter for vegan version)
1 free range organic egg
pinch sea salt
for the filling
60 g pecan kernels, broken into smaller pieces
60 g hazelnut kernels
40 g pistachio kernels
30 g dried pumpkin seeds
30 g pine nut kernels
50 g dried cranberries
75 g organic butter (or 75 g coconut butter for vegan version)
75 g organic almond butter
40 g fresh dates, pitted and finely chopped
30 ml maple syrup
1 tsp organic vanilla essence
pinch sea salt
1. Preheat the oven to 190 C (375 F, gas mark 5).
2. For the pastry, place the flour, butter and salt in the bowl of a food mixer and process until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg and process again until you have a pliable dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Place the hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts and pumpkin seeds on a shallow baking tray and spread them out thinly. Place in the preheated oven for 8 minutes, or until the nuts and seeds are lightly toasted. Keep checking to make sure they don’t burn, and give the baking tray a shake each time to toast the nuts and seeds evenly. Remove from the oven and tip into a cold bowl. Leave to cool.
4. Grease six individual flan tins. Retrieve the pastry from the fridge and roll it out to a thickness of about 3mm. Line each tin carefully with the pastry and trim it to leave an overhang of about 1 cm. (Any unused pastry can be frozen at this stage for use in the future). Prick the base and sides with a fork and line the pastry in each flan tin with baking parchment and baking stones, rice or beans. Bake blind in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave to cool slightly and then remove the parchment and baking stones. The edges of each tart will have shrunk slightly, but now you can trim them neatly to the height of the flan dishes with a sharp knife.
5. Place the almond butter, butter, maple syrup, vanilla essence, dates and sea salt in a pan over a low heat. Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook for a further two minutes, stirring. Remove from the heat and add the cranberries and the toasted nuts and pumpkin seeds to the pan and stir, making sure all the nuts, seeds and cranberries come into contact with the caramel mixture. Carefully distribute this mixture between the six tart pastry cases. Leave to cool then place in the fridge until set. To eat the tartlets warm, place them back in a moderate oven for 3-4 minutes.