The past decade has witnessed a rise of almost 25% in the number of children in England being admitted to hospital to have decaying teeth extracted.
To make matters worse, increasing numbers of our children are officially obese by the time they leave primary school (this figure now stands at 20%).
If nothing else does, these startling facts should cause us to examine closely what our children are consuming.
It is surely no coincidence that British children drink more Coke and other sugary soft drinks than anywhere else in Europe. Nor is the fact that sugary breakfast cereals are the typical start to the day for most British kids.
80% of the food on our supermarket shelves didn’t exist a century ago. So much of that food is highly processed, with sugar so often an inconspicuous but deadly ingredient. Our bodies simply haven’t evolved quickly enough to cope with it, fuelling the inexorable rise in obesity, tooth decay and Type 2 diabetes (a condition which a century ago was a relatively rare condition but now costs the UK’s National Health Service £4.2 billion per year to treat).
The recent decision by health officials in Liverpool to “name and shame” the worst offending cereals is a modest but welcome initiative (for the record, top of the list of cereals with alarming levels of sugar are Frosties, Coco Pops, Coco Shreddies, Cheerios, Weetos, Krave, Rice Krispies and Cookie Crisp).
But it also reveals inertia at the top: parents need to be encouraged and even cajoled into making better, nutritionally sensible decisions about the food they feed their children. Our dental and health services are crying out for decisive government intervention to help turn this tide of ill health caused by bad diet.
It is time for unhealthy foods to be treated in exactly the same way as alcohol and tobacco, and for the same reason: they all damage our health and put huge strain on our health services. Taxing “bad” food will encourage new patterns of consumer behaviour, especially if the money raised is used to subsidise healthy foods, making it easier for parents to make the right decisions for their children and helping to nurture a generation which can fulfill its potential to be active, healthy and flourishing members of society.
On to the recipe
So many take-away and ready-meal curries include added sugar, when there is absolutely no justification for it. Making your own is more healthy and, for me, is also a very satisfying process.
This example is a lovely home-made curry with perfectly matched flavours. Paneer is a simple Indian cheese, stocked by Asian stores and also most supermarkets, which responds well to cooking.
I sometimes serve this with plain rice alongside another of my favourite dishes, chickpea curry, also known as chole.
cauliflower, pea and paneer curry
1 small cauliflower, broken into approximately 3 cm florets
400 g paneer, cut into 1 cm cubes
250 g peas (fresh or frozen)
1 onion, peeled and chopped
5 cm piece on ginger, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 red chillies, seeds in, chopped
1 400 g can organic chopped tomatoes
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp garam masala
2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
2 tbsp groundnut oil, plus extra for deep frying
1. Fill a wok or deep saucepan with groundnut oil to a depth of around 5 cm and place over a high heat. When the oil is hot, reduce the temperature slightly and carefully add the paneer cubes, using a slotted spoon. You will need to cook the paneer cubes in two batches to avoid crowding the pan. Be careful as the paneer may spit in the hot oil. Stir the paneer for 3-4 minutes until it is lightly browned on all sides. Remove with the slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Set to one side.
2. Use a blender or a pestle and mortar to blend the garlic, chilli and ginger into a paste.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons of groundnut oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds. They will sizzle and start to brown. After thirty seconds add the onions and cook, stirring for five minutes or until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the cauliflower florets, turmeric, ground coriander and salt then add the chilli, garlic and ginger paste and stir for another minute. Add the chopped tomato and 200 ml fresh water, followed by the peas and the paneer cubes. Stir and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low. Place a lid over the saucepan and leave to cook for 15 minutes, checking and stirring periodically.
4. Add the chopped coriander and stir. Cook for another 2 minutes then remove from the heat. Serve hot, accompanied by basmati rice or Indian flatbreads.