The British Medical Journal recently published a study carried out by the French Sorbonne University and Brazil’s University of Sao Paolo.
The study followed a cohort of nearly 105,000 people over a five year period, measuring their consumption of what the researchers called “ultra processed foods” (included in this category are foods such as sugary cereals, ready meals, chicken nuggets, pot noodles, pizza, sliced bread, crisps, biscuits, cakes and sweets).
The findings of the study suggest that an increase of 10% in the proportion of these “ultra processed foods” consumed led to an increase in detected cancers of 12%.
Although this research is by no means definitive, it would support the intuitive sense that processed foods are really not very good for us. We know, for example, that they often contain high levels of salt and sugar as well as preservatives and artificial colourings and flavourings. We also know that these foods can can lead to weight gain and obesity, which is itself a major cancer risk factor.
If you do get tempted by a ready meal or some other “ultra-processed food” it might be a good idea to at least check what it contains (by law in the UK and the wider EU the ingredients must be listed): this will give you a fair idea of how much salt, sugar and other additives it contains.
But better, surely, is wholesome home-cooked food. It at least allows us to be far more sure about what is going in to the meals we eat.
And home cooked food can be fun. Take this recipe, for example, for a hearty vegetarian comfort food dish.
The body of these delicious savoury cakes is based upon the Scottish classic rumbledethumps, itself a variant of the English bubble and squeak. The addition of a sesame and semolina crust makes them simply sublime.
sesame crusted cabbage and potato cakes
1 onion, finely chopped
700 g organic potatoes, peeled and quartered
½ savoy cabbage, approx 350 g, tough stems removed, thinly sliced
6 spring onions, white and green parts, finely chopped
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
120 g vegetarian Cheddar cheese, grated
1 egg, whisked
50 g cornflour
50 g sesame seeds
50 g semolina
groundnut or olive oil, for frying
1. Cover the potatoes with water and boil for 20 minutes or until soft. Drain through a colander and return very briefly to the pan, stirring to dry out the potatoes. Use a masher or potato ricer to mash the potatoes. Place in a bowl and mix in the 40 ml olive oil.
2. Pour 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large frying pan or wok and place over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent. Add the cabbage and cook, stirring, for a further 7-8 minutes or until the cabbage is wilted and soft. Tip the onion and cabbage into the bowl of mashed potato.
3. Add the salt, spring onions and grated cheese to the mixture and combine well. Divide into eight and shape each of the eight pieces into a disk-shaped cake.
4. Mix together the sesame seeds and semolina in a bowl and place this bowl next to a second bowl containing the whisked egg and a third bowl containing the cornflour. Taking one cake at a time, dip each of them into the cornflour, ensuring it is fully coated, then dip into the whisked egg and finally into sesame and semolina mix, again making sure it is fully coated.
5. Once you have completed all eight cakes, place a large pan with oil to a depth of 1 cm over a medium heat. Once the oil is hot, carefully place the cakes in the oil. Depending on the size of your pan you may need to do this in batches. Cook the cakes for 3-4 minutes per side, being careful not to burn the sesame seeds which should end up a lovely brown colour. Drain the cakes briefly on kitchen paper before serving.