Food for function or pleasure

Food for function or pleasure for me is a non-starter; you can have your cake and eat it, figuratively speaking, of course.

Reading prodigiously about food as I do, it would seem that in the eyes of many you have to choose between nosh that is good for you, and that which brings pleasure to the taste buds; you simply can't have your cake and eat it.

Bread, cheese and honey.

That is a tough call, if you believe it, but honestly it simply isn't true. Partial re-education of what is sometimes called the trigeminal experience, the nerve that brings much of the sensation from the mouth to the brain, may be called for, but functional food really can bring you great pleasure too.

I would take it a step further than the mouth actually. Our food should also bring pleasure to the whole of the alimentary canal. If it tastes great but brings you awful indigestion in the middle of the night, or rabbit pellets in the stool, then perhaps it's time for a rethink.

What are functional foods?

Loosely speaking, functional foods promote our well-being and help prevent disease. Does a strawberry not taste wonderful and also help prevent you going blind? Will munching a slice of real bread and butter, with no need for jams and jellies, ham and sausage, not only bring a marvellous trigeminal experience, but also ameliorate that awful constipation?

Fresh from the oven, real bread made from 100% flour, brings all the benefits of the germ and bran; especially when prefermented using the sourdough method, it brings real pleasure to any meal.

A lentil potage not only brings a rich source of vegetable protein to the table, but prepared with onions and peppers, cumin and carrots it fully satisfies our demand for function and pleasure; it tastes simply divine.

Controversies and pitfalls

There is nothing simple about food for function and pleasure and you'll come across many opinions, some based on fact but others entirely fictitious, that will confuse and contradict everything you believe. Controversies and pitfalls lie in wait for every lover of a good dinner. Here are a few that may confound you.

Is a meal high in fat but low in starch the way to lose weight? All the ketogenic people think so.

Should we absolutely avoid wholemeal bread and avocados because they are high in an 'anti-nutrient' called an oxalate? Or is that only for those suffering from kidney disease?

Is gluten appalling for the tight junctions of the bowel and can only contribute to pain and inflammation in the body? There are some reports that nearly a third of Americans believe so and are limiting this protein found in wheat.

Will honey and fructose corn syrup absolutely make you fat and diabetic, satisfying your pleasure, but totally disregarding function? Are they better or worse for us, or just the same as sugar?

These are all challenging thoughts. Pilgrim's Progress was beset by Difficulty Hill and the Valley of the Shadow of Death; ours is little different.

The whole grain controversy

Champagne Valley so-called wholemeal flour.

There is strong research indicating that those who regularly enjoy whole grains are far more healthy. The problem is that they are often difficult to get and they take longer to cook.

Worse, there is a big fat lie that makes virtually all commercial bread, rolls and pasta appear to be a whole grain, but they aren't. One would confidently assume that the flour in the photograph above from Champagne Valley in South Africa contains 100% of the grain, but it doesn't. By international law they may remove up to 40 percent of the goodies and still label it wholemeal. Most of the fat, the protein and the vitamin E in the germ, and some of the bran have been removed; they would go rancid long before four months.

There are two strong movements worldwide that recommend you avoid wholegrain flour products; one because of the so-called antinutrients and the other owing to the gluten it contains.

So, do you go for real bread, made with sourdough, full of "anti-nutrients" and gluten, or do you choose a refined multigrain commercial loaf?

Obesity

Obesity kills twice as many people as starvation and, since the pandemic, it is probably three times; the virus is targeting those with chronically raised blood glucose.

Ever since Ancel Keys cherry-picked the data in his Seven Countries Study resulting in Americans changing from a diet high in meat, dairy and eggs to one containing huge amounts of refined carbohydrate, obesity has grown in leaps and bounds, and along with it diabetes and insulin resistance.

The subject remains hugely controversial[1] but in choosing food for function or pleasure you can expect to be nonplussed. Even the experts are confused.

Personally I find myself poised between the two extremes, supporting neither a diet high in animal products and low in all starches, but rather enjoying whole foods for satiety, which would be rich in avocados and olives, for example, and also containing many legumes and whole grains.

In my book, it's the refined carbs that are the devil.

That alas means completely avoiding commercial loaves, cakes and cookies. Turn instead to baking your own low GI bread at home; the great difficulty to be faced is acquiring 100% wholemeal flour. Your own wheat grinder is the only solution unless you are lucky enough to have a local miller.

Anti-nutrients

It is certainly true that anti-nutrients like oxalate, phytates and lectins reduce the absorption of certain minerals like iron and calcium. They are found mainly in fruits, vegetables and grains; and nuts too. But interestingly vegetarians are no more prone to osteoporosis and anaemia than the omnivores amongst us.

These foods are much richer in the minerals that the anti-nutrients inhibit. Just compare the calcium in 100% meal with that in cake flour.

Foods rich in these substances are overwhelmingly important for function, but also for pleasure. What tastes better than a half a dozen freshly cracked nuts, or a plateful of blueberries?

There is a prominent cardiologist who makes a very strong case against anti-nutrients, but then utterly spoils his case by saying you can buy his supplement; don't be fooled.

You can have your cake and eat it; there is in my book no strong case against anti-nutrients in the discussion of food for function or pleasure.

gluten

There is no doubt whatsoever that there is a small group of people, less than 1%, of people who cannot tolerate gluten even in small quantities; it causes a very serious disease called coeliac sprue.

Yet reading the media it would seem that many would have us all avoid foods that contain the protein in flour called gluten; it gives bread its unique properties.

Read more about its structure and function at this meaning of gluten page.

Interestingly, and importantly, you can give this whole controversy the miss by simply baking your own sourdough bread. A bacterial culture that you grow in your own kitchen acts as a preferment, digesting the gluten even before it reaches the small intestine.

It is a terrible mistake for the majority to choose gluten-free products, opting instead for highly refined grains. There's a whole industry out there waiting to dupe you.

I bake and sell sourdough bread. Can I let you into a little secret? There's a massive markup, nearly nine times. Bake it yourself; it takes me only five minutes every day. The taste is simply divine, fulfilling all the criteria of food for function or pleasure.

Foaming sourdough starter.

Food for function or pleasure

Food for function or pleasure should not really be up for discussion.


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  1. Insulin resistance @ The Pharmaceutical Journal.

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