The British Heart Foundation has launched a hard-hitting campaign which highlights the fact that a child consuming a packet of crisps a day will down a full 5 litres of cooking oil over the course of a year. I’m all for the idea of highlighting the hazards of processed foods, but I have a couple of issues with this particular advertising campaign.
For a start, totting up the total amount of any foodstuff consumed in a year is, in my opinion, a cheap ploy. After all, small amounts of a foodstuff had regularly are unlikely to have the same effect in the body as a much larger amount of that foodstuff had more quickly. Accompanying the campaign with an image of a child glugging cooking oil from a bottle is, in my opinion, sensationalist. What next, a poster of someone dying from the effects of drinking all of the water they would consume in a year in one go?
My other major issue with the campaign relates to the cooking oil itself. Most cooking oils (e.g. sunflower oil) are rich in type of ‘polyunsaturated’ fat known as omega-6 fat. An excess of omega-6 fat does have effects in the body which are likely to increase the risk of heart disease. Full marks, therefore, to the BHF for alluding to this fact. However, on the BHF website is to be found a e-booklet entitled ‘Eating for your heart’ which advises cutting down on saturated fats and replacing them with ‘small amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Omega-3 fats are good for your heart too.’ It seems from this that the BHF regards small amounts of omega-6 fat as healthy. This advice is not consistent with the BHF’s latest advertising campaign (unless, of course, you sensationalise the issue with scary statistics about yearly consumption and pictures of kids necking oil out of a bottle).
I’m not a fan of crisps as a food, but they are a lot better than many other snack foods. They are, for the most part, made from whole potato, rather than some refined grain-based rubbish most savoury snacks are based on. And, if you opt for ready salted and do a bit of label reading, you can miss out on a whole host of additives many other snacks contain.
The again, while ready-salted crisps are not the worst of snacks, they’re most certainly not the best either. A better option would be nuts – a sizeable proportion of this comes in the form of monounsaturated fat, which is widely recognised as protective for heart disease and stroke. Nuts are also a good source of fibre, magnesium and potassium ” also elements that are believed to have heart-healthy properties. In more than one study, nut-eating has been found to be associated with a substantially reduced risk of heart disease. Because heat has the potential to damage the fat in nuts, they are almost certainly best had in their raw form. However, even roasted, the evidence suggests that nuts represent a healthier alternative to crisps.
Another eminently healthy snack option is olives. Both black and green olives are naturally fatty fruits, though thankfully this is principally of the healthy monounsaturated type. Olives have also been found to contain antioxidant nutrients including oleuropein, luteolin and squalene. These compounds have the capacity to reduce damage in the body wielded by disease-provoking chemicals called free radicals, which may help provide protection from a range of undesirable conditions. Studies suggest that a diet rich in olive oil may help reduce the risk of not only heart disease, but certain forms of cancer including those of the breast and colon, too. While the science has focused on olive oil, the likelihood is that eating the whole fruit has similar benefits for the body.