Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Healthy Eating Con

It must be a good year or so since I last featured my friend, Laura, in my blog, so high time she got into the limelight once again.

She always pretends to be embarrassed by it, but I think she secretly loves the fame. Anyway, as on previous occasions, it was a chance comment in a conversation between us that led to the inspiration for this blog entry.

It was a fairly ordinary Tuesday morning in the streets of our small market town. I had dropped the kids off at school and gone for my usual early morning preamble around the supermarkets of Bicester. As always, I was in search of bargains, as befits my value-seeking persona in these austerity driven times. Therefore I was delighted to discover on perusing the crisps and snacks fixture (my favourite) in Poundland, that they had got some Marmite crisps back in stock. Here they are!

Sainsbury sell these at £1.79 for a six pack. Poundland on the other hand offers an 8 pack. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that they cost a pound, even though every time I take my mum in there she asks me "how much are these?" Sorry, mum. Anyway, that's a unit price of 12.5p per pack, a saving of over 50% on the Sainsbury price and well within the parameters set by myself for a crisp value purchase.

I grabbed two packs before they all went as they are like gold dust - there won't be any there tomorrow, for sure. Such was my excitement that on walking down the High Street and spotting Laura and a couple of other friends outside Costa Coffee, I felt duty bound to totally interrupt their conversation and to tell them the good news.

The last time I did this was on that glorious Spring day earlier this year when a happy mix up with a Sainsbury multi-buy offer led to me coming away with a backpack full of free ham. Happy days.

Anyway, on discussing my good fortune with Laura, we got on to the subject of flavour. Laura's just had a food parcel sent in from the States containing some Cheetos, amongst other things. She remarked that the flavour hit was amazing. This corresponds with my own memories of visiting the USA, as well as other countries. The crisps in Australia and New Zealand are to die for! Which you probably would if you ate as many as I do without taking your blood pressure tablets.

I then got to thinking about crisps here. Over the years we've had constant healthy eating "improvements" made to our crisps, such as:

"Now with 25% less salt than in 2010".
"No Hydrogenated Fats"
"OLEIC" - whatever that is.

I can't help wondering what effect these changes have had on flavour. They claim "Same great taste" but I have my doubts. I am sure crisps don't taste as nice as they did when I am a kid. Of course this could be because when I was kid it was all new and exciting and I didn't get them very often so it was more of a treat, but there's no real way of knowing. Sadly, I don't have a Tardis or a Time Bubble so I can't go back and find out but I'd be willing to stake money that if you lined up a packet of Walkers Smoky Bacon crisps from 1974 with one from 2014, the 1974 vintage would win hands down.

My research into this subject suggests that the more popular and bigger the brand, the more likely they are to have been "improved". Indeed I bought some cheap and cheerful Smoky Bacon crisps from Lidl or somewhere the other day, and they were full of flavour - absolutely bursting with it. No mention of fancy oils or salt reductions on these.

Wotsits are another case in point. I used to love these, especially when you got a packet where they were literally covered in that orange powdery stuff. Sometimes there were even rich salty lumps of it in the bottom of the packet. In those days you had to make sure you washed your hands before you touched anything. I'm sure you've all heard the joke about the teenage boy with the orange willy - I won't go into details but I am sure you can work it out. Anyway, modern Wotsits are very disappointing on that front. Fortunately Aldi do a very nice and flavoursome alternative, or there's always Crusti Croc cheese balls from Lidl.

Anyway, my point is, less salt, less fat = less flavour. The supermarkets are full of it. It's healthy eating this, low fat that, wherever you look. Many products even have 3 levels - so you can get your standard Heinz Salad Cream, or Lighter, or Lightest. All of this is to designed to make people think they are making healthier choices, but in reality if you look at the labels there is not that much difference. Pick up a yogurt and you might find it's got 138 calories per pot. Pick up the low fat version and you'll find it's got something like 124 calories. Are those 16 calories going to make that much difference? Probably not I would say, as if you look around the supermarket you'll see it's all the lardy, obese types (i.e. most of us, including myself) buying this stuff. And they don't taste anything like as good as the full fat version. Oh, and they often cost more. It's all a big con.

10% less calories for 50% less flavour? No thanks, I know which I'd rather choose.

And on that note it's time for breakfast. Normally I have Marmite on toast, but thanks to my new crisp acquisition, I don't even need to waste time with the toaster. Happy eating.

Jason Ayres has just released his latest novel, Global Cooling. You can find it on Amazon by clicking here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Global-Cooling-Time-Bubble-Book-ebook/dp/B00OTTETV4/

Also available from Jason Ayres:

The Time Bubble
The Sausage Man
Austerity Dad
Fortysomething Father

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