In defence of fat
Saskia asks: Why do fatty foods taste so yummy?
Wynnie says: People often find low-fat or fat-free versions of their favourite foods are disappointing imitations of the original, despite what the label promises. This is not psychological: removing fat from food usually changes its texture, aroma and taste.
For years, scientists have thought that fat doesn't have any taste at all but merely acts as a carrier for flavours. Researchers have argued hat there are only four basic food tastes, sour, sweet, salty and bitter, with an additional umami or savoury taste found in protein-rich foods such as cheese and meat.
But a team of French scientists disputes this theory. They have discovered that mice have a taste bud that responds to fat. As soon as mice taste fat, they release fat-digesting enzymes and increase the absorption of fat from their gut. Mice that have had their fat sensors modified show no preference for fat at all.
The researchers suggest that humans, whose sense of taste works in almost exactly the same way as that of mice, almost certainly have the same taste bud. They argue that, from an evolutionary point of view, having taste buds that sense fat is a big plus, because it makes animals crave and eat fatty, energy-dense foods which can be stored away and utilised in times of need.
Although fatty foods do taste good, we should eat only moderate amounts - they shouldn't be banned from your diet altogether.
And low-fat foods aren't always a good alternative to the real thing. Recent research from Cornell University in the US showed that people eat an average of 28 per cent more calories when they choose low-fat snacks over regular ones. People often feel less guilty about eating low-fat foods, so they tend to overindulge, even if they don't like the taste as much as that of the regular versions.
The bottom line is that it's better to stick with the regular versions of your favourite fatty treats, but eat less often.
Try these festive cupcakes as an indulgent treat
150g dried figs, roughly chopped
125g pitted prunes, roughly chopped
zest half lime
80ml orange juice
125g butter or margarine
120g muscovado sugar
160g self-raising flour
25g good quality cocoa powder
125g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
Makes 12 cupcakes
1 Combine the dried fruits, lime zest and orange juice and leave overnight.
2 Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with paper cases.
3 Cream the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl, then beat in the eggs one by one. You can also do this in a food processor.
4 Add the flour and cocoa powder, then stir in the chocolate and mixed fruit.
Spoon the mixture into the cases.
5 Bake for 30-40 minutes. Insert a skewer in the centre of a cupcake to test if it's cooked - if it comes out clean, it's ready.
6 Leave to cool in the pan.
Breakfast: Honey toast; water
Snack: Apple, crips; water
Lunch: Strawberries, grapes, ham and cheese sandwich, a cookie; water
Snack: Fruit salad, chocolate cupcake; water
Dinner: Meat and vegetables, fruit ice; water
Exercise: Swimming, fitness training, trampolining, tae kwon do and running once a week
Wynnie Chan is a British-trained nutritionist. If you've got a question for her or would like to be featured in this column, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org