Sunday, 9 October 2011

'Fat Food' taxes and nutrition

I have just been getting up to speed on the French and Danish governments new food taxes, and while you would think that as a nutritionist I would be saluting these moves, instead I am sighing loudly and muttering angrily to myself.  So, what’s going on?  The Danish government plan from October to start levying a tax on food high in saturated fats such as meats, cheese, butter edible plant oils, margarine and potato based snacks.  The French government plan to tax fizzy drinks (exempting zero calorie drinks) by increasing the price by 2-3 centimes per litre as well as rationing tomato ketchup (mon dieu!), mayonnaise and salt in school canteen. While I am 100% in favour of improving the nutritional quality of foods served in the school canteen, I do not believe that ‘Fat Food’ taxes necessarily help in improving the nutrition of the general public for a number of reasons:
1)     Good nutrition has to involve education, motivation and inspiration.  Like many others I was drawn to nutrition following a number of niggling health issues which were really helped by making dietary changes.  I feel encouraged to eat healthily because I know that I feel so much better when I follow a healthy diet.  A successful health initiative would have to work by making people ‘want’ to make healthier food choices. Slapping a few extra centimes on fizzy drinks, without supporting this initiative with thorough and detailed public health nutrition programmes is pointless.  The risk is two fold – families with budgetary constraints may continue to buy fizzy drinks at the expense of fresh vegetables for example while putting a premium or ‘devilising’ a particular food group, often makes it that much more attractive (alcohol and cigarettes springs to mind!). No one (including myself!) likes to do told what to do, and I think it is similar for foods, most people know what they should and should not eat, the issue is getting them to change their behaviour and make the right choices.   This is better achieved through education, support and encouragement rather than raising food prices.
2)     Who decides what is a healthy food, given that the information changes all the time?! Current research (which I whole heartedly agree with) links obesity more to the consumption of processed and highly refined, sugary foods, rather than saturated fats.  We need a small amount of saturated fats in our diet for body functions such as neuro-transmitter function and hormone regulation. We have absolutely no need of sugary and refined grains, so why isn’t the Danish government taxing these foods instead?  It’s also interesting that zero calorie drinks are not being taxed.  I have an intense dislike of any chemical artificial sweetners which in my personal opinion should not play any role in a healthy diet.
3)     The cynic in me wonders if the extra taxes levied really will be used to support farm workers in France as the French government has stated or whether it will disappear into government coffers.  The second cynic in me wonders if these two governments really will be able to drive through with these initiatives, or whether hard lobbying by vocal food groups will prevent these measures from being implemented. 
On va voir!!! 
Rant over now and wanted to leave you all with an easy and delicious recipe for roasted butternut soup now that that it feels like autumn is finally here!
Ravishing and roasty butternut soup
Heat oven to 200 degree.  Chop up one large or two small butternut squashes, remove seeds, but keep skin on.  Place on baking tray with 3 cloves of unpeeled garlic, drizzle over olive oil and bake in oven till brown and nicely roasted (approx 30-40 minutes depending on chunk size).  In the meantime chop and fry a large onion and a couple of celery sticks in a mix of olive oil and butter in large saucepan until soft (if you live in Denmark, might be cheaper to nip over the border to buy your fats!).  Once butternut is cooked, tip the whole contents of the baking tray into the saucepan though remember to squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skin first.  Pour over 700ml of vegetable stock and let it cook together for 20 mins.   You could also add a dash of sherry, or a couple of handfuls of butter or haricot beans.  Blend. Eat.  Enjoy!

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