Obesity is rising at an alarming rate

As we ease our way gently into 2005 and ponder New Year resolutions, it’s a good time to reflect on a fast growing pan-European epidemic that is already affecting our lives. 
Obesity is rising at an alarming rate, not only in Europe but also in every other ‘developed’ country in the world. Already obesity accounts for 2,500 deaths in Ireland every year, according to the Slán Report 2003. One in eight Irish people are obese and every second person is overweight. Rather than diminishing, the epidemic is expected to continue to rise. 
Obesity in Europe as a whole is five times more common now than it was after the second world war, and statistics indicate that the number of obese is doubling every 10 years and becoming increasingly prevalent among younger people with as many as 1 in 4 affected in some countries. At least 135 million EU citizens are affected and an estimated 70 million more in the countries seeking to join. 
A parallel increase in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes has occurred. Although there are powerful genetic factors in some cases, the overwhelming influence for 99% of the population is environmental. It is no longer acceptable to blame the individual for their obesity, the causes are clearly societal.
Virtually every government in Europe is beginning to galvanise itself into action as their citizens become increasingly aware of the health consequences and costs to society arising from inappropriate diets and lack of physical exercise. The costs are at least on a par with those of tobacco and are of concern to all Finance Ministers.
The reasons are many and diverse but my gut feeling is that the principal cause is the way the majority of our food is being produced, which has resulted in an abundance of ‘cheap food’, lacking in flavour, often less complex nutritionally and therefore less satisfying and health giving.
This is infinitely more serious and difficult to tackle because of the agricultural policies which encourage maximum production at minimum cost. It is universally recognised that obesity is primarily diet induced, the result of a sustained excess of energy-dense food, high in fat and refined carbohydrates, as well as an insufficient intake of vegetables and fruit. Constant snacking has become a way of life, particularly in urban areas. This problem is exacerbated by increasingly sedentary lifestyles and changing environments which in reality curtail and discourage physical activity. However, physical inactivity alone does not explain the epidemic – there’s a bit of the jigsaw missing. 
At present, huge business interests are involved in both promoting sedentary behaviour and the passive over-consumption of food. Analysis of marketing strategies clearly shows a targeting of the young, particularly pre-school children, to establish brand preference of energy-dense food and drinks. Companies also lobby governments intensively and understandably feel under threat by proposals to hold them accountable, which may threaten their profits. 
This coincides with fewer people being able to cook which results in a growing reliance and dependence on convenience food.

What to do?
It is clear that there is a global epidemic on a scale which health services will be unable to cope with, the costs to us as tax payers and society in general is inestimable. Already it is estimated that 8% of overall health budgets in the EU is spent on obesity related problems, the most significant of which include hypertension, type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease, certain types of cancer, and psycho-social problems. Obesity also increases the risk of dyslipidaemia, insulin resistance, breathlessness, sleep apnoea, asthma, osteo-arthritis, hyperuricaemia and gout, reproductive hormone abnormalities, polycystic ovarian syndrome, impaired fertility and lower back pain.
Time for action. Former Health Minister Michael Martin set up a Task Force in February 2004 – its time for radical thinking.
Education is a key factor.
1. Maternal nutrition has a major impact on the unborn child.
2. Breast feeding reduces the risk of obesity (Scandinavian countries have demonstrated how to dramatically increase breast feeding rates.)
3. Marketing of fast foods and sugar laden drinks, particularly to children, needs to be banned, or at least curtailed.
4. Vending machines selling soft drinks and fast food and confectionery should be banned in schools.
5. Teaching adults and children cooking skills should be a priority.
6. Fast food outlets should be required to supply comprehensive food and meat labelling.
7. Follow the Finnish approach which trebled national vegetable consumption over a 20- year period.
8. Encourage organic food production on a larger scale, develop local food links.
9. There is a dramatic reduction in the number of adults walking or cycling to school or work for a variety of obvious reasons. A network of cycle tracks and foot paths in tandem with a public awareness campaign, would provide enormous benefits. Both school and workplace would need to provide facilities. Pioneering work in these areas has also been done in Scandinavia, Spain and the Netherlands. 
10. Last, but not least, do an ad campaign to show how dumb and uncool it is to shove any kind of old rubbish into yourself, after all, in the worlds of Lady Eve Balfour ‘Our food should be our medicine’. So perhaps its time for the Departments pf Agriculture and Health to work hand in hand for the sake of the health of the nation. Clever television and bill board advertising to make people connect the food they eat with how they feel – ‘If you are what you eat I’m fast and cheap’ – a slogan seen on the T-shirt of a very large lady.

Ballymaloe Nut and Grain Muesli

This muesli bursting with goodness keeps in a screw top jar for several weeks. Measure the ingredients in cups for speed.
Serves 12

8 Weetabix
7 ozs (200g/2 cups) oatmeal (Quaker oats or Speedicook oatflakes)
1½ ozs (45g/½ cup) bran
2¼ ozs (62g/¾ cup) fresh wheatgerm
2¼ ozs (62g/½ cup) raisins
2½ ozs (62g/½ cup) sliced hazelnuts or a mixture of cashews and hazelnuts 
2½ ozs (62g/½ cup) soft brown sugar - Barbados sugar
2 tablesp. (2 American tablesp. + 2 teasp.) Lecithin* - optional

Crumble Weetabix in a bowl, add the other ingredients and mix well. Store in an airtight container. Keeps for 2-3 weeks in a cool place.
Serve with fresh fruit and fresh creamy milk.
*Available from Chemist or Health food shops - Lecithin comes from soya beans, it is rich in phosphatidyl Choline - an important nutrient in the control of dietary fat, it helps the body to convert fats into energy rather than storing them as body fat.
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Cruditees with Garlic Mayonnaise 

Cruditees with Aoili is one of my favourite starters. It fulfills all my criteria for a first course: small helpings of very crisp vegetables with a good garlicky home-made Mayonnaise. The plates of Cruditees look tempting, taste delicious and, provided you keep the helpings small, are not too filling. Better still, it’s actually good for you - so you can feel very virtuous instead of feeling pangs of guilt!
Another great plus for this recipe I’ve discovered is that children love Cruditees. They even love Aoili provided they don’t hear some grown up saying how much they dislike garlic, and you can feel happy to see your children polishing off plates of raw vegetables for their supper, really quick to prepare and full of wonderful vitamins and minerals. 
Cruditees are a perfect first course for Winter or Summer, but to be really delicious one must choose very crisp and fresh vegetables. Cut the vegetables into bite-sized bits so they can be picked up easily. You don’t need knives and forks because they are usually eaten with fingers. 

Use as many of the following vegetables as are in season:
Very fresh button mushrooms, quartered
Tomatoes quartered, or let whole with the calyx on if they are freshly picked
Purple sprouting broccoli, broken (not cut) into florettes
Calabrese (green sprouting broccoli), broken into florettes
Cauliflower, broken into florettes
French beans or mange tout
Baby carrots, or larger carrots cut into sticks 5 cm/2 inches long, approx.
Cucumber, cut into sticks 5 cm/2 inches long approx.
Tiny spring onions, trimmed
Red cabbage, cut into strips
Celery, cut into sticks 5 cm/2 inches long approx.
Chicory, in leaves
Red, green or yellow pepper, cut into strips 5 cm/2 inches long approx., seeds removed
Very fresh Brussels sprouts, cut into halves or quarters
Whole radishes, with green tops left on
Parsley, finely chopped
Thyme, finely chopped
Chives, finely chopped
Sprigs of watercress

A typical plate of Cruditees might include the following: 4 sticks of carrot, 2 or 3 sticks of red and green pepper, 2 or 3 sticks of celery, 2 or 3 sticks of cucumber, 1 mushroom cut in quarters, 1 whole radish with a little green leaf left on, 1 tiny tomato or 2 quarters, 1 Brussels sprout cut in quarters, and a little pile of chopped fresh herbs.
Wash and prepare the vegetables. Arrange on individual white side plates in contrasting colours, with a little bowl of aoili in the centre. Alternatively, do a large dish or basket for the centre of the table. Arrange little heaps of each vegetable in contrasting colours. Put a bowl of aoili in the centre and then guests can help themselves. 
Instead of serving the aoili in a bowl one could make an edible container by cutting a slice off the top of a tomato and hollowing out the seeds. Alternatively, cut a 4 cm/1½ inch round of cucumber and hollow out the centre with a melon baller or a teaspoon. Then fill or pipe the aoili into the tomato or cucumber. Arrange the centre of the plate of Cruditees.
Note: All vegetables must be raw.

Aoili

To your basic mayonnaise add the following.
1-4 clove of garlic, depending on size
2 teaspoons chopped parsley

Crush the garlic and add to the egg yolks just as you start to make the Mayonnaise. Finally add the chopped parsley and taste for seasoning.

Black-eyed Bean and Chick Pea Stew

Serves 6
½ lb (225g) dried black-eyed beans
½ lb (225g) chick peas
½ lb (225g) fresh mushrooms
6 tablespoons sunflower or arachide oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 inch (2.5 cm) piece of cinnamon stick 
5 oz (140g) onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
14 oz (400g) fresh or tinned tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
pinch of sugar
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 good teaspooon salt (it needs it, so don’t cut down)
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons freshly chopped coriander (fresh parsley may be subsituted though the flavour is not at all the same)
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves

Accompaniment
Steamed Rice – see recipe

Soak the beans and chick peas separately, in plenty of cold water overnight. Next day cover each with fresh water, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 - 45 minutes approx or until just cooked.
Cut the mushrooms intoc inch (3 mm) thick slices. Heat the oil in a sauté pan over a medium-high flame. When hot, put in the whole cumin seeds and the cinnamon stick. Let them sizzle for 5-6 seconds. Now put in the onions and garlic. Stir and fry until the onion is just beginning to colour at the edge. Put in the mushrooms. Stir and fry until the mushrooms wilt. Now put in the tomatoes, ground coriander, ground cumin, turmeric, pinch of sugar and cayenne. Stir and cook for a minute. Cover, and let this mixture cook on a gentle heat in its own juices for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat under the sauté pan. Drain the beans and chick peas, reserving the cooking liquid. Add to the mushroom base mixture, add salt and freshly ground pepper, 2 tablespoons of the fresh coriander and ¼ pint (150 ml) of bean cooking liquid and ¼ pt chick pea liquid.
Bring the beans and chick peas to boil again. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-20 minutes or until the beans and chick peas are tender. Stir occasionally. Remove the cinnamon stick before serving. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of fresh coriander and mint. 
Serve with steamed rice and a good green salad.

Steamed Rice

Serves 4-6
18 fl ozs (510ml/2¼ cups) Basmati rice 
18 fl ozs (510ml/2¼ cups) water
½-1 teaspoon salt 

Measure the rice in a measuring jug. Wash gently in 2 or 3 changes of cold water. The final water should almost be clear. Drain the rice well in a sieve or fine strainer then tip it into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add equal volume of water and the salt. Stir to mix. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to the absolute minimum, use a heat diffuser mat if available. Cover with a tight fitting lid - no steam must escape (use tin foil under the lid if necessary). 
Steam the rice for 15-20 minutes, take off the heat and rest for 5 minutes. The rice will now be dry and fluffy but will keep warm for up to 30 minutes. 

Citrus fruit Salad

In the winter when many fruits have abysmal flavour the citrus fruit are at their best, this delicious fresh tasting salad uses a wide variety of that ever expanding family. Its particularly good with blood oranges which appear in the shops for only a few weeks, so make the most of them. Ugli fruit, Pomelo, Tangelos, Sweeties or any other members of the citrus family may be used in season.
Serves 6 approx.

½lb (225g) Kumquats
12 fl ozs (350ml) water
7 ozs (200g) sugar
1 lime
½ lb (225g) Clementines
¼-½ lb (110g-225g) Tangerines or Mandarins
2 blood oranges
1 pink grapefruit
lemon juice to taste if necessary

Slice the kumquats into ¼ inch (5mm) rounds, remove pips. Dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat, add the sliced kumquats. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until tender. Remove from the heat. Allow to cool. Remove the zest from the lime with a zester and add with the juice to the kumquats. Meanwhile peel the tangerines and clementines and remove as much of the white pith and strings as possible. Slice into rounds of ¼ inch (5mm) thickness, add to the syrup. Segment the pink grapefruit and blood oranges and add to the syrup also. Leave to macerate for at least an hour. Taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice if necessary. Serve chilled. 

Foolproof Food

Apple and Raisin Squares

These would make a delicious lunch box treat
8 ozs (225 g) self raising flour
8 ozs (225 g) oats
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
8 ozs (225 g) butter
8 ozs (225 g) sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
2 eating apples
4 ozs (110 g) raisins

Mix the flour, oats and bicarbonate of soda together. Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup together over a gentle heat and add. Line a tin with greaseproof paper. Press half the mixture into a lightly greased 92 inch square tin. Peel, core and chop the apple finely, mix with the raisins and sprinkle over, then spread the remaining oat mixture on top. 
Bake for 30 minutes 180C/350F/regulo 4, leave to cool for 5 minutes, cut into squares and transfer to a wire rack.
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Hot Tips

If you would like to improve your cooking skills watch out for the night classes starting in your local community college or school. 

An Grianan Adult Education College in Termonfeckin, near Drogheda, Co Louth, runs cooking classes taught by Marie McGuirk, as well of lots of other courses – a wonderful break. Tel. 041-9822119 admin@an-grianan.ie  for details, www.ica.ie  

Good Things in Durrus – Carmel Somers will be starting classes again soon – Tel. 027-61426

Ballymaloe Cookery School – new brochure on line www.cookingisfun.ie  info@cookingisfun.ie  

Dunbrody Abbey Cookery Centre- Campile, Co Wexford. www.cookingireland.com  Tel 051-388933 theneptune@eircom.net  

Ghan House Cooking School, Carlingford, Co Louth – Tel 042-937 3682 ghanhouse@eircom.net  www.ghanhouse.com

The new Belle Isle School of Cookery  Lisbellaw, County Fermanagh  www.irishcookeryschool.com
  info@irishcookeryschool.com  

Island cottage John Desmond & Ellmary Fenton, Island Cottage, Heir Island, Skibbereen,
West Cork, Ireland Tel: (353) (28) 38102 

For specialist cooking schools, cooking holidays and tours all over the world check out The Shaw Guide to Cooking Schools www.shawguides.com
 
Essential travelling companions - Georgina Campbell Ireland – the Guide 2005 – the best places to eat, drink and stay. 
Bridgestone Irish Food Guides – best places to stay, best restaurants, best places to eat, shop and stay. www.bridgestoneguides.com  
The Dubliner 100 Best Restaurants 

Congratulations to Cully & Sully – on being runners up in the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards – stock up on some of their delicious ready meals.