ArchiveMay 26, 2007

The 5 tier Food Pyramid

Just last week the Irish Heart Foundation issued a press release ‘reaffirming the established position that consistently eating a wide variety of fresh foods including lots of fruit and vegetables, regular consumption of fish and wholegrain foods and eating less fat, sugar and salt is the best nutritional approach for remaining heart healthy and keeping a healthy weight.’

Nutritionists urge us to use the 5 tier Food Pyramid to plan healthy meals, yet confusion abounds. The pyramid has colour photos of many highly processed foods which surely gives a mixed message. This was brought home to me the other day when my ten year old niece Fiadh who is very ‘real food’ aware contacted me to ask why the Food Pyramid was encouraging people to eat lots of obviously processed food.

Layer 5- The layer at the base indicates the foods that we can tuck into free of guilt, like bread, cereals and potatoes. Sliced bread is scarcely a healthy option to encourage people to eat in volume, nor are bought breakfast cereals which invariably contain high levels of salt and sugar. Potatoes can indeed be a healthy option, its best to buy unwashed Irish potatoes rather than washed imported potatoes. Check that they haven’t been grown with excessive nitrogen which dilutes the flavour and affects the keeping time. 

Layer 4 - On the green layer there are fruit and vegetables. When possible, buy organic produce. Fresh fruit and lots of vegetables are indisputably good for us but again there’s not much point in buying lots of jet lagged produce that has flown half way round the world and has residues of pesticides and herbicides. Freshly squeezed orange juice takes seconds to make and delivers infinitely more vitamins and minerals than the pasteurized concentrate sold in bottles and tetra packs.

Layer 3- The middle layer has milk, cheese and yogurt. We are urged to go easy on dairy products, just 3 portions a day, I’m sure that’s good advice but it also depends on the quality of the milk, cheese and yoghurt. I am a great believer in the value of unpasteurised milk from a clean herd that is guaranteed TB and brucellosis free. I feel fortunate that I was reared on raw milk and we now have a Jersey cow that we milk for the family, so that the children and grandchildren can have access to raw milk. A growing number of people both here and in the US are demanding unpasteurised and non-homogenised milk. Check out the Campaign for real (raw) milk on the website of the Weston A. Price Foundation – There ought to be freedom of choice as there is in so many countries. In London I bought fresh milk in bottles in the Pimlico Market from a farmer from Devon. In the centre of Paris there’s always a queue at the stall at the Sunday Market in rue Raspail selling unpasteurised organic milk, cream, yoghurt and crème fraiche. Live yoghurt is indeed a wonder food but that can scarcely be said for most commercial yoghurt made from skim milk powder and artificial sweetener and syrupy fruit purees. Look out for Glenilen Yoghurt or Ardsallagh Goats Milk Yoghurt or make your own, even a child can make it.

Seek out unprocessed cheese, a valuable, nutritious and delicious addition to our diet. 

Layer 2 - On the next layer of the pyramid, are eggs, fresh fish particularly oily fish, eg mackerel (in season in July, August and September) and meat.

The Irish Heart Foundation wisely urges us to eat less meat, keep it lean and think a pack of cards when we are choosing portion size – 2 ozs meat and 3 ozs fish. They may be right but most Irish men would give a ‘quare look’ at that much meat put down in front of them.

Again the quality of the meat and fish really matters from the point of view of nutrition and flavour. I personally find excessively lean meat dull, dry and flavourless – I far prefer to eat meat less often and to choose an organic bird or joint with a nice covering of fat. 

There are also ‘eggs and eggs’. I’m thrilled that the number of people keeping a few hens in their garden again is growing steadily. The quality of the eggs laid by genuine free range hens fed on scraps and organic meal, is quite different. According to research done in UCC among other places, they are significantly lower in cholesterol than intensively produced eggs.

Beans and pulses are also magical food, high in complex carbohydrates, low in fat, rich in minerals and an inexpensive source of protein and fibre, they also have a low glycemic index. Baked beans in tomato sauce are definitely nutritious but contain significant quantities of sugar and salt.

Layer 1 - And so we arrive at the top layer of the pyramid where we are rightly advised to go easy on cakes, biccies and high sugar drinks and snacks. We are urged to use low fat spreads, vegetable oils and very little butter. Surely, good Irish butter is more natural than margarine and spreads which are highly processed and made with addition of emulsifiers and preservatives and a containing a higher level of trans fats.

And while we are on the subject, why is no Irish dairy farmer making organic butter or cream. I really feel strongly about buying Irish and local and resent having to buy organic butter from Denmark. After all, we have the natural resources to produce the best dairy products in the world in Ireland, we can grow grass like nowhere else in the world.

Bought biscuits similar to those in the photo contain a long list of ingredients one wouldn’t normally have in the kitchen cupboard – emulsifiers and stabilizers…they contain high amounts of sugar, and sometimes chemically hardened fat, why aren’t we encouraging people to bake their own simple biscuits with wholesome ingredients - try these delicious flapjacks.

Oatmeal Biscuits

These nutritious biscuits keep very well in a tin. Children love to munch them with a banana. Don't compromise - make them with butter, because the flavour is immeasurably better.
Makes 24-32

1 lb (450g) rolled oatmeal (porridge oats)
12 ozs (340g) butter
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla essence
8 ozs (225g) castor sugar

Swiss roll tin, 10 inches (25.5cm) x 15 inches (38cm)

Melt the butter, add the golden syrup and pure vanilla essence, stir in the castor sugar and oatmeal and mix well. Spread into a large Swiss roll tin and bake in a preheated moderate oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4, until golden and slightly caramelised - about 30 minutes. Cut into 24-32 squares while still warm.

Note: Make half the recipe if a 9 inch (23cm) x 13 inch (33cm) Swiss roll thin is used.

Chocolate Briskies
Cut the oatmeal biscuits into squares. When cool, dip diagonally into melted chocolate.

Coconut and Oatmeal Biscuits
Substitute ¾ oz of unsweetened desiccated coconut for 1 oz of oatmeal in the above recipe

Coconut and Chocolate or Raisin Biscuits
Add 1 oz chopped chocolate and or 1oz raisins to the above recipe. Reduce the oatmeal by 1 oz .

Oatmeal and Banana Crunch
For an instant pudding, cover an oatmeal biscuit with slices of banana, put a tiny dollop of cream on top and eat. Simply Delicious!

Oatmeal and Apple Crumble
Loose crumbs may be scattered over some stewed apple for an instant crumble.

Haricot or Flageolet Beans with Tomato and Rosemary

Serve as an accompaniment or as a vegetarian dish.
Serves 4-6

1 cup dried haricot beans or flageolet beans
Bouquet garni
1 onion
1 carrot
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 ozs (170g) chopped onion
4 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 x 14 oz (400g) tin tomatoes
1 large sprig rosemary chopped, approx 1 tablesp.
Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

Soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water. Next day, strain the beans and cover with fresh cold water, add a bouquet garni, carrot and onion, cover and simmer until the beans are soft but not mushy - anything from 30-60 minutes. Just before the end of cooking, add salt. Remove the bouquet garni and vegetables and discard. 

Meanwhile sweat the chopped onion gently in olive oil in a wide saucepan until soft but not coloured, approx. 7-8 minutes add the garlic and cook for another minute or two, add the chopped tomato and their juice, add the cooked beans, and chopped rosemary. Simmer for 10-15 minutes add some of the bean liquid if necessary and season well with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.

Note: The mixture should be juicy but not swimming in liquid.

Gratin of Haricot Beans with Tomato and Rosemary

Put the mixture into a shallow ovenproof dish. Scatter a mixture of buttered crumbs and grated cheese over the top and put into a hot oven or flash under a grill until crisp and golden on top.

Haricot or Flageolet Beans with Tomato and Rosemary with Chorizo

Add 1 chorizo, sliced, to the tomato base with the beans and rosemary.
A toasted grain cereal.
Serves 20

12 ozs (340g) honey
8 fl ozs (225g) oil eg. sunflower or arachide
1 lb 1 oz (370g) oat flakes
7 ozs (200g) barley flakes
7 ozs (200g) wheat flakes
3½ ozs (100g) rye flakes
5 ozs (140g) seedless raisins or sultanas
5 ozs (140g) peanuts/hazelnuts, or cashew nuts split and roasted
2¾ ozs (75g) wheatgerm and /or millet flakes
2 ozs (55g) chopped apricots, ½ cup chopped dates etc. are nice too

Mix oil and honey together in a saucepan, heat just enough to melt the honey. Mix well into the mixed flakes. Spread thinly on two baking sheets.

Bake in a moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 20-30 minutes, turning frequently, making sure the edges don't burn. It should be just golden and toasted, not roasted!

Allow to get cold. Mix in the raisins or sultanas, roasted nuts, toasted seeds, chopped dates, apricots and wheatgerm. Store in a screw top jar or a plastic box, keeps for 1-2 weeks.

Serve with sliced banana.

Crunchy Granola with Berries and Yoghurt Layered in a Glass

A cool way to serve breakfast in a glass – bursting with goodness and totally yummy.

Serves 2

250ml (8flozs) natural yoghurt (see recipe)
2 tablespoons honey
110g (4ozs) granola (see recipe)
110g (4ozs) blueberries, raspberries, frais du bois or even sliced banana

2 straight squat glasses, about 12.5cm (5 inches) tall

Mix the yoghurt and honey together. Divide about on third of the granola between the 2 glasses, top with on third of the yoghurt. Sprinkle half the berries over the top, then a layer of granola and finally yoghurt. 

Garnish with a few berries and perhaps a sprig of mint. Provide long-handled spoons

Divine Homemade Yoghurt

Makes 1.8 litres (3 pints)
Making one’s own yoghurt is very simple and satisfying thing to do.

2.4l (4 pint) full cream milk
150ml (1/4 pint) double cream
225g (8oz) live natural yoghurt

Place milk in large saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and reduce by at least half, better still a third stirring occasionally. Remove pan from heat and pour the milk into a thick delph or pottery bowl. Add the cream and stir well. Allow to cool. When the milk has cooled to the point where you can hold your clean finger in it for a count of ten, add the yoghurt and stir well. If the milk is too hot when the yoghurt is added, it will kill the live bacteria. Cover with a tea towel or cling film. We leave it beside the Aga or put it in the cupboard over the boiler in the office. Sometimes it takes days to thicken. It will keep in the fridge for a week to ten days – Divine.

We serve this with apple blossom honey and toasted hazelnuts.
Tip: Don’t bother to make this with low fat milk
Foolproof Food

Beginners Wholemeal Bread

This is a more modern version of Soda Bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin.
This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted.

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves

400g (14ozs) stone ground wholemeal flour
75g (3ozs) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)
1 egg, preferably free range
1 tablespoon arachide or sunflower oil, unscented
1 teaspoon honey
425ml (15fl ozs) buttermilk or sourmilk approx. (put all the milk in)

Sunflower or sesame seeds optional
Loaf tin 23x12.5x5cm (9x5x2in)
Preheat oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas mark 6.

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey most of the buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins. Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top. Bake for 60 minutes approx, or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Health Bread
Add 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds, 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds, 1 tablespoon of kibbled wheat to the dry ingredients. Keep a mixture to scatter over the top.

Hot Tips 

The Irish Heart Foundation has linked up with the Restaurants Association of Ireland Panel of Chefs, and Euro-Toques who have provided tempting and easy to cook recipes which are available in a booklet free to the general public by calling 1850 364 364 

‘For a Happy Heart, portion size matters’ , is the theme once again for the Irish Heart Foundation annual ‘Happy Heart Eat Out’ campaign will take place for the month of June. We are focusing on portion size as its not just the quality and variety of food that’s important, but also how much we eat. The Irish Heart Foundation has also produced a colourful Eat Out pack available to eateries wishing to participate in the campaign  or tel 01-6685001 or email


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