I’m always keen to test out healthier versions of classic recipes and was recently attracted to Good Food Good Health, the latest book by Fatima Patel. Colour photos of mouth-watering dishes are always a good selling point, but my interest lies in the traffic light coded recipes, as I believe this helps people to make healthier choices at a glance.

Being Indian, I do like my food to be, let’s say, well flavoured, and flicking through the book, I see Chicken Kofte cooked in cumin and coriander, Enchiladas spiked with cayenne pepper, and Chicken Kashmir smothered in aromatic spices like garam masala and cinnamon. 

The traffic lights are easy to read and the nutrition analysis relates to 100grams of the recipe, so it’s easy to compare one recipe with another and choose the one with more green or amber lights. I think the book could be improved by adding nutrition data per portion. I believe for the recipes to be of real practical use, we need to know how many calories we’re munching through, how much saturated fat we get in one serving, and so on. Otherwise we could end up eating a dish that we think is one thing according to the nutrient info, yet the amount on your plate tells a different story.

For example, as I scan the Chicken and Mushroom Pie recipe (which has only 290 kcals per 100g), I see that each person will get 125g puff pastry which gives you around 375 kcals from the pastry alone and around 140 kcals from the chicken, so you’re getting over 500 kcals per serving. You’re not going to eat a pie every week and most people know that pastry is rich in fat, so this recipe is fine on occasions. Similarly, the Chicken Lasagne recipe boasts only 84 calories per 100g, yet you need to consider the portion size to work out what you get in your serving. Like the pie, this is a healthier recipe than a traditional version.

As Director of the non-commercial online resource The Ismaili Nutrition Centre, it’s important to me to be clear about what each recipe gives you, so we calculate the nutrients per serving for every recipe as well as the traffic light coding – and that’s what I recommend for this book. Indeed, Fatima and I are exploring the publication of some of Fatima’s recipes on the Nutrition Centre, and in so doing we would calculate the nutrients per serving. Recipes on NHS Choices declare traffic lights per serving and I think that is more appropriate and useful.

I decided to test out the Satay Chicken. I created my satay in about 15 minutes – I didn’t have time to marinade. It tasted delicious, and I plan to make it again, possibly with more satay sauce and a little added milk to make the sauce more runny and higher in calcium.

satay

I also tried the chicken lasagne, yummy! I like the idea of using minced chicken rather than the traditional beef or lamb, which can be high in saturated fat.

Since late 2013, a combination of Guideline Daily Amounts, traffic light colour coding and “high, medium or low” wording is being used voluntarily by some manufacturers to clearly show how much fat, salt, sugar and calories you get in each product. I’m not sure how easy these labels are for shoppers, but at least the coloured traffic lights help you to quickly see what you get in your portion and how that contributes to what you should be eating in a day.

As much as I like traffic light colour coding, I feel some people can get overly sucked in to being very “green”. You don’t have to avoid red lights altogether – in fact we need some fat to absorb fat-soluble vitamins. And there may be fat in lean red meat, but we get iron and vitamin B12 from red meat. So the key is to enjoy a variety of foods and not be too obsessed with having to choose foods with 4 green lights. I think a mixture of greens and ambers with a few reds on occasions is fine, and it helps you enjoy a variety of foods with lots of flavour.

So, do I like the book? Yes I do! The recipes I’ve tried are tasty, easy and healthier than many traditional recipes. My suggestion is that the next edition gives nutrition info per portion. Now excuse me while I conjure up some Moroccan Oranges!

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