For years, we have been led to believe that food is about convenience and entertainment.  Consequently, our supermarkets and take-aways are full of quick, easy eats that satisfy all our cravings in one hit.  And the cheaper it is, the better.  Or is it?

In the race for consumers, there is an obvious split in the market between cheap, convenient, volume driven foods, vs Artisan foods which have a reputation for being unnecessarily expensive and only for a certain type of customer.

But what is really going on here?  Instead of asking why are Artisan foods so expensive, perhaps we should be wondering what it is that makes mass-produced food so cheap?

The answer to both these questions lies in the way ingredients are sourced and the methodology of production. With artisan foods, the producer focuses on local and seasonal primary produce, free of synthetic chemicals with maximized freshness and minimal processing. Traditional techniques are used, by which the products are non-standardized and produced in small batches by hand.  Obviously there are fewer economies of scale in this model.

On the contrary, convenience foods are volume driven, focusing on a high yield, efficiency, standardization and a low cost final product, seemingly ideal for a population that is always on the go and looking to save money. In order to achieve these ‘benefits’ however, there are a number of  methods used in the manufacture of  fast moving consumer foods which not only deplete their nutritional value, but which make them potentially toxic: factory farming with intensive methods to rear livestock to gain maximum outputs at the cheapest cost possible and the use of synthetic chemicals and genetic modification to standardise quality and flavour.

In the UK, we eat more ready meals than any other country in Europe, spending £2.6 billion a year. Being able to grab something that is cheap and quick to eat is obviously very convenient, yet most of these foods provide little to no nutritional value and are loaded with excess sodium, sugar and trans fats, significantly contributing to health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Convenience may  seem an attractive advantage, but plastic leaches into your ready meal from the container as you microwave it; you are in fact paying a huge premium for the convenience of not knowing exactly what you are eating.

Luxury branded convenience foods offer higher quality ingredients such as free-range chicken and premium grade eggs, but basic ready meals have to cut costs somehow, with the answer being to use cheap off cuts and fillers. A standard chicken dinner may claim to contain 25% ‘meat’, yet this ‘meat’ may often be taken from a part of the animal that is not normally considered food – I am thinking feet and coxcombs here. Transglutaminase (doesn’t sound like something you want to be eating I’m sure), a super strength enzyme, is often used to bond slabs of cheap meat together to form one uniform joint, creating the impression of a larger quality piece. Collagen, a powdered protein, is also often added. When combined with water, it swells and becomes bouncy and glutinous to make up for a lack of actual meat. However, its not just meat products that don’t live up to be all that they may seem: a well-known circular, convex ‘potato’ crisp (am I being sufficiently coy?), hardly contains enough potato (only 42%) to be considered a potato product.  And the potato that is used has been so highly processed and de-natured that it certainly contains none of the nutrition of the original potato. Butif they were to describe it as a ‘combination of rice, wheat, corn and potato flakes pressed into shape, with added sweeteners, emulsifiers and colourings’, that doesn’t quite have the marketing zing that the manufacturers are looking for.

In the UK, processed bakery products are worth £3.6 billion pounds, and it is one of the largest markets in the food industry (that alone speaks volumes about our average diet).  We also product some of the least expensive bread in Europe, and with this lower price comes lower quality and added ingredients. A basic bread dough contains four ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast (which would be expected in a homemade, or artisan loaf), yet mass produced factory breads contain a vast number of added ingredients and processing aids that are not required to be declared on product labels. Enzymes are added to help the dough hold more gas, creating a lighter texture and helping the bread stay softer for longer, hard fats are added to improve loaf volume, crumb softness and extend the shelf life, and chlorine dioxide gas is added to flour to whiten it to have that aesthetically pleasing colour. Further additives and flavouring agents are added to products, such as sugars in the form of glucose syrup and maltodextrin, and concentrated salts such as Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) are used to boost flavour and mask cheap ingredients. However, processed sweeteners such as these contain addictive chemicals that trigger brain neurons causing you to crave the foods more.

With artisan foods, on the other hand, you know exactly what you are paying for and exactly what has gone into the product.  Small batches may cost more to produce, but they don’t need as many additives and preservatives. In this day and age with 1 in 2 of us likely to get cancer in our lifetime, spending a little extra on a loaf of bread may not be such a bad thing after all!

If you are interested in a more natural, healthy approach to buying food, then check out the Prüv Emporium.  It’s a highly curated market place and online resource for the healthy foodie, making it that little bit easier to make positive choices.

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One of the hardest things about eating healthily is managing the whole deal around cravings and snacking.  What we all need is healthy alternatives that we can reach for quickly, and which will help wean us off sugar and processed foods and, of course, taste delicious. If, at the same time, they can deliver a whole heap of nutritional and health benefits, so much the better.

These recipes will introduce you to some new and interesting ingredients and intriguing ways of flinging together delicious, nutritious and filling snacks that will go a long way to keeping your health goals on-track.

Magic Muffins

Sometimes, we all want to eat something quick, squodgy and satisfying.  Normally, when we’re craving insta-satisfaction, we would reach for the bread bin or biscuit barrel, but here’s a super-easy, quicker-than-quick alternative that is packed with good fats and Omega 3’s, protein, fibre and goodness that will meet all your requirements for instant snacking, without messing with your insulin levels. What I love are easy recipes that I can play with to ring the changes, and these muffins are just that. This is the infinitely versatile, perfectly sweet or savoury, magically- life-saving recipe that will be your ultimate weapon against cravings.

Basic recipe:

(Makes 1 huge muffin or 2 smaller ones)

  • 2 tablespoons flax meal
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 large free-range, organic egg
  • 1 tablespoon nut butter (almond, cashew, hazelnut, brazil nut)
  • 1 teaspoon mixed seeds (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut or nut oil
  • optional sweetener of your choice ½ tsp stevia recommended
  • Pinch of salt

This basic recipe is good to go as it is, but you can add any number of different ingredients to create the perfect muffin for you.  Here are a couple of my favourite combinations – one for a sweet option, one for a savoury.

franmac.co.uk/recipes/country-living
 Sweet ingredients:
  • 1 heaped tablespoon any combination chopped dried or fresh fruit of your choice – eg: sultanas, dates, banana, berries, dessicated coconut
  • Maple syrup (optional, aim for as little as possible, depending on where you are on the no-sugar spectrum)
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
 Savoury ingredients:
  • 1 heaped teaspoon nutritional yeast OR 1 oz grated cheese
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • chopped herbs/veggies of your choice – eg cumin, rosemary, basil, thyme, parsley, onion, chilli, sweet pepper

Method                   

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large mug.  Add the egg and mix thoroughly with a fork and then add the nut butter.  Depending on whether you are opting for the sweet or savoury version, add the appropriate ingredients at the end and stir well to combine.

Put the mug in the microwave on high for 2 minutes.

Tip your (slightly oddly shaped!) muffin onto a plate and enjoy.  It will be piping hot so take care!

So that’s the easy-peasy, done in a tick version, but if you like baking ahead, the basic recipe can also be augmented to be made up as a loaf, a savoury foccacia or a batch of muffins, baked in the oven.   Here are the details:

For Sweet Flax Banana Bread or Muffins
  • 200g flaxmealBanana bread 2
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • A couple of tablespoons seeds such as Dr Gaye’s Super Omega
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 5 organic, free-range eggs, lightly beaten
  • 75 ml coconut oil
  • 100 ml water
  • 2 tablespoons nut butter of your choice
  • 2 bananas, mashed
  • 4 medjool dates, chopped OR 2 tablespoons sultanas

Put the dry ingredients into a bowl and combine thoroughly with a fork, leaving the dates until the end. Put the wet ingredients, including the mashed bananas and nut butter in a separate bowl all together and stir well to combine.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and stir again thoroughly.  Finally add in the chopped dates and stir to distribute evenly through the mixture.

For a savoury tomato and basil foccacia, loaf or muffins:
  • 200g flaxmeal
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • A couple of tablespoons seeds such as Dr Gaye’s Super Omega
  • 5 eggs
  • 75 ml olive or nut oil
  • 100 ml water
  • 2 tablespoons sundried tomatoes very finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast plus 3 extra tablespoons water OR 100 g grated cheddar cheese
  • ½ teaspoon smoked cumin

Savoury muffinsCombine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir thoroughly with a fork. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the oil and the water.  Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and stir thoroughly. Add the flavourings and stir thoroughly to distribute evenly through the mixture.

Whether you opt for the sweet or savoury option, here’s how you can also choose your format – loaf, muffins or focaccia:

For a loaf:  Pour into a greased loaf tin and bake at 180°C for 35 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.  I usually check at 25 and 30 minutes.

For muffins:  Spoon into muffin trays or cups and bake at 180°C for 20 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.  Check at 15 minutes to be on the safe side.

For foccaccia:  Allow mixture to stand for 2 or 3 minutes until it has stiffened enough to hold its shape.  Empty onto a flat, lined baking tray and spread with the back of a spoon to create the desired shape and thickness.  Sprinkle with a little sea-salt, garlic or additional herbs.  Bake at 180°C for 25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

So there you have it!  The perfect suite of gluten-and-dairy-free, low-sugar, high protein, low carb snacks and bread alternatives that will give you everything you need to manage and control your cravings!

Have a play with these recipes and add your own ingredients, to make them uniquely your own!  The possibilities are endless!

Send in your own personal favourite to hello@franmac.co.uk and we will feature it on the site!

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