The healthier side of Christmas desserts

Credit: Unsplash+

Christmas is a time of joy, family gatherings, and, of course, indulging in delicious desserts. But with the festive season comes the inevitable worry about the health impacts of all those sweet treats.

This year, however, researchers have brought some good news for dessert lovers, especially fans of “The Great British Bake Off.”

According to a study published in the Christmas issue of The BMJ, many of the ingredients used in the show’s Christmas desserts might actually be more health-friendly than we thought.

The study, conducted by a team of researchers, aims to settle the annual debate about the guilt of indulging in Christmas desserts. They chose “The Great British Bake Off,” widely regarded as a premier baking competition, as their focus.

The team reviewed 48 dessert recipes from the show’s website, including cakes, biscuits, pastries, puddings, and other desserts, to assess the health impacts of their ingredients.

The researchers didn’t just skim through recipes; they conducted an “umbrella review” of existing meta-analyses and observational studies. This approach helps summarize a wide range of research findings into a clear, overall picture.

They looked at 17 different ingredient groups, ranging from baking essentials like flour and sugar to nuts, fruits, and even alcohol.

After an extensive literature search and analysis, which included screening over 7,000 records, the team found 363 associations between these ingredients and health risks.

Interestingly, 149 of these associations were significant, and the majority (110) indicated that the ingredients actually reduced the risk of death or disease. The top three beneficial ingredient groups were fruits, coffee, and nuts.

However, not all findings were sweet. Alcohol, a common ingredient in some festive desserts, was linked to an increased risk of several health issues, including certain cancers and heart conditions.

This might be bad news for judge Prue Leith of “The Great British Bake Off,” known for her love of incorporating alcohol into her recipes. For instance, her chocolate yule log, infused with Irish cream, might not be the healthiest choice.

On a brighter note, the researchers highlighted Paul Hollywood’s Stollen recipe as a healthier option. This dessert, featuring ingredients like almonds, milk, and dried fruits, was associated with a significant reduction in disease risk.

The researchers humorously noted that without the eggs, butter, and sugar, the Stollen is pretty much a fruit salad with nuts.

The study isn’t without its limitations, though. The reliance on observational studies, which have inherent challenges, and the focus on specific ingredients rather than overall dietary patterns, are notable constraints.

Moreover, the researchers didn’t account for the quantities of each ingredient in the recipes. So, a recipe with just one berry was considered as beneficial as one loaded with fruits.

Despite these limitations, the study offers a lighthearted and optimistic message for this Christmas: maybe we can enjoy our festive desserts with a little less guilt.

The researchers conclude that, if we can overlook the shortcomings of observational nutrition research, we can indeed have our cake and eat it too this holiday season.

If you care about high blood pressure, please read studies about unhealthy habits that may increase high blood pressure risk, and drinking green tea could help lower blood pressure.

For more information about high blood pressure, please see recent studies about what to eat or to avoid for high blood pressure,  and 12 foods that lower blood pressure.

The research findings can be found in The BMJ.

Copyright © 2023 Knowridge Science Report. All rights reserved.