Banishing the Breakfast Biscuit

If any of you have been lucky enough to venture to the American Deep South you may have been so immersed in the culture that you decided to dabble in the concept of "Biscuits & Gravy". For those who have not personally experienced this idea allow me to paint you a picture...you've got a couple of giant buttermilk scone-esque things (think approximately grapefruit size for scale) which are then doused in a sausage or pork based creamy-milky sauce with bits of ground beef or other meat in it. Sounds delightful doesn't it?!Anyway that is really of no consequence whatsoever because they are not the breakfast biscuits I'm talking about at all. My attention is directed instead to the new craze for small cellophane packets of supposedly super convenient and yet super sustaining baked bits to eat whilst nestling in someone else's armpit on your morning commute.This is a subject that actually makes my blood boil slightly whilst also causing a hint of sadness as I feel it comes down to misrepresentation and false advertising. Don't get me wrong it's not the biscuit I take such offence against (well I'm not such a big fan.....) it's the marketing behind them.EU regulations exist to control what can be said about a product in terms of its health or nutritional benefits, so therefore we should be able to have total confidence in everything we hear or see advertised right? Not so much. In the same way statistics may be 'reworked' (completely manipulated *cough*) to support or rubbish something, these canny companies find ways to market their products whilst remaining just within the constraints of the law.How do they manage this you ask if there are these safeguards in place?When I was growing up the importance of truth was impressed upon me and my sister by our parents. Now this is not to say that we have both skipped through our lives honest as angels, but when we were teenagers and decided not to give complete explanation as to how certain instances came to pass we definitely felt guilty about it. And this is the basis of my issue, lies of omission to your parents are one thing but to an entire population? It's a little much isn't it.OK so enough harping by me and more explanation.The EU guidelines I mentioned are specific with regards to two forms of claim that can be made about a foodstuff. These are health claims and nutrition claims. A health claim is any statement about a relationship between food and health which are allowed provided they are based on scientific evidence and can be easily understood. A nutrition claim on the other hand is any representation which states, suggests or implies that a food has particular nutritional properties. And here lies our answer (partly).Let's dive in with the health claim. These are the ones that we should be able to be more certain of as they have scientific backing showing that there is truth within the statement. An example of this would be that "Pomegranate is good for the heart". This is indeed true, clinical trials have evidence that the consumption of pomegranate will decrease several of the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, LDL cholesterol levels and atherosclerosis due to the presence of a unique group of antioxidants called Punicalagins. These have the ability to decrease oxidative stress, enhance the action of Nitric Oxide (a potent antioxidant that is also responsible for making our blood vessels dilate to lower our blood pressure) and prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol which would then go on to cause atherosclerotic plaques. Off we pop to grab some pomegranate juice then right? Hmmm well this is where we fall down.....Although we have said all these things and the statement in itself can be made because it has the scientific evidence, knocking back a glass or two of the bottled red stuff isn't actually going to do us many favours. Why? Well they've gone and combined it with a whole load of sugar, one of the biggest demons in the health of our hearts. Sugar feeds inflammation which then makes our body work harder to mop it up. Basically we're putting in these antioxidants but instead of them pottering off to where we want them they're having to sort out the guys that hitched a ride in the back of their pickup (I think I might still be in America for some reason...). Because of the delay the Punicalagins run for but miss their connecting bus using up the last of their energy without actually ever starting their initial to-do list. Damn.What's the answer then? Either make your own fresh pomegranate juice or eat a load of pomegranates! Now this is not me attempting to make light of the situation but in this instance I think it's important to mention that the prevention of cardiovascular disease should never be laid solely on the shoulder of one thing or aspect. Assessing an individual's predisposition to this multi-faceted condition due to all contributing lifestyle factors is the way forward i.e. pomegranates can be a useful addition to a cardio-protective lifestyle but they should not be relied on as a fix all as some branding may suggest.Sadly for us ladies another big one is cranberry juice and urinary tract infections/Cystitis. Active components found in cranberries can be extremely helpful in the treatment of this uncomfortable condition but sadly you aren't going to be getting them by guzzling down the stuff from the carton. Bad times.Golly so if thats the one with the scientific backing what are we going to stumble across in the next one......Nutrition claims are a little different as they cannot make links between a food and a particular health benefit. A nutrition claim would be something like "99% fat free" or "source of Calcium" on a yoghurt. These don't say why this product would be better for us but instead rely on other sources to make us believe that these are the more beneficial choices.Fat was considered the number 1 enemy up until very recently with full media backing behind it. All a brand had to do was whack a certain percentage of fat free or reduced fat on the label and their sales would skyrocket. The first issue within this is "reduced" can literally mean anything. Gone down by 0.2%? Whack it on the label then. Then there are instances when they state that the product is "35% less" whatever, OK that's great we know how much it's gone down by but what's in there instead? If you start taking ingredients out something has to replace them. Just because you've put your Summer dresses in the loft doesn't mean you're going to spend Autumn in your underwear....So there's a lack of transparency with exactly what's going on and that translates into the idea of sources for specific nutrients as well. The best example of this is Calcium and dairy products.Right so Calcium is indeed very important for our bone health. Along with other minerals it makes up our skeleton which holds us up and generally prevents the primordial soup look which went out of fashion a few millennia ago. Big newsflash though, dairy products are not the best source! Oh my goodness your whole life is a lie better head to bed now and never get out.Moving on from that melodrama there is a serious side in that dairy products are massively pushed as the best source for this vital nutrient for a selection of reasons (unfortunately for us the majority are to do with coins in pockets). I'm not saying this is nonsense but the amount of Calcium you'd get from a cup of cow's milk is the same as if you ate a cup of steamed collard greens and 90g of sardines contain 2.5 times more than that. Again we wander into the territory of lack of elaboration and this is not solely down to the manufacturer. We can't expect them to print everything on their labels or we'd need a magnifying glass to read it, they are simply relying the age old idea that we drink milk or eat cheese to meet our Calcium requirements.A quick sideline before I continue, the biggest issue with the Calcium claim is in children. Parents rightly want to ensure their little ones are getting adequate levels for their growing skeletons but there are a couple of interactions regarding Iron they need to be aware of.Firstly there is the low Iron content of cow's milk; if an infant is consuming a lot of dairy they will be less likely to eat much of anything else (including Iron rich foods) so their Iron stores will suffer. The second is that the protein Casein in cow's milk can interfere with Iron absorption from dietary sources further depleting their reserves. And finally there is a mechanism that causes occult blood loss (which means it's present in the stool but not apparent to the eye) in 40% of otherwise healthy infants following high cow's milk consumption, again sapping their bodies of Iron. A combination of these can cause Iron deficiency anaemia which leads to fatigue, pallor and behavioural issues (increasing awareness of this has highlighted that many ADHD diagnoses are in fact actually Iron deficiency).Current advice is that children should be fed cow's milk (unless it's inappropriate due to an allergy for instance) but in modest amounts. I would suggest attempting to decrease reliance on dairy products for Calcium and instead try out some frozen banana blended with spinach (2 times more of the stuff per 100 calories than yoghurt!) but that's just me.I think we may have slightly strayed off topic there but what I had intended to do was encourage caution when listening to the current claims surrounding breakfast substitutes. Head to "What's the Big Deal About Breakfast" for an insight as to why I'm particularly worked up about this.Many of these things make a combination of the claims I have zipped through and like we've said there will be grains of truth in them. Personally due to my stellar upbringing (cheers Ma & Pops) I am not satisfied with grains, I want the full shebang. If you're telling me they're just like all of these wonderful ingredients why don't you just give me the real thing and stop chatting about it......?I know time is of the essence for many people and that cooking can be seen as an inconvenient chore (personally I don't know how as I could spend my life singing along to the radio whilst creating culinary chaos). If I could be so bold as to suggest something though..... Maybe this New Year try swapping 30 minutes a week into kitchen time and whipping up a batch of some of the below, whack 'em in the freezer et voila you've got a delicious, more economical and far more sustaining breakfast to grab as you head out the door. (Alternatively wake up 30 minutes earlier and eat at home but I'm happy with baby steps!)Now onto the fun bit, what have I got up my sleeve for you today......Well the theme as I'm sure you've realised from the title of the post is muffins. What could be better in the morning than something light, fluffy and moist with crunchy nutty flecks running through it? A delightful thought indeed. Obviously as it's the weekend everybody's individual tastes need to be accounted for so I have devised two similar recipes, one for the sweet tooth team and another to satisfy the savoury camp. Both are packed full of veggies, fruit, nuts and healthful oils to sustain you through the morning whilst making you smile from ear to ear (I hope!). Feel free to swap in different nuts and seeds if you fancy or something extra like crumbled feta cheese would be wonderful in the savoury version.Oh and although I've been directing these as a breakfast they most definitely make a brilliant snack or accompaniment to a big bowl of warming soup.With that parting though I hope you all have a lovely weekend filled with more glorious sunshine (and a muffin or two....). If you do get a chance to try them yourselves I promise that commute will be made so much more enjoyable. And you never know, you may even find a seat on the tube......Parsnip and Pecan MuffinsHerby Sweet Potato & Carrot Muffins

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