For a chef tasked with creating the tastiest food possible, the line between flavor and fat content can blur in the throes of culinary creativity -- or get disregarded all together.
A group of dietitians called The Fat Panel took issue with that disregard in a recent report from the United Kingdom, part of a public health campaign to increase awareness of the dangers of consuming foods high in fat, particularly saturated fat.
"It's a very good idea to watch your saturated fats," said John Burton Race, a Michelin-starred British chef whose recipes were evaluated by The Fat Panel. "But I would rather eat one spoon of full-fat cream ice cream than sit there with a gallon of unsweetened yogurt. I would rather eat these foods which are naughty but nice in moderation than try to look around for substitutes. It's just a pointless exercise."
The report, called "The Guilty Secret of Celebrity Chefs," published this week by The Fat Panel, singled out 16 famous chefs, including Race, Nigella Lawson and Rick Stein, and evaluated one or two of their dishes for total-fat and saturated-fat content and suggested ways to substitute low-fat ingredients or spreads to improve their nutritional value.
Sian Porter, a dietitian and member of the Fat Panel, which receives funding from the Margarine and Spreads Association in the U.K., said they evaluated a variety of main courses, soups, desserts and a few classic British favorites including cottage pie, which is made of meat, potatoes and baked apples.
"We chose straightforward recipes you could cook on a Sunday evening," Porter said.
The report found that many of the dishes contained more than 20 grams of saturated fat, which is the daily recommended value in both the U.K. and the United States. For example, a single serving of Nigella Lawson's Egg and Bacon Pie contained 41 grams of fat and 16.8 grams of saturated fat. Gordon Ramsay's Sticky Toffee and Chocolate Pudding contained 40 grams of fat per serving and 23 grams of saturated fat.
Still, Porter pointed out that the warning is primarily for those inclined to cook and eat these kinds of rich dishes several times a week.
"If it's your birthday or if someone made an effort to cook dinner for you, then that's fine," Porter said. "We encourage people to cook from scratch and know what they're eating but we want to say to people, when cooking at home, make some substitutions."
Fats are important for building healthy, functional cells and absorbing fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin E or vitamin A.
But a high-fat intake can lead to increased weight gain. Saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease, one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Many Americans exceed the 20 recommended grams of saturated fat in their diets, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Porter said the Fat Panel did not include an analysis of trans fats in their evaluation because people in the U.K. do not consume excess quantities of it.
The panel recommended a variety of spreads, margarines, yogurts and other substitutions for the butters and creams used in the recipes.