This week, I was tasked with finding a ‘healthy packaged snack’ from the grocery store for a children’s Halloween party. Instead of battling with food labels and sugar synonyms I decided to create my own offering.
What is ‘healthy’?
I struggle with foods being branded as ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’. Whether this is by a parent, health professional or the food industry, the idea that one food can be deemed ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for you is woefully inaccurate. Yes, one person’s dietary intake as a whole can be described as optimal for health, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they consume 100% ‘healthy’ or ‘good’ foods.
As a Dietitian, I prefer to consider whether a food is nutritious or not. We all know (I hope) that our bodies (crudely) run on three major fuels or ‘macronutrients’ namely carbohydrate (broken down into sugars), fat (broken down into fatty acids) and protein (broken down into amino acids).
Furthermore, we require various micronutrients which may be categorised further into vitamins A through to K (which may be soluble in water or fat), minerals (think potassium or iron) and trace elements (such as Selenium or Zinc). Micronutrients have a hugely important role to play within countless biochemical processes in the body. They help ‘unlock’ energy stored in our food, assisting with the absorption of nutrients from our gut. Micronutrients keep our immune system ticking along, help with wound healing & to maintain skin integrity, they keep our eyesight in check… I could go on!
Having an understanding of the basic science of nutrition in terms of food composition may help you appreciate the value of your chosen snack or meal. Knowing that your choice is nutritious, i.e. is a source of a nutrient your body actually needs to function on a daily basis, will help you move towards achieving an overall diet that is optimal for health.
That said, within the so-called ‘balanced diet’, there should be room for manoeuvre. I am an advocate for the ’80:20′ approach whereby around 80% of my food choices I would class as nutritious and in line with government guidelines for dietary intake. The other 20% of my food (& beverage) choices may be less ‘on point’, perhaps indulging in a pizza or a glass of wine with friends, or enjoying a chocolate bar or maybe an ice cream at the beach. What is important is that I am making mindful food choices and savour them. Taking time to eat, chewing food, pausing to taste the flavour or texture invokes feelings of enjoyment and helps to minimise feelings of deprival.
Why am I ranting about all this? Well it goes back to the request to provide something ‘healthy’ for the kids. Hopefully you can develop and refine your own version of ‘healthy’ with a little more nutritional know-how. Remember, nutrition is not black and white. It is very, very grey! In today’s world of ease of access to information online and a distinct lack of policing of un-credentialed ‘wellness influencers’ dishing out dietary advice over Instagram… it is no wonder we are confused about what food to put in our bodies.
And now to flapjacks!
Flapjacks are an energy dense snack, something I always make with real butter for that melt-in-the-mouth feel you cannot achieve with plant or coconut oils. Traditionally made with just four ingredients namely oats, butter, sugar and some form of syrup (for that sticky-deliciousness), I adapted a trusted recipe to elevate their nutritional value just a little so that they may fall somewhere between my 80 and 20…
By adding dried fruit, the recipe can reduce the total content of ‘free sugars’ since apricots also bring some sweetness to the party. Apricots are also a good source of fibre, and are high in Fructans which can help to feed our (friendly) gut bacteria. Remember those micronutrients I spoke of? Well apricots are a great source of Vitamin A and non-haem iron, and they also contain calcium, magnesium and vitamin B6. Quite the package!
Adding nuts also helps to boost the fibre content of these flapjacks, whilst offering an alternate (and superior) profile of fatty acids beyond the high proportion of saturated fat from the butter! Almonds are a great way to up the protein content of a recipe, in addition to being rich in magnesium and a good source of calcium and iron.
Although present in small amounts per portioned flapjack, their very presence in this recipe helps improve the overall nutritional value of each mouthful.
(makes at least 25 squares, more if you don’t hoover up the trimmed edges like I do!)
- 450g whole / jumbo oats – of which 250g I pulsed in a food processor to create different textures
- 225g unsalted butter
- 50g flaked almonds (you could increase this – if so, simply deduct the increase in weight of the nuts from the total weight of oats from the recipe)
- 100g dried apricots – roughly chopped
- 150g soft brown sugar
- 50g demerara sugar (you can just use all soft brown sugar if preferred)
- 3 tbsp golden syrup (can substitute for honey or maple syrup if desired)
Preheat oven to 395F / 200C or 180C fan.
Line baking sheet or tray (mine is 40x30cm) with baking parchment.
Melt butter in a large saucepan and stir in sugar(s) and syrup.
Add prepared dried ingredients to the saucepan and mix well.
Once combined, pour into baking tray and smooth and level using a spatula.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Cool in the tin before cutting into squares.