The Christmas desserts on the nice list: Paul Hollywood’s stollen can ward off an early grave – but Prue Leith’s boozy chocolate log has the opposite effect, according to study of Great British Bake Off puds

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Scientists say that tucking into certain puds could protect against an early grave
  • US researchers studied dozens of recipes on the Great British Bake Off website

Christmas puddings, yule logs and trifles will grace the tables of household across the country on December 25. 

But while not usually known for their health benefits, scientists have said that tucking into certain puds could protect against an early grave.

US researchers studied dozens of recipes on the Great British Bake Off website and probed the links between their ingredients and health effects.

Fruit, nuts and coffee had the strongest links with preventing illness, while those laced with alcohol raised the risk of the opposite effect.

It meant that a recipe by host Paul Hollywood could lower the chance of dying young because it contains plenty dried fruit and nuts, while Prue Leith’s chocolate log made with Irish cream liqueur may raise the risk of dying early. 

It meant that a recipe by host Paul Hollywood (left) could lower the chance of dying young because it contains plenty dried fruit and nuts, while Prue Leith’s (right) chocolate log made with Irish cream liqueur may raise the risk of dying early

Paul's stollen, made with dried fruit and marzipan, was linked to a reduced risk of death due to ingredients such as almonds, dried fruit and milk (stock image)

Paul’s stollen, made with dried fruit and marzipan, was linked to a reduced risk of death due to ingredients such as almonds, dried fruit and milk (stock image)

However, Prue's chocolate yule log, described as a Swiss roll 'subtly laced with Irish cream liqueur to add to the festive spirit', is linked with an increased risk of liver cancer, gastric cancer and bowel cancer because it contains alcohol (stock image)

However, Prue’s chocolate yule log, described as a Swiss roll ‘subtly laced with Irish cream liqueur to add to the festive spirit’, is linked with an increased risk of liver cancer, gastric cancer and bowel cancer because it contains alcohol (stock image)

esearchers at Yale School of Medicine and Emory University noted that Christmas desserts have been eaten in the UK since medieval times.

These puddings were ‘actually pretty healthy’ and packed with prunes, raisins, nuts, spices and grains, they said.

However, people’s palates have evolved over time and festive desserts have become more decadent and sugar-laden, raising concerns that they are bad for health, the team wrote.

To find out if modern Christmas sweet treats have retained any of the health benefits that they used to be linked with, they pored over 48 recipes for Christmas cakes, biscuits, pastries, puddings and desserts on the baking show’s website.

Overall, they contained 178 ingredients that were split into 17 groups, including alcohol, chocolate, eggs, fruits, nuts and coffee.

The scientists then examined the links between these ingredient groups and the risk of death, according to previous research. 

Results, published in the Christmas issue of the BMJ, showed that 44 studies found an association between eating fruit and dodging an early grave.

Papers also provided evidence that that coffee (17) nuts (14) reduce the risk of death.

However, there was also plenty of research warning that alcohol and sugar increased the risk of disease and death. 

This means that fruit and nut-packed desserts, such as Paul’s stollen, made with dried fruit and marzipan, was linked to a reduced risk of death due to ingredients such as almonds, dried fruit and milk.

The researchers wrote: ‘Overall, without the eggs, butter, and sugar, this dessert is essentially a fruit salad with nuts. Yum!’ 

However, Prue’s chocolate yule log, described as a Swiss roll ‘subtly laced with Irish cream liqueur to add to the festive spirit’, is linked with an increased risk of liver cancer, gastric cancer and bowel cancer because it contains alcohol. 

They concluded: ‘The health benefits of most ingredients in The Great British Bake Off Christmas desserts outweigh the harms. 

‘That said, all Christmas desserts could be made even healthier by replacing any alcohol with milk or coffee.’ 

The team noted that their study was only observational and, in many cases, the alcohol content of bakes would evaporate in the oven. Additionally, they didn’t account for the amount of an ingredient in each dessert. 

They added that it is best to analyse the risk of food intake through a person’s overall diet rather than each ingredient in a meal.

Health chiefs advise consuming sweet treats in moderation to keep calorie and sugar intake in check. 

WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE? 

Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS

Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS

• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count

• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain

• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on

• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options

• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)

• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts

• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day

• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day

Source: NHS Eatwell Guide  

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