Pizzas, puddings, crisps – they are just a few of our favourite ‘guilty pleasures’. But now the lines between healthy and unhealthy choices are becoming increasingly blurred, thanks to the latest drive to ‘health up’ our favourite treats with surreptitious use of superfoods or other virtuous-sounding ingredients.
Take, for example, chocolate mousse made with avocado. Is it a salad or pudding, or something in between? And is posh-sounding cacao (pronounced ca-cow) better for us than cocoa, or just a ploy to sell us a more expensive version of chocolate?
‘As consumers, we need to be aware of falling for the halo effect – where a food is made to seem better for us just because it contains the latest superfood or fancy ingredient,’ warns registered dietician Helen Bond.
And can a dried-up cauliflower ‘pizza base’ really satisfy our cravings for a deliciously doughy pizza?
From chickpea puffs to cauliflower rice, we reveal how these ‘healthy alternatives’ compare with our well-loved favourites.
* All nutrition is given per portion.
Napolini Pizza Bases, £1.75 for two, Waitrose – and Magioni Cauliflower Pizza Crust, £3.29 for two, Waitrose
Napolini Pizza Bases, £1.75 for two, Waitrose
Cals 432, fat 3.2g, sugars 3.6g, fibre 3.9g, salt 2.1g
Magioni Cauliflower Pizza Crust, £3.29 for two, Waitrose
Cals 399, fat 4.7g, sugars 4g, fibre 4.3g, salt 1.3g
VERDICT Cauliflower is one of those ‘healthy’ ingredients of the moment, being made into everything from rice to ‘steaks’ and pizza bases. In this case, people might think the vegetable base would mean a lower carb content, but it doesn’t, because the cauliflower version is actually mainly flour. It also has only 33 fewer calories than a normal base. As for providing a portion of veg, the whole base contains just 67g of cauliflower – less than one of your five a day. But it tastes OK – the cauliflower flavour isn’t overpowering.
Wotsits, £1.50 for 6 packs, Tesco – and Hippeas Take it Cheesy, 99p per pack, Ocado
Wotsits, £1.50 for 6 packs, Tesco
Cals 90, fat 5.4g, sugars 1.1g, fibre 0.2g, protein none, salt 0.3g
Hippeas Take it Cheesy, 99p per pack, Ocado
Cals 90, fat 3.8g, sugars 0.6g, fibre 1.7g, protein 2.9g, salt 0.2g
VERDICT Corn is usually used to make puffed snacks, but Hippeas have swapped it for powdered chickpeas. Chickpeas are high in bowel-friendly fibre, and a Hippeas pack has as much fibre as you’ll find in an apple. Cheesy Wotsits, on the other hand, contain barely a pinch of fibre. Chickpeas also contain muscle-building protein – there’s about as much here as half a boiled egg. Unsurprisingly, there is no protein in a pack of Wotsits. But the ‘cheesy’ flavour, concocted from yeast powder, onions and flavourings, is chalky and dull – not a patch on Wotsits.
CHOCOLATE PUDDING POTS
Pots & Co Salted Caramel and Chocolate Pot, £2, Ocado – and Onist Salted Caramel Avocado Choc Pot, £2.50, Ocado
Pots & Co Salted Caramel and Chocolate Pot, £2, Ocado
Cals 351, fat 28.8g, sugars 15.3g, fibre none, salt 0.5g
Onist Salted Caramel Avocado Choc Pot, £2.50, Ocado
Cals 257, fat 12.6g, sugars 18.9g, fibre 11.6g, salt 0.55g
VERDICT The rich, creamy texture of an avocado makes it a viable ‘healthy’ replacement for calorific butter and cream in indulgent puddings. At least that’s the theory.
It does work here – the regular pud has five times the saturated fat of the avocado-based alternative. The sweetness comes from dates rather than sugar, which adds a hefty helping of fibre to the mix. Each pot packs as much fibre as a bowl of All Bran, compared to none at all in the Pots & Co pud.
Unfortunately, the health properties are irrelevant because this tastes revolting.
Green & Black’s Organic Vanilla Caramel Nut Ice Cream, £4.20, Ocado – and Frill Nutty Caramel Frozen Smoothie, £4.99, Ocado
Green & Black’s Organic Vanilla Caramel Nut Ice Cream, £4.20, Ocado
Cals 173, fat 9.7g, sugars 25.2g, salt 0.13g
Frill Nutty Caramel Frozen Smoothie, £4.99, Ocado
Cals 85, fat 3.3g, sugars 8.8g, salt 0.2g
VERDICT Wellness warriors encourage the use of dried fruits in puddings because they say they are a ‘healthy’ replacement for white sugar. The sweetness in Frill’s frozen smoothie is achieved with dates, which do not count towards your daily, seven-teaspoon limit of ‘free sugars’. However, the natural sugars in dates have the same effect on blood sugar as regular table sugar, so there isn’t much benefit. Fat-wise, Frill wins. The coconut cream means it is two-thirds lower in artery-clogging fat than Green & Black’s tub. Most impressively, thanks to plant-based additives, Frill contains almost a quarter of your recommended daily dose of fibre – the same as half a plate of brown rice. As long as you’re happy with the frozen-yogurt texture, this is a fine low-calorie alternative.
Sainsbury’s Microwave Brown Rice, 55p – and Cauli rice, £2, Waitrose
Sainsbury’s Microwave Brown Rice, 55p
Cals 100, fat 1.2g, sugars trace, protein 4.8g, fibre 1.2g, salt 0.1g
Cauli rice, £2, Waitrose
Cals 20, fat 0.1g, sugars trace, protein 1.5g, fibre 1.2g, salt trace
VERDICT Cauliflower returns to replace another carb here, only this time it’s ground up into rice-like fragments. The calories are extremely low in Cauli rice – barely enough to sustain a toddler. There’s also minimal protein, meaning it won’t keep you full, plus you don’t get any of the health benefits of normal, brown rice. Studies show that people who eat fibre-rich diets are less likely to suffer heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. More to the point, Cauli rice came out of the microwave a watery mush. It certainly will not do for mopping up curry sauce.
Napolina tagliatelle, £1, Asda – and I Sea Pasta Organic Tagliatelle Seaweed Pasta, £5.99, thefoodmarket.com
Napolina tagliatelle, £1, Asda
Cals 285, fat 1.8g, sugars 3.4g, salt trace
I Sea Pasta Organic Tagliatelle Seaweed Pasta, £5.99, thefoodmarket.com
Cals 142, fat 2.16g, sugars trace, salt 7.28g
VERDICT Swapping pasta for strips of softened vegetables is a growing trend among health foodies. This ‘tagliatelle’ is made from 100 per cent dried seaweed rather than durum wheat. It certainly lacks the silken nuttiness of pasta. Instead, it’s slimy, tasteless and refuses to twizzle on a fork. But seaweed is a good source of many important nutrients – a portion provides calcium, iron and more than your recommended daily intake of potassium, essential for nerve and muscle function. But all of this is not worth the shocking two teaspoons of salt. This is more than your daily allowance and enough to raise blood pressure significantly if eaten regularly. White pasta gets a bad reputation, but it is salt-free and boasts enough energy to keep you going until the next meal. The body needs about 130g of carbohydrates every day and even more if you’re exercising. Replacing carbohydrates with vegetables at every meal is likely to leave you foggy-headed – and hungry.
Green & Black’s Organic 70 per cent Dark Chocolate, £2, Waitrose – and Keep It Raw Ombar 72 per cent Cacao Bar, £2.99, Waitrose
Green & Black’s Organic 70 per cent Dark Chocolate, £2, Waitrose
Cals 174, fat 12.6g, sugars 8.7g, salt trace
Keep It Raw Ombar 72 per cent Cacao Bar, £2.99, Waitrose
Cals 175, fat 13.2g, sugars 7.5g, salt trace
VERDICT What is the difference between cacao and cocoa? Not much, really. Cacao just means that the cocoa beans have not been roasted. Some argue that the heat process strips away some of the antioxidants in the beans, said to boost the immune system, but in fact the difference is negligible. Exactly the same type of unhealthy fats and sugar is added to a cacao bar as you’ll find in a regular, cheaper one. Chocoholics will be disappointed by Ombar’s grainy texture and bitter taste. So if you’re going to break the sugar bank, at least make it worth it.