Christmas is a time to enjoy: desserts with rich chocolate, gooey caramel sauce, and moist cakes (no wet bottoms, thank you). In the spirit of the festive season, one research group discovered that the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) Christmas desserts are not as sinful as we might have thought.
Why this particular TV show? Well, the team thinks that this show is “the best TV baking contest ever”. To settle the old question of whether we can eat desserts without feeling guilty, they examined the harms and benefits of various ingredients in Christmas desserts from the show.
GBBO is a typical British cooking show that is full of warmth and has been airing on British TVs (and some American ones) for thirteen years. It gave us Bingate in 2014 (which involved claims of a “ruined” ice cream part of a Baked Alaska), Prue Leith accidentally revealing the winner of the show on Twitter in her first year before broadcast, and James Acaster’s famous line: “Started making it. Had a breakdown. Bon appétit.”
The researchers looked at the ingredients from “Christmas” recipes on the official GBBO website – they noted that one recipe had bacon, but, “We did not include bacon, which was in one recipe, because it is not a proper dessert ingredient (and the first author is vegetarian),” authors of the paper said.
They then found umbrella reviews of meta-analyses of studies that looked at any links between the risk of disease and eating these ingredients. Umbrella reviews can help give a general overview of evidence on certain topics.
The team found 46 umbrella reviews and found 363 links between ingredients and a higher or lower risk of death or disease. Of these, 149 were statistically significant, with 26 percent of links saying the ingredient groups increase the risk of death and 74 percent saying they lower it.
The most common ingredients linked to a lower risk were fruit, coffee, and nuts. Sadly, sugar and alcohol were the ingredients most linked to risk. Alcohol especially was linked to stomach cancer, bowel cancer, and irregular heartbeat. This would be a pity for Judge Prue Leith, who likes a boozy treat in her desserts, especially as her yule log recipe has Irish Cream in it.
One dessert that did well was Paul Hollywood’s Stollen recipe. This recipe had festive ingredients like almonds, dried fruit, and milk, and “overall, without the eggs, butter, and sugar, this dessert is basically a fruit salad with nuts. Yum!” the researchers said. This recipe’s ingredients had 82 significant links, where 70 links said that they lowered the risk of disease.
Before you start gobbling down your Christmas sweets, the researchers did mention some problems with this paper. They used a lot of observational studies in this analysis, which have some limitations. Also, in this analysis they did not consider the amounts of each ingredient, “any recipe with fruit, even if it was only one berry, was counted the same in terms of its good effect compared to the bad effect of butter”. If they had, it would have been more useful, but it would have been less “fun”.
Despite that, for making some Christmas guilt go away, this research really deserves a Paul Hollywood handshake.
This research was published in the BMJ.