The ingredients to avoid – and the recipes to enjoy
Millions of Britons are on special diets because of food intolerances or medical conditions – but whether it's your gluten-intolerant sister who's dropped in for breakfast, or that diabetic friend you've promised a slap-up dinner, it's not hard to rustle up something that everyone can enjoy. Here's a cut-out-and-keep guide to common conditions:
What you're supposed to know: A waxy, fatty material, cholesterol is produced by the liver and carried in the bloodstream. It plays a vital part in many bodily functions. Too much of the wrong sort, however, and you're at risk of heart attacks and strokes (more information at heartuk.org.uk).
Ingredients to avoid: Saturated fat and trans fats, which encourage the body to produce that wrong sort of cholesterol. You will find excessive amounts in dairy products such as milk, cheese and cream, in fatty/processed meat, in cakes, pastries and biscuits, and in the vast majority of ready meals. Don't worry too much about foods that themselves contain cholesterol, such as eggs and seafood: they have little effect on cholesterol levels in the body.
Ingredients to embrace: Veg, fruit, extra-virgin olive oil, rapeseed oil, fish (especially oily), lean meat such as rabbit and chicken (no skin), skimmed milk, oats, wholemeal bread, brown rice.
What still looks great on the menu: Butternut squash soup; sweetcorn cakes with dipping sauce; Thai chicken salad; salmon fishcakes; Moroccan lamb on couscous; poached pears with vanilla.
Where to get the recipes: Healthy Eating for Lower Cholesterol, by Daniel Green with Catherine Collins, and The Low Cholesterol Diet and Recipe Book, by Christine France.
High blood pressure
What you're supposed to know: Basically, your blood's pushing too hard on the sides of your blood vessels and your heart. This can cause strokes and heart attacks, as well as kidney disease, eye problems and dementia. More information at www.bpassoc.org.uk.
Ingredients to avoid: Salt and high-salt foods such as crisps, Marmite and bacon; foods with hidden salts such as bread, biscuits, cheese and breakfast cereals; ready meals; excessive amounts of booze; saturated fat (see cholesterol); delicious bottled sauces whose list of ingredients time has rendered unreadable. For some of these, low-salt versions may be available.
Ingredients to embrace: Fistfuls of fresh herbs, spices, ginger, chilli etc; loads of fruit and veg; fish (especially oily); lean meat.
What will still look great on the menu: Baked potato and porcini omelette; spiced mussel soup; pasta with duck ragu, braised chicken in vinegar sauce; fromage frais with gooseberries and elderflower.
Where to get the recipes: Healthy Eating for Lower Blood Pressure, by Paul Gayler with Gemma Heiser.
What you're supposed to know: People with diabetes have too much glucose (a type of sugar) in their blood. If undiagnosed or poorly managed, this increases the risk of heart disease and can also damage the eyes, nerves, kidneys and blood vessels. (More information at diabetes.org.uk.)
Ingredients to avoid "None," according to Diabetes UK, "apart from special diabetic foods. They do not provide any nutritional benefits and are expensive. They are often high in fat and can still affect blood glucose levels." That said, you should try to minimise the use of fat (especially saturated), sugar and salt.
Ingredients to embrace: Vegetables and pulses; starchy foods such as pasta, basmati or easy-cook rice, grainy breads and porridge, new and sweet potatoes.
What will still look great on the menu: Pumpkin seed and almond muesli; Thai fish cakes with sweet and sour cucumber sauce; navarin of lamb; dark chocolate petit fours
Where to find the recipes: Diabetes Recipes from Around the World, by Jane Frank. Also recommended: Everyday Cooking for Diabetes, by Bridget Jones.
Coeliac disease/ gluten intolerance
What you're supposed to know: Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Many people report discomfort after eating it, while those with coeliac disease (at least one in 100 of us) find that even minute amounts irritate the gut, making it impossible to digest food properly. The disease's symptoms include diarrhoea, tiredness, anaemia, wind and in some cases weight loss. Some people have a similar reaction to oats (more details at coeliac.org.uk).
Ingredients to avoid: Wheat, barley, rye and possibly oats; conventionally made pasta, bread and other baked goods; couscous; semolina; gluten itself; ingredients vaguely described as bran, cereal, rusk, modified starch, vegetable protein/gum/starch; malt and malt extract; beers and stouts. Take a close look at ingredient labels.
Ingredients to embrace: Potatoes and rice; gluten-free pasta, bread and other baked goods; fruit and veg; unprocessed meat and fish; beans and lentils; eggs; milk and cheese; anything that doesn't contain gluten.
What will still look great on the menu: Spiced apple porridge;corn and bacon muffins; sticky chicken drumsticks; walnut, pear and green leaf salad; fish cakes with fennel mayonnaise; chocolate and hazelnut gateau; strawberry meringue roulade.
Where to find the recipes: Gluten-Free Cooking by Lyndel Costain and Joanna Farrow and Healthy Gluten-Free Eating by Darina Allen with Rosemary Kearney.
What you're supposed to know: Milk (cow, goat, sheep, human . . .) contains a sugar called lactose, which is normally broken down by the enzyme lactase. If your body produces too little lactose, the unprocessed lactose feeds bacteria in the lower gut, causing pain, bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea (more information at allergyuk.org).
Ingredients to avoid: Milk (obviously), plus dairy products such as cheese, yoghurt, butter, buttermilk, cream, ice-cream, whey, curd; Quark; some instant mashed potato; many types of bread, biscuits, cakes and pastries; milk chocolate; many types of breakfast cereal; many mousses, custards and readymade desserts; some prepared meats; some stock cubes; some battered fish; lactose and anything that begins with "lact-"; the fat replacer Opta; casein . . . Again, take a close look at those ingredient labels.
Ingredients to embrace: Fruit and veg; unprocessed meat; unbattered fish; anything that definitely doesn't contain dairy products; soya milk; coconut milk.
What will still look great on the menu: Coconut pancake with banana and maple syrup; Thai grilled beef salad; rice with smoked halibut and thyme; baked leeks with fennel and potatoes; lemon cheesecake with strawberries.
Where to find the recipes: Healthy Dairy-Free Eating by Mini C and Tanya Haffner.