Occasionally a reader will politely question me about the inclusion of a particular ingredient in one of my recipes. She might wonder why I include agave nectar, a substance I have frequently said is no better than high fructose corn syrup. (It’s not.) Or asked me why another recipe might include honey. Or why I am even posting recipes for things like muesli in the first place, given that I’m no fan of American breakfast cereals (muesli is a traditional Swiss breakfast, but you get the point).
Sometimes the inquiries are not so polite. I’ve been accused of nutritional heresy, of straying from the straight and narrow, of being a traitor to the “cause”.
So here’s the deal.
I’ve now worked on about seven cookbooks containing a total of probably over 600 recipes, and I can tell you that on occasion, you throw in an ingredient because the recipe will simply not work without it.
Take the aforementioned agave. While I think agave nectar is nothing more than sugar masquerading as a health food, I have occasionally allowed recipe developers to use a drop of it here and there in some of our cookbooks because it was simply impossible to make a dessert that anyone will eat without SOME sweetener.
So you make a judgment call. If the price of getting someone to eat brownies made with garbanzo beans– brownies that have over 5 grams of fiber per serving and a ton of antioxidants– is a very small amount of an ingredient I’m not crazy about, so be it. I think it’s a fair bargain. If you have 9 ingredients with enormous health benefits and adding a spoonful of one not-so-terrific ingredient makes the other 9 palatable, on balance, you’ve got yourself a good nutritional deal.
Remember that each recipe is NOT perfect for every person on the planet. If you’re completely avoiding grains, you won’t want the recipes that have them. If you’re completely avoiding dairy, ditto for the recipes that have a bit of dairy. I’m fully aware that each recipe won’t be suited to every diet. These dishes weren’t meant to be all things to all people. They were meant to be used and enjoyed by the people who can use them, and left alone by those who can’t.
Occasionally a recipe has been questioned because of glycemic index concerns. But remember that both glycemic index and glycemic load reflect only the impact of a food eaten by itself. That impact can change significantly when you combine the food (or ingredient) with other ingredients. Even pure glucose with an index of 100 wouldn’t raise your blood sugar much if you used a teaspoon of it mixed with plenty of high fiber foods (i.e. if you put it in a sauce and used a small amount of the sauce on a heaping plateful of broccoli, Brussels sprouts and spinach).
Finally, let’s address the whole “purist” thing. I am not—and never have been—a purist, a fanatic, or a true believer when it comes to a particular nutritional “path”. I think there’s far too much “partisanship” going on both in politics and in nutrition (which resembles politics much more than people realize). I don’t slavishly follow any diet or any dietary prescription, either in my own life or in my recommendations. My main principle is just to use and recommend REAL food, at least when it’s at all possible.
I also live in the real world where the biggest challenge is to get people who are eating terribly to start to eat better, and the only way you can do that is to make things taste good. AND you also have to sometimes come up with healthier versions of foods that people are already used to—that’s why it’s so easy to get people to try things like brownies and muesli and so hard to get them to try sea urchin.
In that spirit, I hope you will enjoy the recipes that work for your dietary restrictions, and let others enjoy the ones that work for theirs.