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Guilty pleasures: Foods we can't say no to

(Clockwise from, top left) Macarons, chips, white chocolate, camembert cheese, donuts, corndogs

Healthy, whole-food-based cooking and "clean" eating is fast becoming mainstream, so have "guilty pleasures" had their day?

There are some foods and drinks we crave, and can't stop eating. The things we shouldn't like, but still do anyway. Our guilty pleasures.

Our penchant for something that makes us feel, well a little bit bad afterwards, whether it's full of fat, sugar, is highly processed or contains additives and preservatives, certainly shows no sign of abating.

But is there a better, healthier way?

Treat foods have become so readily available that people have a hard time saying no to them - and we all have a blind spot.

Food critic Jay Rayner's guilty pleasure is fried chicken. Food journalist Tim Hayward loves lard.

Naughty but nice:

Banoffee pie

Dare to indulge in Paul Hollywood's donuts?

Make Matt Tebbutt's choc peanut butter cake

Fill a banoffee pie with all things naughty

Deep fry corn dogs for an All-American snack

Cook chips twice for the best results

Me - well, I just cannot say no to confectionery. While most people try and avoid their secret treats, others are coming out of the closet with theirs.

One chef has just released a cookery book featuring his. Matt Tebbutt's Guilty Pleasures makes more of ingredients like ketchup, peanut butter, mustard, and marmite. He describes them as "everyday recipes there to indulge yourself in once a week".

"It was a kind of reaction against the recession - mainly the face of the doom and gloom," he explains.

"I've built my restaurant and reputation on seasonal and local eating, with good produce, but this is a way of branching out from that, to say it's OK to indulge yourself once in a while.

"The key ingredients are amongst the biggest sellers in supermarkets, store cupboard ingredients that can be packed full of sugars and fats. Dieticians and other chefs may slate me, but we all have them in our cupboards, just sitting there.

"The whole-food movement says eat healthily, eat seasonally, but people still buy these foods - they are good for the soul."

While he's partial to pulled pork, and a cheesecake, Matt Tebbutt admits he cannot say no to a bag of Twiglets and a jar of mayonnaise.

Start Quote

A guilty pleasure - it's the association and also how it makes someone feel when eating it. ”

End Quote Dr Charlotte Hardman University of Liverpool

The addictive properties of sugars, fats and processed foods have been well-documented.

But why do people feel often bad when eating treat foods they like?

One reason may be the restrictions people adhere to in their regular diets.

Women who diet experience a lot more guilt when eating, than women who do not diet, according to a recent study in the journal Psychology and Health.

Researchers from Utrecht University, Holland found restraint is not associated with food intake, but instead with increased levels of guilt after eating.

Does how much we eat have something to do with it?

Many people love chocolate, and feel good after eating it.

A recent study by the Department of Experimental Psychology at Bristol University looked at chocolate portion size and how those eating it felt after eating 40g and 80g amounts.

Men were happier after eating the larger amount, while women reported more guilt and regret after the bigger size.

The study concluded that guilt may be reduced by eating smaller portions.

Not so guilty:

Honestly Healthy mini pizzas

Bake 'Honestly Healthy' wheat-free mini pizzas

Try the 'Guilt-Free Gourmet' sticky toffee pud

Give Nigella's wheat-free meatzza a whirl

Make the Hairy Bikers' lasagne without pasta

But eating less of a bad thing can still be a challenge when there are "potent food cues everywhere", says Dr Charlotte Hardman, a lecturer in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Liverpool.

"Food cues include TV, advertisements, shop displays... we develop relationships between the cues and eating and associations form very, very quickly," she explains.

"A guilty pleasure - it's the association and also how it makes someone feel when eating it.

"Food associations can be traced back to childhood - so say, ice-cream or treat foods given to a child when they have fallen over and hurt themselves, they then may relate that to feeling better, and it becomes emotional eating later in life - eating in response to that early food association."

Craving and succumbing to cravings can also spark regretful feelings.

Dr Hardman says: "People think paradoxically and that can actually increase craving.

"So if you say 'I'm not going to eat chocolate all day', and then see chocolate 'cues' at shop counters and eat it, it's often why people develop guilty pleasures - as they tell themselves no, and then say yes, thus feeling guilty after they reward themselves."

Spare rib burger with chips, mustard, mayo and ketchup By restricting treat foods, we may end up wanting them more, experts say

But another school of cooking is emerging - one where you can have that cake and eat it too.

Chef Natasha Corrett co-authored Honestly Healthy... Eat with Your Body in Mind, with Vicki Edgson.

She says she grew up with an extremely healthy mother and a father who was a French restaurateur, and "didn't want to be torn between the two", so came up with indulgent recipes that are "alkaline" like wheat-free pizzas, and a beetroot risotto with red rice.

Natasha says: "An alkaline diet is about how the food reacts in the body, and how it is digested - foods may seem extremely alkaline on the PH scale but when digested can become extremely acidic.

"So things like processed foods, wheat, sugars, alcohol, things we rush towards, we are looking at eliminating them and rebalancing blood sugars.

"My foods should still be treated as a treat - as they are still high in natural sugars. But you're not harming the body in the same way by having refined sugars."

Even the taste of chocolate is not ruled out.

"Instead of having a chocolate bar, have raw chocolate. A lot of small changes mean you are creating a new lifestyle, not a diet - so no cravings, and you are never without."

Chef Jordan Bourke and his sister Jessica Bourke co-wrote the Guilt-Free Gourmet and substitute ingredients to eliminate gluten, sugar and dairy foods.

Sweet seekers:

Lips covered in sugar

"With guilty pleasures, that old adage of everything in moderation rings true, there is so much available to us now, we can't say no," says Jordan Bourke.

"There's a movement now in cooking back towards whole-foods, fresh, from scratch, as a response to that, back to making things delicious but also healthier."

Even so, "the main thing is that it has to taste as good as the real thing", he explains.

"For me as a chef, everything should be enjoyable, certainly I think here are lots of recipes and lots of products that tick the box in terms of health standards, but don't tick the box in terms of food we can enjoy.

"One of my recipes is a chocolate tart made with avocado instead of cream, for the creaminess, which is such a surprise.

"Sticky toffee pudding - so rich and moist... that toffee sauce without refined sugars," he says.

Both Natasha Corrett and Jordan Bourke like to use coconut palm sugar as a substitute for refined sugars, spelt flour instead of wheat flour and dairy substitutes.

Dr Charlotte Hardman says she doesn't think completely cutting out bad foods works for everyone.

"Everything in moderation, and try and find ways of cutting back the naughty part," she says.

She thinks the 5:2 diet which restricts eating on two days of the week may be right for those who still feel the urge to indulge.

"What is coming through is that people are still thinking 'I can still have my treat food on the other days', not having to cut it out completely, (so they want less of it)."

She thinks it may be a good diet model for further research around food addiction.

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