Great British Bake Off festive treats healthier than you might expect

If fans of the Great British Bake Off needed more reasons to love the cult baking show, scientists are happy to oblige.

A team of researchers reviewed the health risks and benefits of ingredients for 48 Christmas dessert recipes featured in the television show’s festive specials, publishing their findings in the British Medical Journal.

Perhaps surprisingly, three-quarters (74%) of the main ingredient groups in festive bakes such as – Kim-Joy’s ‘cosy by the fire’ winter scene shadow box; Ruby’s boozy chai, cherry and chocolate panettones; and Rahul’s spiced apple and plum nut crumble – were linked to reduced risk of death or disease. 

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Selasi’s bûche de Noël (similar to the dessert shown here) was one of the GBBO festive recipes considered in the study / Credit: Cavan images / Getty Images

“The health benefits of most ingredients in the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) Christmas desserts outweigh the harms,” the United States based authors write.

Fruit, coffee and nuts were most commonly associated with reduced health risks, according to the study. 

Whereas alcohol was one of two ingredient groups linked to increased risk of death and disease. The other was sugar.

“If Prue Leith, the Great British Bake Off judge who enjoys a dash of alcohol in and with her bakes, is reading this, we are sorry!” the authors write.

Baking and Bake Off might even bring benefits beyond the kitchen and Christmas table. 

Earlier this year, Cosmos spoke to GBBO winner and materials engineer Giuseppe Dell’Anno about the connections between baking and engineering.

Before taking time off to write his cookbook, Giuseppe’s Italian Bakes, Dell’Anno was chief engineer of a UK research and development facility, the National Composites Centre. His workshop had “ovens, thermal controllers, autoclaves … all those things that to a baker are bread and butter,” he says.  

Dell’Anno is one of several engineers who have been GBBO contestants and winners. Something he says, which can help to “demystify the aura of squareness there is around technical people and engineers”. 

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Engineer-baker Giuseppe Dell’Anno / Credit: Matt Russell used with permission

In the BMJ study, the researchers suggest replacing alcohol with milk or coffee in festive cakes and biscuits, and keeping sugar intake below 25 g/day (about 6 teaspoons).

The study reviewed the literature associated with 178 unique ingredients in 17 groups including: butter; flour; sugar; eggs; baking soda and powder; salt; food colourings, flavours and extracts; fruit; alcohol; milk; chocolate; spices; nuts; coffee; vegetable fat; cheese and yoghurt; peanuts or peanut butter.

Researchers included 46 umbrella reviews (a type of study which compiles evidence from multiple systemic reviews or meta-analyses) and 363 unique associations between ingredients and risk of death or disease associated with health concerns like cancer, brain disorders, cardiovascular, metabolic autoimmune and liver diseases.

Engineers and gbbo contestants dr giuseppe dell'anno, dr rahul mandal and andrew smyth (l to r)/ credit: chris warren / used with permission from royal academy of engineering
Engineers and GBBO contestants Dr Giuseppe Dell’Anno, Dr Rahul Mandal and Andrew Smyth (L to R) / Credit: Chris Warren / Used with permission from Royal Academy of Engineering

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