Don’t Worry, Some Christmas Desserts Aren’t As Naughty As You’d Think

Christmas is a time full of indulgence: desserts with rich chocolate, dripping caramel sauce, and moist cakes (no soggy bottoms, please). In line with the holiday season, one research group found that the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) Christmas desserts are not as naughty as we may have feared.

Firstly, why this one television show? Well, the team believes that this show is “the greatest television baking competition of all time”. To answer the age-old debate on whether we can stuff our faces with desserts without the guilt, they determined the harms and health benefits of various ingredients in Christmas desserts from the show.

GBBO is a quintessential British cooking show that is full of cozy vibes and has been beaming onto British televisions (and some American ones) for thirteen years. It brought us Bingate in 2014 (which involved allegations of a “sabotaged” ice cream component of a Baked Alaska), Prue Leith accidentally announcing the winner of the show on Twitter in her first year before airing, and James Acaster’s infamous line: “Started making it. Had a breakdown. Bon appétit.”

The researchers analyzed the ingredients from “Christmas” recipes listed on the official GBBO website – it was important to note that one recipe did include bacon, but, “We did not consider bacon, which was included in one recipe, because it is not a proper dessert ingredient (and the first author is vegetarian),” authors of the paper said.

They then identified umbrella reviews of meta-analyses of studies that evaluated any associations between the risk of disease and dietary exposures to these ingredients. Umbrella reviews can help provide an overall high-level summary of evidence on certain topics.

The team identified 46 umbrella reviews and found 363 associations between ingredients and an increased or decreased risk of death or disease. Of these, 149 were statistically significant, with 26 percent of associations estimating the ingredient groups increase the risk of death and 74 percent estimating that they reduce it.  

The most common ingredients associated with a reduced risk included fruit, coffee, and nuts. Sadly, sugar and alcohol were the ingredients most associated with risk. Alcohol in particular was associated with gastric cancer, colon cancer, and irregular heart rate. This would be a shame for Judge Prue Leith, who loves a boozy concoction in her desserts, especially as her yule log recipe is laced with Irish Cream.

One dessert that came out relatively on top 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 essentially a fruit salad with nuts. Yum!” the researchers said. This recipe’s ingredients had 82 significant associations, where 70 associations suggested that they decreased the risk of disease.

Before you go off guzzling down your Christmas treats, the researchers did point out some limitations to this paper. Observational studies were used heavily in this analysis, which have inherent limitations. Also, in this analysis the researchers did not account for the proportions of each ingredient, “any recipe with fruit, even if it was only one berry, was weighted equally in terms of its protective effect in relation to the harmful effect of butter”. If they had, while it would have been more informative, it would have been less “fun”.

Despite that, for easing some Christmas guilt, this research well and truly deserves a Paul Hollywood handshake.

This research was published in the BMJ.

Leave a Comment