Put pleasure back into your diet

Two cookery books gently nudge you towards making smarter food choices that are good for your health

Part of the problem we all face when it comes to scrutinising our diet is the fact that well-meaning people usually recommend we should do something draconian.

Trying to eat more healthfully always seems to involve drastic measures: give up dairy; cut out gluten; abandon carbohydrates; renounce red meat; abandon fats; swear off the booze.

Everything sounds like a punishment and a penance. If we want to make a gain, then it seems we first have got to have the pain.

But what if eating healthfully was simple and pleasurable, rather than painful? What if, instead of being dragged kicking and screaming into eating well for our health, we could instead be nudged towards a better diet?


Nudging people towards making better choices is an important element of behavioural science, and is widely utilised in politics, economics and in many aspects of public life.

The classic example of nudging, described in Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's best-selling book, Nudge, was utilised in Schiphol airport, in the men's loos.

Aad Kieboom, an economist who directs the building expansion programme at the airport, had the bright idea of etching the image of a housefly into each of the urinals.

What happened next? Simple. Urine spillage was reduced by 80 per cent.

Two recent cookery books, by two very fine cooks, seem to me to be perfect examples of books which gently nudge you towards making smarter food choices that are good for your health.

Irish chef Jordan Bourke's book, Healthy Baking doesn't sound like a lot of fun, but while the first half of the book will tell you how to make porridge sourdoughs and chia oatcakes, it's in the second half of the book that Mr Bourke really mines culinary gold.

By introducing us to ancient grains such as buckwheat, freekeh, amaranth and millet, Mr Bourke lets us expand our repertoire of basic staples, so we don’t end up always turning to our beloved potato when it’s time for dinner. And with simple and smart recipes for ferments and pickles, this is a book that can quickly turn around your cooking style, simply by giving you a whole bunch of new go-to recipes.

"Food is there to be celebrated, not feared," writes Mr Bourke, and thanks to his modest, companionable style, Healthy Baking will bring healthy eating to your table.

The English chef Gill Mellor is another cook who wants to nudge us towards healthy ingredients. He’s the sort of cook who will pair sea beet with lamb’s kidneys, or parsnips with blackberries, or polenta with roast ham.

His food is quixotic, and his recipes in Gather take a searing and original look at the foods that come from our fields, farms, gardens and shoreline. Like Jordan Bourke, Mr Mellor is a good companion and a good guide in the kitchen, modestly steering us towards simple ingredients, and simple techniques, so there is nothing cheffy or intimidating about his food.

Gather and Healthy Baking show us that the best food is also the most healthful food, well within our reach and our abilities. So, let yourself be nudged towards healthy coking by these two singular books. There is no pain, and there is lots to gain.

Healthy Baking is published by Orion Books gather is published by Quadrille

John McKenna is editor at guides.ie