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'Chewing the Fat' - A Defence of Meat in the Fight Against Obesity

04/02/2014 13:10 GMT | Updated 06/04/2014 10:59 BST

With the 'sugar vs fat' debate gathering pace across the media, dieticians and dinner tables, I want to give a case for fat that is not often debated. When it comes to meat - fat is good and fat is tasty.

In recent times 'fat' has become a demonised word. The fact that 'fat' (the noun) has been lambasted as a cause of people becoming 'fat' (the adjective), means pretty much all of society has been turned off fat. So much so, that the word itself is no longer generally socially accepted, with large or obese deemed much more appropriate.

Thankfully our animal friends have much thicker skins, (quite literally), and fat in meat plays a pivotal role in releasing meat flavours. I'm no biologist, but my understanding is that many flavour-holding molecules are soluble in fat, but not in water. Flavours of otherwise dry foods are more effectively absorbed by our taste buds when accompanied by fat. As such, fat effectively slows down the progress of flavours and aromas across the palate. This is most apparent and, you'll be conscious of it when you eat something indulgent that you chew slowly to enjoy this sensation and release flavours slowly, such as a nice juicy steak or a luxury chocolate.

In most meats, fat is present as a layer beneath the skin you can see, known as 'subcutaneous fat'. In humans it is the layer most of us are trying to lose! In livestock however it is the layer farmers try to cultivate on the animal. As a general rule in livestock production and farming - fat is good. It allows meat to be properly hung and matured, as a good fat layer protects the carcass from bacteria and during cooking it helps keep the meat moist when exposed to heat.

More subtle and less obvious fat in meat is the threads that run between and through the muscle. Commonly known as marbling; it would be easy to dismiss this as unwanted 'fat' but this couldn't be further from the truth. Marbling is a very good indicator of quality, and chances are the cut will be packed full of flavour. If you want proof, ask your butcher what their favourite steak is, and chances are it will be a ribeye, because it has the ultimate marbling.

The renaissance of slow-cooking and American-style barbecuing means joints and cuts which are packed full of flavour such as beef brisket and pork shoulder, are also high in connective fat. The reason pulled pork 'falls apart' is as much to do with the connective fat as it is to do with the meat, it's the combination of the two which gives that slow release sensation to the palate.

Like many things, including sugar and salt, too much fat is not good for you. The key thing to remember is that it's not too bad for you either. The bad thing is combining all three (fat, salt and sugar) which are present in processed foods. It's a subtle cocktail of instant gratification and addictive flavouring that is a much greater contributor to obesity than either fat or sugar alone.

If we're serious about tackling obesity (and we really should be), we need to get serious about teaching food appreciation and basic cooking skills. Like any foodstuff meat should be eaten in moderation and as part of a balanced diet. Too many people opt for the 'easier' option in the supermarket, the ready-made food aisle. Home cooking doesn't need to mean hours of preparation and cooking time but it does mean you can be confident knowing what you're eating without the worry of extra lurking additives, preservatives, salts, sugars and fat!