GBBO returns - but do we still have an appetite for cake?

·5 min read

At last, the Great British Bake Off is back. Channel 4 have confirmed that the new series will launch at 8pm on Tuesday Sept 21st, and the nation's cake-lovers can't wait.

The hugely popular baking show broke viewing records during last year's final, reaching a peak of 10.4 million viewers, with over 63% aged under 34, proving that baking isn't the preserve of cosy grannies - it's something anyone can do, as proven by Peter Sawkins, 20, last year's student winner.

Peter, Laura and Dave have made it to the 'Bake Off' final. (Mark Bourdillon/Channel 4)
Last year's Bake Off finalists, ready to fight to the death over sponge. (Channel 4)

Lockdown saw us all baking more, with banana bread and sourdough booming in popularity as those furloughed and trapped at home sought out a satisfying hobby - and there's nothing more comforting than delicious home-made carbs,.

It's not surprising, however, that according to a study from Public Health England, over 40% of adults in England gained weight during the pandemic, with an average addition of half a stone. Snacking and comfort eating were given as the culprits by around half the gainers, while others blamed lack of exercise and boredom. 

Read more: Jake Gyllenhaal reveals he's a 'Bake Off' fan who 'adores' Prue Leith

“The past sixteen months have caused many to change their habits,” said Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist of Public Health England. “It is not a surprise to see so many people reporting weight gain.”

Further research for Institute for Fiscal Studies used purchasing data and discovered a huge calorie increase from takeaways, reaching almost double normal levels in the second lockdown during November 2020. Another study from King's College London found that people were eating more during lockdown due to anxiety and depression. 

"If I stare hard enough, it'll start inching towards me." (Getty Images)
"If I stare hard enough, it'll start inching towards me." (Getty Images)

The end of restrictions - for now - saw a vast number pledging to lose the weight, but last month, it was reported that shares in WW International - formerly known as Weight Watchers - dropped by 25 per cent and that the company had lost around 100,000 subscribers during the pandemic.

“While people are acknowledging their need for recommitting to weight loss and wellness, our recent consumer research shows that, at the moment, they’re also asking for a pause to enjoy social reconnection,” said WW International CEO Mindy Grossman.

We all know scoffing cake isn't great for us, but we shouldn't underestimate its benefits, points out Lynsey Bee, 44, of Bumble and Goose Bespoke Bakehouse.

"Baking saved me!" she says now." I left my career after burnout. A series of unfortunate life events had left me unable to carry on my role as a Health Visitor, and I began baking as a form of therapy on the advice of my CBT therapist."

Read more: 'Bake Off' contestants beaten by 'simple' chocolate brownie challenge

"The benefits are huge!" she adds. "My therapist told me that an idle mind is an anxious mind and baking is hugely beneficial to occupy the mind. It requires concentration and focus which is a helpful distraction from anxious thoughts and the end result is tangible and delicious. 

"There’s an added benefit in sharing those bakes with friends and loved ones and experiencing their joy and appreciation."

Lynsey stacks up an excellent argument for baking. (Bumble & Goose)
Lynsey stacks up an excellent argument for baking. (Bumble & Goose)

Lynsey loved baking so much, she's now turned her baking passion into a business, and credits GBBO with inspiring all of us. 

"I think GBBO has made baking more real and more accessible," she says. "It’s all the messy bits and mistakes which we all make and can relate to. It shows that even those awesome bakers who make it onto the show can still drop a cake or burn their brownies."

It goes far beyond that, too, she thinks. "I’m a huge advocate for baking for your mental health. I can’t put into words how much it helped me through the toughest times of my life. 

Watch: 11 of the best Bake Off innuendos

"Food is such a source of pleasure for most of us already, to make and enjoy that food is so gratifying. As for the waistline…bake it, eat it and share it. Enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle, a few baked goodies will do more good than harm."

Good news - but that's a baker talking. Is that the view of nutritionists? Surprisingly, yes.

"Baking occasionally and eating cake is fine," says nutritionist Nishtha Patel of The Gut Expert. "Baking brings joy and satisfaction to many people, it's a nice way for families to come together. 

"I have no problem with having a little bit of what you fancy. It helps a lot of people mentally too," she adds, "as they can express their creativity and share their final product."

It's all very well, though, for those who are happy with 'everything in moderation'. But when it comes to those who can easily eat a whole cake, one tiny slice at a time, should we be giving up baking altogether and getting healthy?

African family have fun cooking baking cake or cookie in the kitchen together, Happy smiling Black son enjoy playing and touching his father nose with finger and flour while doing bakery at home.
Baking brings people together - and there's something nice to eat afterwards. (Getty Images)

There's a happy medium, promises Patel.

"If you want to have cake more than once in a while, there are so many options you can use to make it a healthier version, and it will still taste good too. 

"Be mindful of certain ingredients such as sugar and refined white flour. There are options where you can swap to fruit; mashed bananas are often great in some recipes, and avocado is also a great substitute for some fats. 

Watch: Three-ingredient orange loaf cake

"I can make a great key lime pie with just nuts and avocado and most people don’t even know there is a difference!" says Patel. "White flour can be swapped for almond flour or oat flour and honey or maple syrup can be used instead of white sugar."

It sounds marvellous, but a word of warning, adds Patel. "Sugar is sugar, in whatever form. The body will still process it all in the same way."

Then again, life's short. And you don't get a Hollywood Handshake for a sugar-free avocado cake.

The Great British Bake Off kicks off at 8pm on Tuesday September 21 on Channel 4

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