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The World Cup of Food

The World Cup of Food

9 minute read time

With 32 countries meeting in Russia this summer to challenge for the World Cup trophy, it’s hard not get excited by the glamour of all those cultures coming together for a global footballing festival. Each team has its own style of play, each country its own colours…and somehow this led to us thinking about food (a topic never far from our thoughts).

What if there was a World Cup dedicated to food where countries showcased their most famous dishes? Who’d have the tastiest and healthiest national grub and how would England’s traditional cuisine stack up against the famous dishes of their opponents?

We decided to seek answers to these questions with the help of one of our qualified nutritional therapists, Sarah Hughes. As Gareth Southgate’s boys geared up for their Group G matches against Tunisia, Panama and Belgium, our own nutritional gaffer turned her attention to our opponent’s most popular meals.

Will the signature dishes of these countries be any match for the might of Shepherd’s Pie, Bangers & Mash and Fish & Chips. Let’s find out!

Final Group G standings

Team Points For Against
Tunisia 9 27 20
Panama 6 21 17
Belgium 3 18 22
England 0 13 23

Top scorer – Tunisian Tagine (9)

ENGLAND (Fish & Chips) VS BELGIUM (Flemish Stew)

Fish & Chips (with mushy peas)

Commentary – From Blackpool to Margate and everywhere in between, this seaside favourite is loved throughout our country and is becoming ever more popular overseas.

This particular recipe uses sustainable white fish fillets, which could be cod, haddock, coley or pollack. White fish is high in lean, easily digestible protein and is very low in fat. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the batter which is deep fat fried along with the chips. This is the least healthy way of cooking using high temperatures which can kill off many of the nutrients.

Marafat peas or good old mushy peas on the other hand are a great veg. Peas are good for the gut because they are an insoluble fibre. Therefore, this is beneficial to those suffering with constipation or a sluggish bowel as they get things moving.

Peas are also full of vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese. They are a naturally sweet food, the frozen ones being sweeter than the raw ones, which is why children usually love peas. A single serving of them will supply half of your daily vitamin C requirement and they are a very quick and easy vegetable to prepare.

Sarah’s top tip – Fish is a great nutritious food – unfortunately batter isn’t. So you could always remove the batter if you’re wanting to improve this dish nutritionally or if you deem this sacrilegious, just eat half of the batter.

Nutritional rating – It’s potentially a great meal but the abundance of batter and cooking methods let it down.  This meal is heavy on the digestion and I doubt our boys would last the full 90 minutes on the pitch with this in their bellies … I’d suggest fish & chips is enjoyed as a holiday treat and not eaten regularly during the week. 4 out of 10


Flemish Stew

Recipe – https://www.thespruceeats.com/flemish-beef-stew-recipe-1375827

Commentary – Who doesn’t love a nice rich stew…. especially in the chilly climate of Northern Russia. The Belgian fans will be popular up there!

Beef is high in easily absorbable protein, B vitamins and iron. Iron is especially important for athletes as it helps produce more red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. This is something you need plenty of if you’re running around a pitch for 90 minutes.

Onions and garlic add not only flavour to a meal but also immune boosting qualities. The herbs, parsley and thyme are a beneficial addition. Thyme not only adds a specific flavour but it is a herb that is full of iron and an essential oil called thymol that is antibacterial.

What I like about this recipe is it is slow cooked on a low heat and so the meat fibres are broken down gradually, making it easier to digest. The addition of beer is for flavour and there will be no alcohol left after the cooking.

Sarah’s top tip – Beef and other red meats can be harder to digest than white meat, even after stewing. Marinating or rubbing raw beef before cooking with spices such as rosemary, black pepper, garlic, onions, mustard or horseradish can aid digestion as well as enhance the flavour.  This dish always tastes better the day after cooking so planning is needed but it will be so worth it …

Nutritional rating – This high protein, slow cooked meal offers enough to get Belgium through the group. However, they’d need to add more vegetables to the dish if they want to set their sights on the latter stages. 6 out of 10.

The result

Belgium 6 – 4 England

ENGLAND (Bangers & Mash) VS PANAMA (Arroz Con Pollo)


Bangers & Mash

Recipe – https://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/5136/classic-bangers-and-mash.aspx 

Commentary – This much loved pub grub is also ideal for a no hassle mid-week supper.

Potatoes originally came from South America and were brought into this country in the Elizabethan era. They are a surprising good source of vitamin C, potassium, copper, B vitamins and fibre. Spuds can be dismissed by many because they are a starchy food and can lead to weight gain if eaten in excess. When mashed, potatoes have a high glycaemic index (which can raise the blood sugar quickly) but by leaving the skins on, the GI is lower plus they contain more nutrients.

Bangers tend to be cheap pork sausages. Pork is quite a fatty meat but it does contain useful amounts of iron and zinc as well as plenty of protein. Sausages can be a very processed food. Many of them contain a list of ingredients including preservatives, stabilisers, E numbers and high levels of cheap salt, all which detract from a nutritious punch. Sausages are fried but they could always be grilled for a less fatty outcome.

This recipe uses oregano, a wonderful herb with antioxidant properties as well as aromatic oils which are antiseptic. The addition of oregano improves the recipe in the nutrition stakes.

Sarah’s top tip – You could improve your tactics and use better quality sausages or go for the ultimate butcher venison sausage.  Alternatively, swap the potatoes for sweet potatoes if you are keeping an eye on your weight.

Nutritional rating – Although this meal can be improved, it tends to contain poorer quality, processed protein, lots of bad fats and quick release sugars in the mash. Chomping on bangers and mash everyday would be unlikely to get the England boys through the group stage. 2 out of 10


Arroz Con Polo

Recipe – https://www.eatthismuch.com/recipe/view/arroz-con-pollo,35023/ 

Commentary – Translated as simply chicken with rice, this is a traditional dish of both Central America and Spain, with quite similar ingredients to paella.

Chicken is a lean meat which is full of protein. White rice is a carbohydrate which increases blood sugar quickly, unlike its relative brown rice. White rice is more popular though because it is quick to cook.

Onions and garlic are power houses of nutrition and full of immune boosting properties. Vegetable oil is not the best oil for frying but the addition of garlic and onions increases it’s nutritional value.

Red bell peppers contain high levels of vitamin C and beta carotene (from which the body makes vitamin A), which is good for immunity and failing eyesight. Tomatoes are also rich in vitamins A,C and E as well as lycopene  (the source of the vibrant red colour) which can reduce the risk of prostate and breast cancer. Saffron is another herb that packs a punch as it is a potent antioxidant which can help prevent hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).

Paprika is a pepper and related to the chilli family, therefore has heating and antiseptic qualities as well as being full of antioxidants.

Sarah’s top tip – When cooked, lycopene content in tomatoes increases by 5 or 6 times. The highest content is found in the skin so don’t remove this.  Swap the white rice for brown which is high in B vitamins. This is good for the nervous system and releases energy much slower, keeping you fuller for longer.

Nutritional rating – Arroz con pollo is a well balanced meal nutritionally. It is a colourful dish which reflects that fact that it’s full of vitamins and antioxidants. On paper, the Panama team don’t quite look a match for their Group G opponents, Tunisia, and this is the case on the table too. Panama’s dish might have thrashed Bangers & Mash but they’ve been pipped at the post by the Tagine. 8 out of 10

The result

Panama 8 – 2 England

ENGLAND (Shepherd’s Pie) VS TUNISIA (Tunisian Tagine)


Shepherd’s Pie

Recipe – https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/9644/nofuss-shepherds-pie

Commentary – This is a traditional English comfort food made with lamb mince as well as potatoes, onions, carrots and tomato puree.

Lamb contains good amounts of B vitamins (especially B12), which are necessary for a healthy nervous system. They can also aid the prevention of heart disease and mood disorders. Lamb is one of the few commercial meats that is still largely pasture fed which means it is naturally lower in cholesterol than some other meats and contains the essential fatty acids omega 3 and 6.

Carrots give us a clue in their name that they are full of beta-carotene (from which the body makes vitamin A). This is what gives them their orange colour. This nutrient promotes eye health, especially night vision, hence why people say to eat your carrots so that you can see in the dark. Carrots can also aid the health of your skin and nails. Their high fibre content promotes a feeling of fullness, helps lower cholesterol and aids bowel regularity.

Mashed potatoes are high in starch but have many nutrients as well. Leave the skins on for more fibre and a lower GI (a higher GI increases blood sugar levels).

Sarah’s top tip – There are a myriad of potatoes out there. Don’t forget the red skinned ones which will have more antioxidants in them.  Also avoid buying potatoes that are already washed as this process destroys their natural protective coating, making them more vulnerable to bacteria and therefore decay. Buy them with a bit of soil on them and scrub them before use.

Nutritional rating – This old favourite offers good quality protein but also plenty of veg. It might not be the food of champions but Shepherd’s Pie would offer enough to get the Three Lions through the Group Stage 7 out of 10


Tunisian Tagine

Recipe – https://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detail.asp?recipe=510984

Commentary – A Tunisian tagine is a different dish to what we think of as a typical Moroccan tagine and is far more akin to an Italian Frittata. This is a great dish to make if you come home from work (or a workout) hungry as you can whip it up in about 10 minutes.

The main ingredient is eggs – a near perfect food. Eggs are not only an excellent source of protein but also one of the few food sources of vitamin D. Vitamin D and phosphorus (which eggs are rich in) are a great combination of nutrients for healthy bones and teeth.  Eggs have been given a bad rap over the years due to cholesterol in the yolk but we now know this doesn’t raise the LDL (unhealthy cholesterol) as was once thought and eating eggs daily is no problem for the vast majority of us.

Chicken is a good source of bioavailable protein, which means it is easily absorbed. It contains all the B vitamins which strengthens the nervous system as well as helping the body produce energy – something the Tunisian players will need in abundance to keep up with England’s speedy wingers …

This recipe uses the white breast meat, which is high in vitamin B3 (niacin) and easier on the digestion than many more fatty meats.

Parsley is often an overlooked herb – rich in vitamin K, needed for strong bones and also an aid to digestion.

Sarah’s top tip – Using organic free range eggs rather than intensively farmed ones will result in less saturated fat, more omega 3 fats and more vitamins A and E. Plus the chickens are happier. Everyone’s a winner.

Nutritional rating – Tunisia score a hat trick with a meal high in lean protein, a moderate amount of carbohydrate and some good fats. This Tagine would be a great dish to kick start your day and is a great advert for Tunisian cuisine on the world stage 9 out of 10

The result

Tunisia 9 – 7 England

About Sarah Hughes

Sarah HughesSarah is a herbalist and nutritional therapist who has practiced since 2006. She is a consultant for yorktest, offering nutritional support to our customers so they can cut out their trigger foods and optimise their diet. Find out more here.

Sarah is more of a tennis player and fan than a football lover but she will still get caught up in the excitement of the World Cup. She feels confident England will do better than in 2014 and make it through the group stage to the last 16 … where they are most likely to face Poland or Columbia.

Read more

Sarah Hughes – Read more about Sarah, who is part of a seven-strong team of yorktest nutritional therapists. They offer fantastic post-test support to our customers through half hour telephone consultations.
Food allergy and intolerance – learn the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance. Whilst not as severe as allergies, intolerances can be the root cause of many disruptive symptoms.


*yorktest define food intolerance as a food-specific IgG antibody reaction.


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