Busting Food Myths with Nicole Senior

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Myth: Food cooked at home is always healthier

Nicole Senior

Fact: Just because you cook it yourself, doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
It depends on what you cook, how you cook it and how much you eat. Food and cooking are back in fashion. This cultural shift is punctuated by the phenomena of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, the ratings behemoth of ‘Masterchef’, amazing sales of cookbooks and the endless buffet of celebrity chefs, cooking shows and food magazines. I hope this has had some positive impacts on the community at large. I’ve heard many stories of children being inspired to cook by watching ‘Masterchef’ on TV, and families becoming inspired to cook more at home for fun. The question is, are we eating any healthier?

One reason why the food and cooking trend may not have traction on our path to health is that many of us are just looking rather than doing it; the reason premium cookbooks have come to be known as ‘gastro-porn’! Meals eaten away from home continue to grow, and our love affair with fast food shows no sign of slowing down.

Unfortunately, most of the recipes we see on TV are not particularly healthy and would have the red light furiously flashing if we had a traffic light system of food labelling. Celebrity chefs are famous for their liberal use of fatty meat, butter, cream and salt. Most demonstrate what I call ‘special occasion’ or ‘sometimes’ food, yet this is rarely pointed out. Ingredients used on episodes of ‘Masterchef’ experience massive sales booms after the show goes to air so it appears some of us cook what they cook.

Jamie Oliver's Beef and Guiness pie

Even if we don’t actually cook the recipes, what about role modelling? Celebrity chefs have attained rock-star status but what a lost opportunity when vegetables hardly feature on the ‘restaurant-quality’ meals presented. What a pity many recipes contain an entire day’s worth of salt in a single dish. When the food prepared is more approachable, it draws on peasant origins designed for toiling in the fields with large portions and all the trimmings; hardly suitable for our sedentary lifestyles. If the cooking on TV and in celebrity chef cookbooks is any indication of what we’re eating at home, it is little wonder we’re in trouble with diet-related disease.

Many people speak ill of foods in packets like chocolate bars but feel good about whipping up a chocolate mud cake from scratch and eating a generous slice even though an objective measure of kilojoules and saturated fat would demonstrate that the home-made treat is worse. It is easy to criticise a fast food burger but somehow Jamie’s Steak, guinness and cheese pie with a puff pastry lid (made with all-butter pastry and pictured above) has a health halo. Just for fun I totted up the nutritional numbers. The Hungry Jack’s (Burger King’s) Ultimate Double Angus burger was attacked by health professionals yet Jamie’s recipe contains even more kilojoules and artery clogging saturated fat.

Nutrition analysis of Jamie Oliver's Beef and Guiness pie

Nutrition analysis of fast-food burgers

I’ve done a small study on the types of fats used in magazine recipes and it’s little wonder high cholesterol levels are so common. ‘But what about the love’, I hear you ask. While the love in home cooking cannot be measured, it still doesn’t counteract a diet of excess, although you may die happy with a face full of pie!

In times past, a good cook knew about balance, moderation, variety, fresh ingredients and providing nourishing meals on a budget. The same knowledge and skills are needed today, but we must add environmentally sustainable and extra healthy to the list. Much of what we see of cooking in the media has a different focus. If more home cooking is to help rather than hinder our wellbeing we have to see more about healthy eating in our info-tainment. Or switch off altogether and take lessons from grandma.

Nicole Senior MSc (Nut&Diet) BSc (Nut) is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist and author of Eat to Beat Cholesterol and Heart Food . Check out her website HERE.

GI Group: Check out the ‘Money Saving Meals Masterchef Makeover’ and see how Diane saved a lot of dollars and even more calories and saturated fat HERE.