Food for Thought

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The joy of cooking.
Food and cooking are back in fashion, but are we eating any healthier? There are so many stories of children being inspired to cook by watching ‘Masterchef’ on TV, and families becoming inspired to cook more at home. Certainly, supermarkets report that ingredients used on episodes of ‘Masterchef’ experience massive sales booms after the show goes to air so it appears we do cook what they cook. But is it actually good news for our waistlines? Will it solve the problems of obesity and chronic diet related disease like heart disease and type 2 diabetes?

‘Unfortunately,’ says dietitian and myth-buster Nicole Senior, who checked out the story that home cooking is healthier in a previous issue of GI News, ‘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 and MasterChef contestants are famous for their very 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.’ For example, everyone absolutely loved Julie Goodwin’s (Australia’s first MasterChef) style of home cooking. But when Diane Temple checked out her Pan-fried Steak and Chips with Tarragon Salt (a recipe the judges raved about it) she found that you’d be taking on board an entire day’s calories in a single meal (i.e. 1800 cals/7560 kJ).

Joy of Cooking

Calories are climbing in recipe books too. When Dr Brian Wansink and Dr Collin Payne compared 18 ‘classic’ recipes published in all seven editions of the Joy of Cooking they found that the average calories per serving jumped 63% in 70 years in 17 of the 18 recipes that they compared from about 268 calories (1125 kJ) per serving in 1936 to about 436 calories (1831 kJ) in 2006.‘This jump in calories was influenced by both changes in ingredients – usually increases in fat and sugar – and changes in serving size,’ says Wansink. ‘Family size has gotten smaller, but calorie content and portion sizes have gotten bigger’. For example, in the 1997 edition, the beef stroganoff recipe called for 3 tablespoons of sour cream (less than ¼ cup). The 2006 edition calls for 1 whole cup for the same serving size.

We are putting more on our plates too. Emma Stirling dished up the scoop on supersizing home-cooked meals for us back in 2010 and reported that our supersized crockery is a big part of the problem. She says that:

  • dinner plates are about 30% bigger than they were 50 years ago
  • we tend to serve ourselves more on big plates
  • if you switch from a 12in (30cm) plate back to a 10in (25cm) plate you could lose 18 pounds (a bit over 8kg) in a year. If you skip over to the Scoop on Nutrition Emma will show you what a difference crockery size makes.

‘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,’ says Nicole, ‘but we must add environmentally sustainable and extra healthy to the list. Much of what we see of cooking in the media (and by celeb chefs) has a different focus. If more home cooking is to help rather than hinder our well being we have to see more about healthy eating in our info-tainment. Or switch off altogether and take lessons from grandma.’