Are Cookbooks Sabotaging the American Diet?

cookbookA recent study showed that recipes from “The Joy of Cooking” have increased substantially in calorie count and portion size since the book’s original publication. There was a nearly 40 percent increase in calories per serving for practically every recipe reviewed.

The study focused primarily on “The Joy of Cooking” because the well-known cookbook has been updated consistently from 1930 through 2006. Of the 18 recipes that have appeared in each version, 17 have increased 63 percent in calorie count per serving, due both to higher overall caloric content and larger portion sizes.

However, Beth Wareham, editor of the 2006 edition of “The Joy of Cooking,” argued that the book has become healthier overall by cutting out processed ingredients.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
One of the healthiest things you can do for your health, and that of your family, is spend quality time in the kitchen preparing the food for yourself and your family. The fact that cookbooks may have more calories per serving than they did back in 1930 is likely a sign of the times: portion sizes, and people’s perceptions of what constitutes a typical portion size, have been steadily increasing for decades.

In the United States, the problem is particularly glaring. U.S. portion sizes exceed not only those in less developed countries, but also those in the developed world.

According to a Reuters article last year, Americans have the highest per capita daily consumption in the world, eating 3,770 calories a day -- which is far more than the average adult needs.

However, it’s really not fair to make cookbooks the scapegoat in all of this, particularly when everyone from fast-food restaurants to potato chip manufacturers are making jumbo sizes to entice people to eat more.

It really is quite obvious that if cookbooks were the biggest health problem facing the American diet, there’d be many slimmer people walking around than there are now.

Eating at Home is STILL Your Best Option

Meals from both fast-food restaurants and regular restaurants are larger and have more calories than meals prepared at home, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals.

So whether you’re looking to lose weight, maintain your weight or simply monitor what goes into your food, the more you eat at home, the better. And cookbooks can actually be a great resource in the kitchen, especially if you choose a healthy one like Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions or the cooking videos prepared by our own Luci Lock.

The benefit to recipes is, not one of them is set in stone. You’re free to modify ingredients and their amounts to adjust for your nutritional type. And you certainly don’t have to follow their suggestions for a typical portion size.

Your body is a far better gauge of that.

How to Eat the Appropriate Amount at Every Meal

It really is quite simple, all you need to do is use hunger as your guide to let you know when it’s time to eat and when you’ve had enough.  Eat slowly and savor each bite, as it takes about 20 minutes for your food to be digested enough, and a signal sent to your brain, telling you you’re full. This will help you get in touch with your body’s specific nutritional needs.

The fine tuning involves adjusting for the protein, carbohydrate and fat ratio in the foods you eat. If you’ve just eaten a meal and in an hour or so feel hungry again, this is a sign you’re not eating the right combination of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates for your body.

This is really the crux of Nutritional Typing, which is based on your personal biochemistry and will help you identify your optimal diet and the specific combination of foods that will leave you with increased energy and fewer food cravings.

The beauty of nutritional typing is your food cravings will dissipate, making adjusting and reducing the sizes of your portions that much easier. You can split your meals into five or six smaller portions, and still be far less hungry than you ever were before because your body is finally getting the right type of fuel to make it thrive.

Resist the Urge to Take Giant Portions

When you spend time in the kitchen preparing delicious meals, you just might be tempted to help yourself to a giant serving.  

You should realize that previous studies have shown it actually takes you longer to reach fullness or satiety when you’re served a larger than normal portion of food, and young children consume about 25 percent less when allowed to help themselves to what they want than when served.

In other words, you’ll probably eat more if you sit down with a giant portion in front of you, as opposed to a smaller portion.

So it’s always best to err on the small side when it comes to mealtime. If you finish your portion and in 20 minutes or so still feel hungry go ahead and take a little bit more. It doesn’t need to be an exact science, so long as you listen to your body and stop eating when it tells you you’ve had enough.

Embracing Old-Fashioned “Home Cooking”

If you want to be optimally healthy then you, a family member, or someone you pay simply has to invest time in the kitchen cooking fresh wholesome meals.

Like many people, I have very little "free time" in my life, but still am committed to either me or someone in my home preparing over 95 percent of my meals in order to optimize my health. I believe it is a truly important commitment, and it CAN be done.

One of the many advantages to cooking at home is the meals you prepare will be far more flavorful than store-bought processed varieties. Plus, with the economy like it is, cooking at home is a great way to save money.

Resist the urge to rely on packaged convenience food when you cook at home, as these processed foods typically contain a whole host of artificial additives, flavorings, MSG, and preservatives -- none of which are beneficial to your health. And studies show they don’t really save you any time in the kitchen anyway, compared to cooking dinner from scratch, so there’s really no reason to use them.

And by all means, find a few healthy cookbooks and make them your allies in the kitchen. My two suggestions would be to choose cookbooks that focus their recipes on fresh, non-processed ingredients, and tweak the recipes when you need to so they’re right for your nutritional type.