calorie counts, calorie counts cooking at home
Keith Srakocic/AP

"Portion Distortion" Makes its Way into Cookbooks

March 18, 2009 09:20 AM
by Isabel Cowles
Recipes from “The Joy of Cooking” have increased substantially in calorie count and portion size since the book’s original publication, according to a recent study.

Bigger Portions: Not Just in Restaurants

Those who have been cooking at home to control calories may be battling a subtle saboteur: their own cookbooks, according to a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study looked at classic American cookbooks and discovered a nearly 40 percent increase in calories per serving for practically every recipe reviewed, the AP reports.

The study was led by Brian Wansink, a marketing professor at Cornell University. It focused primarily on “The Joy of Cooking,” 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.

There are at least two reasons for these changes: food has gotten less expensive since 1930 and recipes call for more meat and dairy than they used to. Wansink also attributed the jump in calories to ingredients used to make dishes more interesting, such as nuts or raisins: “They’re now there for a little more excitement,” Wansink told the Los Angeles Times.

"So much finger pointing is going on at away-from-home dining it really takes the focus off where we could probably have the most immediate influence,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in March.

But 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. She told the Los Angeles Times that food choices are ultimately up to the consumer, saying that Americans know that “eating a brownie is not as good as eating a plate of whole grains and vegetables."

Related Topic: Healthy Cooking at Home

Medical experts maintain, however, that cooking at home can be a positive diet solution. According to a feature published on WebMD, “One of the best ways to watch what you eat is to make it yourself.”

Karen R. Koenig, author of “The Rules of ‘Normal’ Eating” and “The Food and Feelings Workbook,” argues that many Americans struggle with maintaining a healthy diet because they are “disconnected” from the food they eat. The best way to stop overeating or curb emotional eating, she says, is to prepare the food mindfully.

Cooking at home doesn’t have to be a diet trap, especially with the resources available online. FindingDulcinea’s Healthy Cooking Web Guide features sites that explain the basics of nutrition, outline the healthiest foods and offer suggestions on how to cook healthfully at home.

Americans may still use cookbooks with indulgent recipes, but that doesn’t mean their cooking is always decadent. According to a national survey completed in February 2008, vegetable gardening is a “significant new trend” in the U.S. Local nurseries from Minneapolis to Pittsburgh have seen a surge in seed orders for greens, peas and beets.

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