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Weekly Diet News Digest

by John McGran, Columnist

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I love food... especially rib-sticking home-cooked meals that provide equal parts comfort and good nutrition. It seems that no matter how hard a restaurant tries to serve up "homestyle" meals, their dishes just can't match the overall joy of an honest-to-goodness home-cooked meal.

At a time when many of us are pinching pennies, cooking at home is as good for your budget as it is for your well-being. But did you know that home cooking can be bad for your diet?

Yup... it seems there is no joy in cooking if you're preparing some of the Joy of Cooking recipes that have been tinkered with since the famous book was first published in 1931.

A recent LA Times feature notes, "In the classic cookbook, published since 1931, changes in ingredients and serving sizes have led to a 63% increase in calories per serving in 17 recipes."

Gulp! I think I just choked on my beef stroganoff. In the 1997 edition, the beef stroganoff recipe called for three tablespoons of sour cream. The 2006 edition calls for one cup. This is a good reminder that portion distortion can be as much a problem in our kitchens as well as in restaurants. Those sneaky food editors at Joy of Cooking have taken our diet out of the frying pan and plopped it squarely in the fryer!

The cookbook skullduggery came to light in a letter published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Food sleuths examined 18 classic recipes found in seven editions of the book from 1936 to 2006. It found that calorie counts for 14 of the recipes have ballooned by an average of 928 calories, or 44%, per recipe. And serving sizes have grown as well.

Chew on this: In 1997, the basic recipe for waffles made a dozen six-inch waffles; in 2006, the same ingredients made about six waffles.

The changes in ingredients and serving sizes led to a 63% increase in calories per serving in 17 of the recipes.

"When we talk about obesity, people like to plant the source of the issue on away-from-home dining," said Brian Wansink, the study's co-author and director of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab. "But that raised the thought in my mind: Is that really the source of things?... What has happened in what we've been doing in our own homes over the years?"

Wansink worked hand-in-spoon with co-author Collin Payne, assistant professor of marketing at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, to quantify how home cooking has changed over the years.

Some of the added calories came from a substitution of ingredients... like extra meat instead of vegetables.

In other recipes, sauces were added, or more butter or sugar, or extras such as nuts and raisins.

"I would have expected that with the increasing awareness of nutrition, the calories would have been lower or stayed the same," says American Dietetic Association spokesperson Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo.

Joy of Cooking editor Beth Wareham is pish-poshing the revelation.

"It's such a tiny number of recipes. It's really a non-event," she says.

She claims the cookbook has become more healthful overall. Recipe doctors have swapped out many processed foods in favor of fresher ingredients. The most recent edition boasts a chapter on nutrition written by Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health.

"We give Americans credit for knowing that eating a brownie is not as good as eating a plate of whole grains and vegetables," Wareham says.

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