February 17, 2009

Study Highlights Caloric Increases In Cookbooks

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that over the past 70 years, nearly 40 percent of cookbook recipes showed an increase of around 75 calories per serving for nearly every recipe reviewed, the Associated Press reported.

The trend extended to several different cookbooks, but it focused on American kitchen icon "Joy of Cooking," first published during the 1930s and regularly updated with new editions since then, most recently in 2006.

Cornell University marketing professor Brian Wansink, who directed the study, said there has been so much attention given to away-from-home eating and so much attention that's been focused on restaurants and the packaged food industry.

"It makes me wonder whether it's actually deflecting attention from the one place where we can make the most immediate change," he said.

Wansink said among the 18 recipes published in all seven editions, 17 increased in calories per serving, attributed partly to a jump in total calories per recipe (about 567 calories), and to larger portion sizes.

He said the book's chicken gumbo recipe went from making 14 servings at 228 calories each in the 1936 edition, to making 10 servings at 576 calories each in the 2006 version.

Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University, said most excess calories in the American diet still come from food eaten outside the home. But she says the study is yet another illustration of how accustomed people are to eating ever increasing quantities of food.

"Joy of Cooking" has shown gradual increases in overall calories per recipe, but portion sizes tended to jump, first during the '40s, again during the '60s, and with the largest jump in the 2006 edition.

Wansink said the first significant signs of restaurant portion inflation didn't show up until the late '70s.

A 2002 study showed similar findings when it compared the book's brownie recipe from the '60s and '70s editions to the recipe from the 1997 edition.

"Same recipe. Same pan. But in the '60s and '70s it yielded 30 brownies," said Lisa Young, an adjunct nutrition professor at New York University. "In the 1997 edition it yielded 15."

She claims the trend also showed up in other recipe sources. For example, a popular chocolate chip cookie recipe that decades before produced 100 cookies, made only 60 during the '80s, though no ingredients had changed.

Wansink, however, is more concerned by the increase in overall calories per recipe - what experts call caloric density - than in the portion size increases, which is a more easily recognized phenomenon.

"That (calorie increases) is more insidious because that's the sort if thing the average person wouldn't notice, wouldn't even think would have happened over the years," says Wansink, author of "Mindless Eating," an examination of why people overeat.

He attributed many of the changes to money.

With regards to household income, food is cheaper than during the '30s. So Wansink says recipes once padded with less expensive (and lower calorie) ingredients like beans, now often have more meat.

But Wansink said estimating the effect on the typical diet is challenging because it measures the recipes only as written, not as eaten, and many people may eat more or less than the suggested serving.

But, he said, a 40 percent increase is significant. A change of even 10 percent can affect weight, especially when dealing with high calorie foods.

Therefore, he suggests never letting a full portion get anywhere near your plate.

"It's not enough to just be aware," Wansink said. "Put half of it away as soon as it's cooked."


Image 2: A new Cornell study finds that the 18 recipes published continuously in the classic cookbook, "The Joy of Cooking," have increased in average calories per serving by 63 percent since the book was first published in 1936. Courtesy Susan S. Lang/Cornell Chronicle


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