How to Choose A Healthy Cookbook

By Emily on 02/27/2009
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The news that the much-loved Joy of Cooking has increased the calories in several of its recipes over the years has been controversial with some in the nutrition business. While news reports used scare tactics to warn us that our cookbooks could be making us fat, dietitian Maggie Green, who consulted on a recent edition of Joy, was skeptical that the study only analyzed 18 recipes out of thousands and that newer editions use less processed foods. “I still defy anyone to cook and eat sensibly at home and become obese,” Green told the blog Nutrition Unplugged. It's interesting to think about portion sizes and how they've changed over the years. I'd wager that most people don't stick to one portion as directed by the recipe. This got me thinking about cookbooks and what they can do for us. They're tools that we can use to our advantage or keep us entrenched in unhealthy patterns. What's the best cookbook for you?

We asked Robyn L. Priebe, Green Mountain at Fox
Run's director of Nutrition, to dish out advice on choosing the right cookbook.

Assess your individual needs. Do you have trouble fitting enough veggies into your meals? Then how about springing for a book that focuses on new ways of preparing greens. Clueless about whole grains? Why not go for a book dedicated to demystifying them? Busy? Look for recipes that are especially good to make ahead and freeze. Think about what you'd like to change about your eating habits and hone in from there.

Know yourself. Maybe you need a cookbook that's really going to do the thinking for you. Some offer pre-planned menus, even grocery lists. On the other hand, if you balk at having to follow "rules" you might want recipes that you can mix and match.

Is is easy to use? Do many of the recipes have more than 10 ingredients? Can you pronounce them all? Are they practical items you're likely to have around the house? Are they affordable?

Don't jump straight on the low-fat bandwagon. If you want to lose weight, a low fat cookbook might not be the way to go. Will the meals be satisfying? Here at Green Mountain at Fox Run we use regular recipes and modify them. Consult a recipe substitution guide such as this one from the Mayo Clinic. Just because a recipes claims to be low fat doesn't mean it doesn't have extra sugar or salt to boost flavor. If you have a specific problem you want the cookbook to address like diabetes, heart health, etc. go with the experts. Look for books endorsed by the American Heart Association or the American Diabetes Association. They hone in on specific problems while also maintaining the big picture.

Do you really need to count calories? Many "Healthy" cookbooks include nutrition information for every serving. This can be helpful to some, but others can easily get caught up in diet mentality and crunching the numbers. If you are being mindful and and eating only until you're full, calories matter less.

Get inspired. Don't let those cookbooks gather dust on the shelf (you know they're just sitting there). Before you purchase a new book make sure that the recipes make your mouth water. Then, challenge yourself to make a new dish once a month to keep things fresh. Your palate will thank you!

New to cooking? Check out our new DVD, First Kitchen: Step-by-step Cooking for First Time Cooks, on sale online at our healthy lifestyle shop.

Photo by foéÖþoooey via flickr.

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