As a dietitian, I get informed about all the new fad diets, whether I want to or not. If it wasn’t for my professional obligations, I would rather not. They are generally ineffective, not to mention unhealthy, and I find it shameful when people try to soak the hopeful scores of people who think this is the magic bullet that will make them look like a supermodel. (Supermodels: another annoyance of mine, as those women are airbrushed and photo-shopped to high heaven, which does nothing to help girls’ and women’s’ body images!) So, if pills, cleanses, chemicals and unhealthy diets aren’t the answer, what could POSSIBLY make people healthier? Shockingly, the answer lies in food. Yes, FOOD!
See the bottom of this post for my favorite healthy cookbooks and resources.
When counseling patients after heart-related surgeries, a diabetes diagnosis or regarding being overweight or obese, many don’t understand why this is happening to them. Some feel that its unfair, and they use their older relatives as evidence; they always ate bacon AND sausage every morning, butter and gravy with lunch and red meat for dinner, washed down with a couple beers. These people always lived a healthy life to a ripe old age, and people today want to have that luxury of eating those items; they feel entitled to their bacon! This is where they often leave out that these relatives worked manual labor jobs, or were at least on their feet, for most of the day, burning perhaps hundreds of calories more than our modern-day selves. Also, our relatives didn’t have the “luxury” of drive-thru and delivery options, or ready-made foods at our beck and call. Want a cookie or brownie? Just go buy a jumbo-sized cookie at any store or gas station, or just go ahead and order that ice cream topped brownie at the restaurant for dessert.
Pop Quiz: Where do cookies come from? Answer: Not the grocery store or the (groan) gas station or even the restaurant…they come from the oven! And I’m pretty sure you’ve all got one of those…if you can’t find it, its near the microwave. (Want a cookie? Bake one!)
As I talk to people of all ages, I find that fewer and fewer know their way around a kitchen. Basic skills, like hard-cooking eggs, knowing when pasta is ready or even making a grilled cheese sandwich, send competent, confident people running to the frozen dinners. On a small scale, it doesn’t mean much…what’s one drive-thru lunch? Why not up-size just this once? But the American diet has spent around 30 years devolving to convenience foods and artificial, engineered ingredients, and we have a very unhealthy population to show for it. To make matters worse, the diet pills and cleanses and energy drinks keep us from seeing what we are missing; FOOD, and our proper relationship with it.
So, practically speaking, what do we do now? I propose we start cooking! Take my example: Its pretty common knowledge that I entered adulthood, and marriage, with no cooking skills. Actually, I could hard-boil eggs and make a grilled cheese, but that was it. (Fortunately, Chad had all the skills I lacked plus some, so we ate better food than most newlyweds probably did.) Then I found the Food Network! I was able to gain the confidence to try new things, and then I was on my way! I didn’t need frozen pizzas full of sodium and grease, or packaged pasta meals or vegetables that were pre-seasoned and sauced until they were as healthy as a bacon cheeseburger. I could make the food I wanted to eat, and avoid what I didn’t want to put into my body! That’s not to say I don’t eat anything not prepared by my own two hands, but I can drastically cut the calories, saturated fats, salt, and artificial flavors and colors as I wish by feeding myself properly.
“Our food should be our medicine and our medicine should be our food.”–Hippocrates
Like learning to read and do algebra, I believe that to learn to cook, a few “textbooks” are priceless to guide your way. My hope for this unhealthy and lost country is that just like we promote literacy and math and science for our students, we work to improve our kitchen and nutrition literacy. I have a few shelves full of cookbooks, some great and some horrible. My criteria? Do they have the nutritional information and serving sizes? Do they have practical recipes, or elaborate recipes and ingredient lists for things I will never make? Are they “mostly” healthy, or is there one healthy recipe among pages of unhealthy ones? Some of my faves:
Here’s a classic, and often gets overlooked. If you have an old one, such as the yellowed one my mom had (Yes, she did have a cookbook!) then you should treat yourself to a new one, because the updates are what puts it #1 on my list: Great basics, updated recipes (plus old favorites) and nutrition info for everything. It also has very handy conversion charts on the inside covers.
“Eating Well” magazine put out this one, which is a great resource for busy or new cooks. It has a section of quick sauces and dressings, and a great section with basic cooking of most vegetables, in more than one way, and you can be sure that all these are quite healthy (which is, of course, a relative term.)
(If you can’t make it out, Romanoff is the author.)
I am not, or ever have been, a member of Weight Watchers, but you don’t need to be to get this book. It has nutritional information, a wide variety of recipes that are not complicated, and there are a variety of cuisines, giving a great variety. Plus, every one I have made had been tasty, which is a fear many people have of “diet cookbooks.”
This one is a my summertime favorite, and was put out by Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition. It is great for farmers market and gardening seasons, as it’s an all veggie cookbook, and has tips on storage for your harvest as well as a variety of recipes for things like chard, kohlrabi, radishes and herbs, which can sometimes be hard to find multiple recipes for. If you get into summer veggies, to gotta get this one!
With electronic readers, Amazon.com and resale bookshops, its easy to find cookbooks of any kind, but trust me: choose wisely and they are worth their weight in truffles! And once you get cooking, you just might get healthier!