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What type of cook are you?

What type of cook are you?
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First Published: Mon, Apr 13 2009. 09 10 PM IST

Jupiter Images
Jupiter Images
Updated: Mon, Apr 13 2009. 09 10 PM IST
You might be cooking more these days. But is your cooking healthier?
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In this economic climate, more and more people are making their own meals from scratch. Food and Wine magazine says home cooking is the hottest food trend of 2009 and market research firm Information Resources says supermarket shoppers are cooking more from scratch and spending more on basic cooking ingredients than on convenient but costly frozen and refrigerated foods.
Home-cooked meals are typically healthier than those prepared at restaurants. But just how much more depends on who’s doing the cooking, where the recipe comes from, and even the dishes in which the food is served.
Studies show that the biggest influence on family eating habits is the person who buys and prepares the food. These “nutritional gatekeepers”, as researchers call them, influence around 70% of the foods we eat, according to a 2006 report in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association: not just home meals but children’s lunches, snacks eaten outside the home, and even what family members order at restaurants.
Nutritional gatekeepers
Public health researchers in the US first identified the role of the nutritional gatekeeper during World War II, when meat shipments to troops stationed abroad threatened to create a protein crisis at home. The goal was to educate families about alternatives to meat but it wasn’t clear at whom the information campaign should be directed.
At the time, many people believed husbands and children strongly influenced the foods served in the home. But research led by anthropologist Margaret Mead found that the wives and mothers who bought and prepared the food had far more influence than anyone realized, including the women themselves.
These days, the family gatekeeper may be a mother or a father, a grandparent, a housekeeper or a nanny. And Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell, says these people need to be aware of their role in family nutrition.
A gatekeeper who struggles with unhealthy habits and eating choices will typically pass those problems on to family members. By the same token, gatekeepers who improve their habits can improve the health of the entire family.
Distinct types
To learn more about gatekeepers, the Cornell researchers queried 770 family cooks about their personalities, cooking methods and favourite ingredients. Five distinct types emerged:
• “Giving” cooks (22%) are enthusiastic about cooking and specialize in comfort food, particularly home-baked goodies.
• “Methodical” cooks (18%) rely heavily on recipes, so their cooking is strongly influenced by the cookbook they use.
• “Competitive” cooks (13%) think less about health and more about making the most impressive dish possible.
• “Healthy” cooks (20%) often serve fish and use fresh ingredients, but taste isn’t the primary goal.
• “Innovative” cooks (19%) like to experiment with different ingredients, cooking methods and cuisines, which tends to lead to healthier cooking.
Who wins?
Knowing your type is “going to tell you where your biases are”, Wansink says. “A lot of giving cooks believe they are healthy cooks, but they are by far the least healthy,” he adds.
On the other hand, “if you like food, then the healthy cook is not necessarily the person you want to hang out with. They will trade off a lot for health”, Wansink reiterates. “But innovative cooks have the best eye for freshness, yet there is still a big emphasis on taste. If you like great food and still want to eat reasonably healthy, the innovative cook is the person to hook up with.”
Recipe search
Home cooks also need to pay attention to the source of recipes. Research from Cornell and New Mexico State University shows that even some cookbook recipes have fallen victim to the supersizing trends popularized by fast-food restaurants. Researchers examined seven editions of The Joy of Cooking, published from 1936 to 2006. In 14 of the 18 recipes studied, the calorie content had surged by an average of 928 calories, or 44% per recipe.
Table settings
Then there’s the “tablescape”—the placement and size of the dishes, bowls, silverware and drinking glasses. In his book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (Bantam, 2006), Wansink notes that seemingly innocuous items can increase consumption by at least 20%.
For example, beverages other than water should be served in tall, skinny glasses; studies show that even professional bartenders overpour when the glass is short and wide. Similarly, we pile more food on larger plates and scoop up larger portions when the serving spoon is large.
In one experiment, Cornell nutrition professors and graduate students were invited to an ice-cream party, and attendees were given different-size bowls and scoops. Even among these nutrition experts, those given larger bowls and scoops consumed 57% more ice cream.
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A team at Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, tested the technique, which involves transplanting stem cells into ovaries to produce new eggs in infertile women or women past the age of conception. When fertilized, the eggs can lead to the birth of healthy offspring, according to the scientists. “These cells can be used to extend (the) female reproductive lifespan. The generation of new oocytes (eggs) could postpone normal or premature ovarian failure or be used in (the) treatment of infertility,” team leader Ji Wu says. PTI
Medication errors are a leading cause of death in the US . To avoid them, follow these guidelines:
• Learn about your medicines, what you are taking and why.
• Read the labels carefully. Keep medicines in their original bottle, which mentions how they should be taken (with food, 50mg, 2x/day, etc.)
• Discuss supplements with the doctor to avoid interactions.
• Pill organizer boxes help, but taking pills out of the bottle risks mix-ups. If it’s confusing, let someone else fill the box weekly.
• Been hospitalized and discharged with new medication? Ask your primary doctor to review your new list as soon as possible.
• Be aware of possible side effects and report them at once.
• When a doctor writes a new prescription, remind her what else you take. ©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
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First Published: Mon, Apr 13 2009. 09 10 PM IST