Monday, July 14, 2008

Cooking The Books

So I'm standing there waiting with my cans of cat food and diet Coke at the grocery store check-out when I begin to look over the magazines, particularly the cooking and diet magazines. On the cover of the latest issue of Cooking Light is a gorgeous picture of a slice of cherry pie. Now, my favorite dessert is pie of just about any kind, but among the myriad of choices, my absolute favorite is cherry rivaled only by peach followed by chocolate, lemon,... well, you get the idea.

The thing about cherry pie, or any pie, is that it's usually very high in calories. For the average slice, (that's 1/8th of a 9" pie), you're looking at between 350 and 450 calories. I was curious. How did a slice of cherry pie wind up on the cover of a diet magazine? Imagine my surprise when I looked up the recipe and saw a calorie count of 282 calories per slice. Wow. That's really good. But because I know a little about baking, I had to wonder how they had lightened the calories. The picture certainly didn't look any different from the average full-calorie cherry pie slice. The crust didn't look different, the cherries didn't look like little blocks of tofu or some such, what could they have put in or taken out to get those results? The list of ingredients appeared to be what I typically see in any cherry pie recipe. I was perplexed.

That's when I took another look at the end of the recipe, the part where it says number of servings. That's when my jaw dropped. The folks at Cooking Light hadn't done anything that I could tell to lessen the calories in their cherry pie, they simply sliced it smaller! Instead of getting the typical 8 slices, they think you should get 12! A dozen slices from a 9" pie! Come on! Who are they kidding? I assure you that even the photographer who took the picture for the magazine cover didn't try to do that.

My immediate thought, (after thinking the magazine editors must assume we're all gullible idiots), was why did they bother to stop at twelve? Why not go for 16? Sixteen slices would give you just 211.5 calories using their totals. They could have really impressed some folks if they'd put that figure in a headline. And what was even more disappointing, when I figured their pie recipe at 8 slices, it came to 423 calories a slice! That's actually on the high side for the average cherry pie serving.

You know, it's wonderful that there are a few diet cooking magazines that make the effort to lighten some of our favorite recipes. It can take quite a bit of effort to 'cut down' a recipe, and it's nice when someone can help you figure out a way to do it and still come away with something that tastes good. But I think it's frankly bordering on immoral when a publication sets itself up as a leader in the health and diet industry only to end up cheating the very public it claims to be helping. I can take any recipe and make it appear lower in calories if I cut it into ridiculously tiny servings! I suppose they would argue, 'Hey, at least we were honest, we didn't lie about it.' No, they didn't lie but such a tactic is misleading and therefore dishonest. Do I sound angry? I am. The diet industry in this country is enormous. There is a great deal of money to be made in all kinds of weight loss and health claims. I am appalled and disgusted at any company that takes advantage of the vulnerability of people in search of help and hope.

Don't be tricked. Magazines that do this don't deserve the public trust and respect because they aren't respecting us. They certainly don't deserve our money. I must say this is not the first time I've seen one of Cooking Light's recipes creatively handled this way.
Trust me, there are other magazines like Weight Watchers and Prevention, not to mention numerous websites like and that contain the nutritional information for recipes.
And they don't slice food into portions that would fit on a plate in Barbie's dream kitchen just to get a nice sounding calorie number.

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