Are Cooking Shows Making Us Fat?

by | November 26, 2012 at 11:25 AM | Health

This article was original was originally posted on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com

By Beth Fontenot, MS, RD, LDN

The search for the sources of the rising tide of obesity continues. Could cooking shows, with their telegenic celebrity chefs, perfect produce, and amazing kitchens be partly to blame? Or are they just symptoms of a preoccupation with food and cooking?

One thing is certain, our ideas about cooking have changed.The modern cookbook has become “a guide to aspiration” as The New Yorker writer, Adam Gopnik said in an interview recently, “It’s things that you will never be able to make, prepared with methods you will never be able to master, and yet, nonetheless, which you will continue to aspire to as long as you have a kitchen.”

“The modern cookbook has become ‘a guide to aspiration.’”

Cooking shows are part of this culture shift. There was a time when cooking shows were simply learning tools. They presented recipes, demonstrated the techniques used to prepare them, and used common and easily available ingredients. Things have changed, especially over the past ten years as more and more food shows – and whole networks — have been created.

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Cooking has now become entertainment, but that may be a problem. Cooking shows offer another opportunity to sit in front of the tube and to think about delicious, often highly caloric, food. They glamorize eating and food and rarely discuss the health consequences associated with overeating. There is already an association between television viewing, overeating, and obesity; and television commercials have been shown to affect the eating behavior of both children and adults. Has the rise in the popularity of cooking shows affected eating behavior? New research indicates that the answer may be yes.

Cooking Shows and Calorie Counts
Eighty college students were recruited on the pretense that they were participating in a study examining taste preferences in college students. But what psychologists at Hobart and William Smith College were really studying was whether watching popular food-related television shows affected the numbers of calories they consumed.

The students were split into two groups. Half watched a 10-minute clip from The Food Network. The other half watched a clip from Planet Earth while waiting for the experiment to begin.

“The group watching the cooking show consumed about 40 more calories from chocolate than the group who watched the nature show.”

After the students viewing the television clips, both groups were led to a room and told that they had 10 minutes to eat as much or as little food as they would like. The participants had cheese curls, chocolate-covered candies, and carrots to choose from. The foods were weighed before and after the experiment so that researchers could determine how much was eaten.

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When the remaining food was weighed, the researchers found that the students who watched the clip from a cooking show ate substantially more chocolate than those who watched the nature show. Those students were more likely to choose the carrots.

What the Results May Mean for You
The study did not find that watching a cooking show greatly affected overall calorie intake, and it did not affect the calories consumed from carrots and cheese curls; however, watching a cooking show did lead to an increased intake of sweets. The group watching the cooking show consumed about 40 more calories from chocolate than the group who watched the nature show.

“The students who watched the clip from a cooking show ate substantially more chocolate than those who watched the nature show. Those students were more likely to choose the carrots.”

When we watch cooking shows, part of what we enjoy is the celebrity chefs’ pleasure in the scents, colors and tastes of the food they make, as well as the professional presentation of the final product. This study just offers a glimpse of the possible effects of shows that “star” the preparation of food. It was small, short in duration, and limited to college students, most of whom were in the normal to overweight BMI categories.

“If these shows result in the preparation of tastier food, that’s a good thing. But if they also raise your caloric count considerably, you will want to make an adjustment to your diet somewhere, or face the consequences.”

Obviously, many questions remain to be answered. Does watching cooking shows on a regular basis affect food intake, and subsequently weight, over time? Does eating before watching help blunt the shows’ effect? Would watching a typical 30-minute or one-hour cooking show lead to greater calorie intake? What affect does snacking while watching a cooking show have on calorie intake? How does watching cooking shows affect eating behaviors in the obese? Future research should examine these questions using more real-life situations.

In the meantime, pay attention to the effects these shows have on your own eating – and cooking – behavior. If these shows result in the preparation of tastier food, that’s a good thing. But if they also raise your caloric count considerably, you will want to make an adjustment to your diet somewhere, or face the consequences when you get on the scale.

The study was published in the journal, Appetite.

Beth Fontenot has a BS degree in Family and Consumer Sciences from McNeese State University and a MS degree in Human Resources from the University of Louisiana — Lafayette. She is a registered dietitian (RD) and a licensed dietitian/nutritionist (LDN). Currently, she works as a nutrition writer and consultant, and serves on the Louisiana Board of Examiners in Dietetics and Nutrition, acting as the liaison to the Louisiana Dietetic Association.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.