We all know American culture enables junk food binging, but the nudge to overindulge seems somehow more subservise when it comes from Cooking Light magazine. This supposedly healthy, recipe-focused monthly has been pulling in diet-conscious readers for 25 years, but it seems to have developed an unhealthy obsession. While the magazine has gone through many iterations as it's tried to keep up with the nation's diet crazes for a quarter of a century, lately Cooking Light has gone hog wild for carbohydrates--which, frankly, is not in anyone's best interest.
The blood glucose level response to a fixed quantity of carbohydrates in baked potatoes is about twice the response to the same quantity of carbohydrates in pumpernickel bread.
It's not hard to find evidence of carb-loading by this top-selling food mag. Recipes heralded on the cover of the current (March) issue: baked ziti, eight pizza combos, and potatoes "mashed, stuffed & hashed." Highlighted on the cover for the December issue of "Best New Holiday Recipes" were simple cookies, easy pie, and "perfect light pound cake." Just looking at these covers practically raises insulin.
The magazine pays plenty of lip service to healthy eating, but it all seems to be focused on the misleading tactic that lowering fat solves all the problems. Yes, the "light" poundcake has less saturated fat than regular pound cake (achieved by reducing the traditional quantities of butter and egg and adding in canola oil and non-fat buttermilk). But this so-called "recipe makeover" offers about the same refined carbohydrates as regular pound cake--the recipe calls for three cups of cake flour and two cups of sugar. And that's a lot of carbs for the system to absorb.
It's very unlikely anyone will lose weight by eating this way simply because high-carb eating (the poundcake packs 42.8 grams of carbohydrate into a single serving) sends blood sugar soaring, and that makes the body more likely to store the calories as fat. (Excessive carbohydrate intake contributes to insulin resistance, a pre-diabetic syndrome in which the hormone insulin becomes less efficient at reducing blood sugar levels.) Not all carbohydrates increase insulin equally. For example, the blood glucose level response to a fixed quantity of carbohydrates in baked potatoes is about twice the response to the same quantity of carbohydrates in pumpernickel bread. Eating refined carbohydrates, devoid of fiber, raises blood sugar faster than eating complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains.
Consider the Truffled Mac and Cheese from "The Enlightened Cook" column in the January/February 2012 issue of Cooking Light. By substituting low-fat milk for the typical whole milk and butter in mac and cheese, the magazine manages to get the saturated fat down to 6.1 grams (and that's with full-fat cheese!). But with plain elbow macaroni, the carbohydrates are still unacceptably high--at 55.2 grams per serving.
Whole wheat macaroni would have at least added a modicum of fiber to slow down the absorption of sugar from the pasta. But this recipe puts the pedal to the metal in terms of driving sugar into the bloodstream: the lower fat content only serves to speed up the absorption of carbohydrates. This concept is called glycemic load (GL) Most people's eyes glaze over when you start talking about GL, but pay attention because this can be a life and death matter.
By lowering the fat and keeping low-fiber carbs insanely high in these recipes, the editors of Cooking Light have raised the glycemic load of the foods they are advocating. High GL diets lead to metabolic syndrome, a sort of sugar tolerance that slows down the body's processing of sugar and causes unhealthy accumulation of fat around the waistline (or what's known as an apple body-type). Such weight gain is clearly associated with Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease--affectionately known as "diseases of affluence".
This begs the question: "Light," by what standard?
Carbs are the foodie magazine equivalent of sex for men's magazines--there's a reason the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is the topseller year after year. It's pandering, which is to be expected (a time honored tradition!). But should Cooking Light change its name, maybe to Cooking Happy? If SI had swimsuits in every issue, the S would undoubtedly stand for something else.