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May 2001 Issue
Virtual Eating: Cooking from the Internet
by Michael Fick
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Seasoned Cooking is chock full of great recipes, many of them quite health-conscious. But like any food site, it's still fattening simply because it's tough not to see all the excellent articles and sharp, enlargeable color photos of great food without drooling on your keyboard and gravitating towards the pantry or refrigerator. One of my favorite posters -- since Farrah Fawcett's -- has been a large photograph of a major cruise ship's 50-foot buffet table. It hung on my office wall for years, partly because no one complained that the foods poster was offensive, partly because it covered Farrah's poster.

But editors can cram only so many recipes in an e-zine. The whole Internet, on the other hand, offers scores of thousands of recipes on hundreds or thousands of sites. It's very easy to gain weight just scanning through Internet recipes, considering all of the forbidden foods like butter, cream, and cheese in so many uncensored recipes. Others dwell on piles of meat, various fad diets, or just desserts, with no thought towards our health (fad diets merely help us lose weight, at best, without regard to our health). The question is, "Which sites and which recipes will improve our health while still tasting sinful?"

Online food sites combine lively presentation, frequent change, take up less space than books, provide thousands of pages, and ultimately cost less than real books. The pages stay open while you pour the flour, and online books can't be loaned to a friend. (Have you ever gotten back any book you loaned to anybody? The only book I'd loan to anyone any more is a book on estate planning, and I'd loan it only to Mom.) Online cooking makes finding a recipe much easier: punch up whatever food you're in the mood for, and up pops a list of 40 delicious options. Another great reason to do your cooking online is this: "Honey, the computer's down. We have to eat out tonight."

We could enter such broad key words or phrases as "food", "pig out", "I can't believe I ate the whole thing", "Call a doctor, stat", or "He's dead, Jim", but that would produce more recipes - scores of thousands -- than one lifetime will allow, and most of them would be high in fat and low in fiber. We could take the other extreme and enter "the anorexic's diet", "supermodel heroin chic", or "bean sprouts and tofu forever", but what the heck fun would those be? Anybody who gets excited by a picture of celery should search on "Shrink" rather than on "Lose weight", and anyone who searches on "diet pills" rather than "healthy eating and exercise" will be searching on "Hospitals 'R Us" before long.

Let's strive towards a happy, healthy medium, achieved by an emphasis on healthy, tasty recipes. There must be 10,000 healthy recipes out there, a good lifetime supply even if we try a few new ones every week.

Even if finding Seasoned Cooking and this column challenges your Internet navigation skills, there's much more great food just a few simple clicks away. Here's a brief list of healthy dining sites that are easy to navigate and offer recipes made from readily available ingredients in most cases. Recipes range from gourmet to special medical diets, from sauces to whole meals, from a single snack to personalized 12-week meal plans. Most of them even have their own nutrition labels, which should be one of our primary food selection criteria, right up there with taste. If you can click through all of these sites without a trip to the kitchen, you don't need to diet; you have the will power to merely eat right.

Note that some of the sites consider 6-8 grams of saturated fat or 30% of total calories as "low fat". That's quite a bit of fat unless the rest of your day's food is REALLY low in fat; 30% should be our maximum fat intake, not low fat, at least until we successfully substitute unsaturated fats, especially olive oil, for almost all of the saturated fats we used to eat.

If you believe that we get what we pay for when looking at Internet advice, you can relax and enjoy this site summary. These sites have been reviewed by professional reviewers and have won numerous awards, and often come from obviously credible sources such as the Mayo Clinic. Most of these sites offer far more than just healthy recipes, with extensive information on special diets for medical problems, extreme fat reduction for heart patients, food substitutions, and exercise and fitness topics. And, unlike medical and investment literature requiring professional expertise, you can filter the diet hype yourself based on just what you've read in this column these last three years.

Evelyn Wood couldn't read all this information in a lifetime ... on espresso and Fast Forward. So just point, click, cruise, and eat through it one bite at a time. You won't have time to get bored with the healthy recipes and stray into the high-fat or high-protein diet nonsense available elsewhere on the 'net. If there's any reason for considering a computer as a required kitchen appliance, this is it. Microwave, bread machine, mixer, countertop grille, iMac, $100 eight-inch chef's knife, stove and wok, and you're cookin'!

InteliHealth starts us out with a typical superb healthy eating website. Put your cursor on it, left-click the mouse, and start drooling. You'll quickly find a wide variety of recipes searchable by several parameters, plus links to many other health topics.

Visit CookingLight.com, then click on the Recipe Finder button at the top. This site is maintained by the magazine of the same name, and offers healthy recipes from simple to fancy plus links to their favorite health sites.

At FoodFit.com you can pick a recipe by selecting a criterion (low fat, low salt, high fruit, etc), a main ingredient (beef, sauce, vegetarian, etc.), and a meal type (snack, dinner, condiment, etc) from three generous lists. SELECT then gives you a list of recipes that suit your criteria, most of them rated on a one-five scale by other users like yourself. It's got to be a lot of fun just living off the 5-spoon recipes. Each is presented in great detail for ingredients, preparation, and procedure. These guys went nuts with the searchable databases, and cruising around gathering recipes reveals nutrition charts and all kinds of meaningful heart-healthy icons.

MayoClinic.com. Need I say more? This Mayo Clinic Virtual Cookbook has made some great recipes healthier without ruining the taste. Proof is just a click away.

Delicious Decisions is literally an on-screen book, by the American Heart Association. With cover, binders, index tabs, and tables of contents, it has the familiar look and feel of a real book. But it takes up no countertop space, collects no dust or olive oil, and stays open.

Stay Young at Heart takes you to a page-full of very healthy, great-sounding recipes categorized by meal type.

AllRecipes.com offers many categories of healthy recipes, including a special diet section with subcategories such as dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, diabetic, etc. Their many recipes are rated by viewers.

CyberDiet has a large selection of great-looking recipes plus such extras as a 12-week meal planner, specific weight-loss diet planning, and detailed healthy makeovers of unhealthy recipes. You can calculate your daily calorie limit to lose weight, enter it into a meal planner, and lay out very detailed, widely varied meals for weeks ahead, calibrated to your calorie needs. This site takes all the thinking out of meal planning, leaving just the drooling, the preparation, and the eating.

In case you're not full yet, here are a few more excellent hand-selected sites, buffet style:

  • Diabetic Gourmet Magazine
  • The Low-Fat Vegetarian Archives, and more great vegetarian recipes await at www.webvalue.net/recipes/. Careful, though; vegetarian does not necessarily mean low fat! Substitute if necessary.
  • OhBoy, OhBoy ... Flora's Recipe Hideout has hundreds of low-fat dessert recipes (and some fat bombs; watch your step). That did it; time for a snack!
  • Prevention Magazine has hundreds of recipes organized by meal type and special diets.
  • Try Veggie Heaven for a well-organized list of marvelous-sounding recipes. Again, watch out for a few land mines; butter and margarine, though vegetarian, are still unhealthy. And don't forget that it is conceivable to get fat on broccoli and carrots if you can eat enough. The bottom line is calories.
Realize there is a definite downside to all this data: we must now choose among 192 low-fat chicken enchilada recipes, 54 of them rated five spoons. Life is tough!

Enjoy your meal. And many, many, MANY more.



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