A few years ago, French diet doctor Jean-Michel Cohen announced he had the answer to losing weight: cook more meals.
In the London’s Daily Telegraph, William Leith, who conducted the interview with Cohen, reported that societies that cook more meals are slimmer and healthier.
Nearly 17 percent of the French, who spend an hour preparing meals each day, are classified as obese while the obesity rate for Americans, who spend 27 minutes preparing daily meals, is at 33.9 percent. (Although, the New York Times just reported that the number is closer to 40 percent).
Leith not only interviewed Cohen, but also Michael Pollan, an American whole food proponent and best-selling author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” to find out if cooking more meals can really improve one’s health.
Cohen asserts you can lose weight cooking, but obviously, it means that “what you cook is healthy, with lots of fresh vegetables and high-quality protein.”
However, Leith probes deeper and asks, “But what if cooking, in and of itself, promotes healthy eating? What if cooking, like a good recipe, adds up to more than the sum of its parts?
“When you cook, you have to think about ingredients, buy them, chop them up, heat them, watch as they transform into a meal and clean up afterwards. All the time, you are in control. Psychologically speaking, cooking from raw ingredients is nothing like eating fast or processed food; it’s the opposite of eating sandwiches at your desk, or bagels on the train.”
Pollan agrees. When you cook, you are both the producer and the consumer. You take responsibility for what you consume. He notes the act of cooking is what helped us evolve from apes into humans and all advances in cooking, until recently, improved our health.
However, when we began processing food, asserts Pollan, everything changed. Food became less nutritious — the more you broke down a whole fruit or vegetable or grain of wheat, the more it became empty calories.
As the 20th century galloped forward, we stopped cooking because we wanted to do fun stuff, like watching TV and playing X-box. Who would cook for us now that mom had gone to work or was shopping with friends?
According to Pollan, food corporations, like Mighty Mouse, arrived to save the day. Corporations are not like mom or your personal chef: “Cooks want food to taste good. Corporations want it to be cheap, and easy to make, store and transport. Sugar is all of these things. As is refined flour. And hydrogenated fat.”
Enter “edible food-like substances” on which we have been hooked ever since.
There are a number of “perks” in preparing home-cooked meals, despite the harried and hurried life you lead. Let me quote Pollan once more: “The decline in home cooking,” he writes, “closely tracks the rise in obesity and all the chronic diseases linked to diet.”
Whether you lose weight or not, if you prepare healthy meals you will improve your health.
At my Cinco de Mayo class at my cabin on Terrapin Cove this year, we prepared a healthy Mexican dish to celebrate the holiday: Arepas with Shredded Chicken with Corn Salad and Guasacaca Sauce.
» Step 1: Shred grilled chicken or pick up a roasted chicken at the grocery and shred it. Set aside.
» Step 2: For the corn salad, in a bowl mix together:
1 cup cooked black beans, seasoned
1/2 minced jalapeno
1 cup cooked corn kernels
1/2 small red onion, minced
1 large ripe avocado, cut lengthwise, pitted, peeled and cut into cubes
juice of one lime
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
Toss, cover and hold at room temperature or in fridge.
» Step 3: For the Guasacaca Sauce, in food processor, add:
½ Vidalia onion, peeled and quartered
1 clove garlic
1 large ripe avocado, pitted, peeled and mashed
juice of 1 lime
¼ cup parsley leaves
¼ cup cilantro leaves
3 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 jalapeno pepper, deveined, seeded and cut in pieces
salt and pepper to taste
Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
» Step 4: Arepas
2 cup precooked corn meal (not the same as masa harina. (P.A.N. is the best and can be found in the Hispanic section of most stories or at a Mexican grocery)
2 ½ cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
Make arepas by combining warm water with a teaspoon of salt in a bowl. Gradually add the pre-cooked cornmeal and stir well to make a dough. Set aside for five minutes. Next form eight balls of dough and flatten each into a disk shape.
Coat the bottom of a cast iron skillet with a few tablespoons of vegetable oil (or olive oil) and heat over medium high heat. Place four arepas in hot pan. Cook five minutes on each side until crispy and golden brown. Repeat with the other four arepas.
Place arepas on sheet pan and cook in oven (400 degrees) for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and keep warm by covering them with foil. When you are ready to stuff your arepas, use a sharp knife and slice open one side (like you were opening a pita bread).
Stuff arepas with chicken and corn salad. Drizzle with Guasacaca sauce.