The downside of food networks

Your addiction to MasterChef might actually be making you fat


Over the past 20 years, television has burgeoned into a global industry with thousands of channels for us to choose from. Entertainment and music are no longer the only options available; travel, history, arts, sciences and reality are just some of the other genres on offer.

But, nowhere is this more prominent than in the number of food networks that have sprung up during the past decade. In Pakistan alone, there are now four major channels dedicated solely to culinary art, featuring shows conducted by both renowned professional chefs and local food enthusiasts.

One can attribute this to our country’s ever-increasing obsession with food and drink but one thing is for sure: these channels have opened our eyes to the whole new dimension of food preparation. While some of us watch shows like MasterChef or The Ultimate Cake Off simply to pass time or stimulate our appetites, many are hooked onto them religiously. For the latter, cooking shows are but a daily class of sorts where they can learn new recipes and culinary tips to incorporate into their lives. Thanks to adrenaline-packed scripts and a scrumptious recipes, food networks have successfully usurped the attention once enjoyed by Indian soap operas for. Unfortunately, there is a downside to our addiction to cooking shows, as suggested by international food journal Appetite.

According to a recent study, women between the ages of 20 and 35, who derive information from cooking shows and regularly implement that information in their own cooking, weigh 11 pounds more than those who don’t cook or watch cooking shows at all. In other words, women who learn a recipe on television and then try to reenact it at home are more likely to gain weight.

The ideology behind this is fairly simple: most ingredients used by professionals on television are full-fat and unhealthy, so as to not compromise on taste. Also, a large number of recipes are better suited to special occasions and every day. For instance, a mouthwatering cake that was prepared within 15 minutes of one episode would cater to a large group of people but have a nutritional value of zero, considering it is probably rich in unsaturated fats like full-cream butter. Indulging in such recipes regularly would do little than add unneeded adipose to our bodies.

Dr Nargis Asad, a clinical psychologist at Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) in Karachi, highlights a different aspect of this phenomenon. “There are two sets of viewers: ones who watch cooking shows for entertainment and those who watch to cook,” she explains. “Most of my patients are stay-at-home individuals whose only activity is to watch and cook but they still don’t gain weight. People who do gain weight are generally the ones fond of eating the food.” Dr Nargis also believes excessive eating and obesity could have underlying emotional implications like depression or anxiety. “But a precise correlation is difficult to make,” she adds.

In general, food networks are being criticised for spreading the ‘obesity epidemic’ and giving little regard to nutritional value, so long as their audiences remain hungry for more. Dr Moti Khan, a nutritionist at AKUH suggests that, “Most chefs are ill-informed about calorie content and nutrition. Our culture is such that we revel in oily foods and dishes made with desi ghee. Considering this, we can conclude that our society adapts quickly to what is being shown on television, ultimately leading to unnecessary weight gain.” Dr Moti adds that Pakistanis have no concept of daily exercise which increases waist lines, obesity and diabetes. “These can only be eliminated via a healthy diet,” she says.

As suggested by Dr Moti, leading a healthy lifestyle isn’t too difficult once one gets on track. All we need to do is incorporate activities that challenge us physically and use up our energy. This way, we can maintain a sound weight, even if we can’t detach ourselves from our favourite cooking shows.

Dr Moti Khan suggests the following tips to direct you towards a hearty and happy life:

1.  Increase water consumption, whether it is via drinking or simply by washing your face. Try having two glasses of water before every meal. This will not only keep you hydrated but also fill up your stomach, making you eat less.

2.  It is advisable to avoid working out two hours after a meal.

3.  Avoid drinking hot beverages like tea or coffee within the first 30 minutes after eating as this can impede digestion.

4.  If you are cooking for seven people, add oil in the ratio of seven tablespoons, rather than a cup.

5.  Prepare a bowl of salad to go with your main course, especially if it is a rich meal.

6.  Substitute unhealthy ingredients with healthy ones. Yogurt, for example, is a great alternative for mayonnaise.

Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, May 10th, 2015.


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