If you watch cooking shows on TV and then cook recipes from the show, you may be putting on extra pounds. Women who watch shows like 30 Minute Meals with Rachael Ray and cook from scratch have a higher body mass index (BMI) than women who watch the programs but cook at home less, according to a new study.
"If you are watching cooking shows and then cooking frequently at home, you are at risk for a higher BMI," says Lizzy Pope, PhD, RD, director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics at the University of Vermont, the lead author of the study. The study was recently published in the journal Appetite.
Researchers set out to understand the relationship between watching food television and BMI, Pope says. Participants were surveyed about their viewing and cooking habits. Those who found recipe inspiration from televised cooking shows who also cooked a lot of their meals at home tended to have a higher BMI. Results of the study seemed counterintuitive at first—other studies show that people who frequently cook at home tend to have a lower BMI than those who eat the majority of their meals at restaurants.
"We were really surprised," Pope says. "There's research that cooking at home promotes healthier eating. There's a big push to cook at home more often from people like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, along with dietitians and nutrition people."
But popular cooking shows from celebrity chefs like Ina Garten, Paula Deen, or Ree Drummond rarely focus on healthy recipes. And this may be where the higher BMI comes in.
Previous research has shown that meals on cooking shows are higher in fat and calories than recipes found through other sources like magazines, cookbooks, and websites. "The problem with watching these shows is actually taking the recipes into your own kitchen to cook," Pope says. "Just because you're cooking at home does not negate all the nutritional factors in the foods you're cooking. You should be aware of the ingredients you're using. You should know whether they're healthier or indulgent."
The average BMI of home cooks inspired by TV shows was 27.49; the average BMI of those participants who watched the shows but cooked at home less often was 25.63. A higher BMI is associated with health risks like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Higher BMIs were also found in home cooks who got recipe inspiration from social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.
"We think there are higher concentrations of decadent food on social media, and these images make special events more the norm," Pope says.
There are limitations to the study. Researchers, for example, do not know which recipes the home cooks with higher BMI prepared or which shows inspired less healthy food. Nor do they know which shows the study's participants, who were aged 20 to 35, watched. "It would be interesting to know how often they cook from the shows themselves. We just don't have those specifics," Pope says.
Pope says there's nothing wrong with watching cooking shows on TV. "If life is overwhelming, I like to watch the Barefoot Contessa because it's soothing," she says. "You can live vicariously through them as they make these decadent things. But these recipes probably shouldn't come into your kitchen on a regular basis."