The Best and Worst Cookbooks of the Decade

The Physicians Committee

The Best and Worst Cookbooks of the Decade

A Report from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
January 2010

As record obesity rates underscore the need for Americans to adopt more healthful eating patterns, many cookbooks encourage readers to follow exactly the opposite trajectory—with high-fat, meat-heavy meals.

Dietitians from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine surveyed cookbooks from the past decade and named the worst offenders. Fortunately, there were some bright spots, too—cookbooks that stood out above others in helping Americans improve their diets to fight obesity and other chronic diseases.

Here are the decade’s best and worst:

Worst Cookbooks

Paula Deen’s Kitchen Classics
By Paula Deen

Paula Deen developed her love for cooking in her grandmother’s kitchen in South Georgia. But Deen’s cookbooks show that she needs to start considering the health of Southerners—and all Americans—when writing recipes. States in the Southeast have the highest rates of obesity in the nation, yet Deen continues to fill her restaurant and cookbooks with ham hocks, Velveeta cheese, butter, and heavy cream. Even her Baked Wild Rice recipe calls for a cup of butter and another cup of heavy cream.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, 13th edition
By Julia Child
The film Julie & Julia brought a new surge of attention to the late Julia Child, who called herself an “enthusiastic carnivore.” This edition of Child’s classic cookbook still includes a foreword explaining that the book is for “the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned with budgets, waistlines…or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat.” Unfortunately, most consumers do not fit this description—more than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Child’s butter-and-beef filled cookbook is not appropriate for Americans’ current nutrition needs.

Grilling for Life
By Bobby Flay
Iron Chef Bobby Flay brings us another grilled-meat cookbook targeted at males. This book and his earlier Boy Meets Grill both reinforce the idea that eating meat makes you manly. But consuming meat, especially grilled meat, can actually contribute to colon cancer. Studies show that dangerous carcinogens form when meat is cooked at high temperatures. High-fat, meat-heavy diets are associated with both cardiovascular disease and erectile dysfunction. Flay’s book includes a vegetable section, but these recipes are still far too high in fat because of added oils, cheese, and eggs. He also adds bacon or other meat to many of his vegetable recipes.

Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book: Celebrating the Promise
This limited edition Better Homes and Garden cookbook has a pink bow on the cover, but its recipes aren’t a gift to anyone’s health. Proceeds from the cookbook support breast cancer research, but its pink breast cancer section features recipes filled with meat and high-fat dairy products that are known to increase the risk of cancer. The first recipe in the pink pages is a chicken pot pie that calls for an entire quart of heavy cream. Other breast cancer recipes include processed meat, a product known to significantly increase the risk of some cancers. The pink section does explain that vegetables and fruit support the immune system and fight cancer. But while the cookbook devotes more than 100 pages to meat and other animal products, it devotes fewer than 40 pages to vegetables and fruits.

Bones: Recipes, History, and Lore
By Jennifer McLagan

You’d need a magnifying glass to find a vegetable in this ode to meat. Chef and food writer Jennifer McLagan claims her cookbook will help bring back the “lost art” of carving meat. She fills the pages of Bones with tales of sucking on bone marrow and relishing “a tiny songbird, bones and all…impaled with toothpicks to a piece of toast…deep-fried until the bones were so soft they dissolved in [her] mouth.” McLagan tries to convince readers that eating hunks of meat is the best way to get away from processed foods. Meat-heavy diets have been shown to contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and many other serious health problems. From Beer-Glazed Beef Ribs to Pig’s Feet, McLagan’s dishes are the epitome of the fatty, meaty foods hurting public health.

Atkins: The Complete Cookbook
By Atkins Nutritionals Inc.
Build your diet on recipes from this book and you may end up like Jody Gorran—featured in the July 2009 Journal of the American Dietetic Association—who suffered a severe coronary blockage and a near-fatal cardiac event after going on the Atkins diet. The American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association have both issued warnings about the Atkins diet. And long-term results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition showed that high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets increase mortality risk.

Kill It and Grill It: Ted and Shemane Nugent's Guide to Preparing & Cooking Wild Game and Fish
By Ted Nugent
Ted Nugent has been criticized for cruelty to animals—and humans aren’t exempt. In chapters such as “I Kill It, I Grill It” and “Killin’ and Grillin’ Large Game in America,” Nugent suggests that you “pick a flesh, any flesh” and “cook slowly over hot coals.” But he doesn’t warn you that grilling animal products can produce compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that have been linked to several forms of cancer, including breast cancer, in dozens of scientific studies. No safe level of ingestion has been identified.

Best Cookbooks

The Sublime Restaurant Cookbook
By Nanci Alexander
Nanci Alexander created the award-winning Sublime restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Now you can make recipes from Sublime’s innovative vegan menu at home. Drawing inspiration from around the globe, the recipes are not only wonderfully healthful and completely cholesterol-free, but each recipe’s exquisite flavors will seduce even the most committed carnivore.

The Kind Diet
By Alicia Silverstone

Actress and activist Alicia Silverstone wrote this cookbook to help others explore the wide-ranging benefits of a plant-based diet. She explains how eliminating harmful foods can have amazing benefits for your health, your appearance, and even the planet. This collection of hearty vegan recipes is full of tips and tools to help people transition to a plant-based diet, which has been shown to reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Skinny Bitch in the Kitch: Kick-Ass Recipes for Hungry Girls Who Want to Stop Cooking Crap (and Start Looking Hot!)
By Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin

Number one New York Times best-selling authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin wrote this cookbook after their manifesto, Skinny Bitch, sparked a worldwide movement toward healthy eating. The cookbook offers 75 easy, satisfying vegan recipes, served up with an irreverent sense of fun. From the Bitchin’ Breakfast Burrito to Cha Cha Chili, Freedman and Barnouin show readers that you can eat well, enjoy food, and lose weight—all at the same time. Abundant research has shown that people who maintain a healthy weight over the long-term tend to eat a plant-based diet.

The Conscious Cook
By Tal Ronnen

Chef Tal Ronnen cooked for Oprah during her vegan cleanse and catered Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi’s vegan wedding. In his new cookbook, The Conscious Cook, Ronnen shares his enticing vegan dishes with everyone who enjoys beautiful, flavorful, and filling food. Every recipe delivers on his promise to omnivores and foodies: “You won’t miss the meat.”

The Engine 2 Diet
By Rip Esselstyn

Professional athlete-turned-firefighter Rip Esselstyn is used to responding to emergencies. So when he learned that some of his fellow Engine 2 firefighters in Austin, Texas, were in dire physical condition—several had dangerously high cholesterol levels—he sprang into action and created a lifesaving plan for the firehouse. By following Rip’s program, everyone lost weight (more than 20 pounds, in some cases), lowered their cholesterol, and improved their overall health. Now, Esselstyn outlines his proven plan in The Engine 2 Diet. His plant-powered eating plan is based on a diet of vegetables, whole grains, fruit, legumes, seeds, and nuts.

Cooking the Whole Foods Way
By Christina Pirello

Nutrition educator Christina Pirello was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a few months to live, but she fought her way back to health using good nutrition. Her cookbook invites health-conscious readers to cut out processed foods, meat, and dairy, and focus on fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Pirello’s book includes tips on meal planning and shopping to help readers transition to a wholesome vegan diet. Research has shown that people who follow diets low in fat and high in plant foods have a lower risk of developing cancer.Studies have found that a vegan diet can even reduce the risk of recurrence for some types of cancer.

Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen
By Bryant Terry

Bryant Terry shows you how to make delicious soul food into delicious health food for the soul. Fabulous and tasty for the picky palate, this cookbook features Baked BBQ Black-Eyed Peas, Savory Triple-Corn Grits, and Blackened Tofu Slabs with Succotash Salsa.