Healthy Cooking Websites

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This article was published by ComputorEdge, issue #2238, 2004-09-17, as the cover article, in both their print edition (on pages 14-15) and their website.

There is a common belief that the Internet does little to promote health, while doing just the opposite actively — or, more accurately, sedentarily. The stereotypical hard-core (and soft-belly) Internet user is often portrayed as obese, lazy, and more likely to use the Web to order delivery pizza, than to learn where to sign up for an Italian cooking class.

But in truth, the Internet has a tremendous wealth of information on healthful cooking, offering everything from huge recipe databases to websites devoted to 'cooking without cooking', a.k.a., raw food preparation.

In fact, there are so many websites devoted to nutrition, cooking, and health in general — as well as specific subtopics, such as vegan cooking — that we can only touch upon a tiny subset of all those which one could explore. Hence, we will discuss a small collection of websites that have been noted by nutritionists and professional cooks.

Sum of the Parts

In order to make quality culinary dishes, you will need quality ingredients. The particular ingredients naturally (and perhaps organically!) depend upon the type of dish you would like to create. Yet from a health perspective, when you would like to consume foods with the highest nutritional value per calorie, you will want to focus on herbs, seeds, nuts, and vegetables.

One website focusing on the subject of herbs and spices is entitled "A Pinch of…". Don't let the website's poor color choices and HTML errors discourage you from reading their articles on a variety of topics, including herbs, spices, honey, herb gardening, and even edible flowers. If growing your own herbs seems daunting, or impossible to fit into your schedule, then it's best to purchase them locally. Avoid herbs in dry form or mail order, as they will have lost much of their enzymes and other nutrients, compared to fresh products.

Seeds and nuts play a minor role in the dishes prepared by most Americans — which is a pity, as those foods deliver far more nutritional bang for the bulk than meats, grains, tubers, vegetable fats, and other mainstays of the Standard American Diet (SAD). Like herbs and spices, seeds and nuts are best obtained from local outlets, especially in the bulk sections of your nearest health food stores. Such retailers are able to transport them to your area in large quantities, thereby significantly reducing the cost of your purchasing them through mail order, for which shipping can almost double the final price.

Next up on the nutrition MVP list are vegetables, which comprise a shockingly small portion of the typical American's diet. For instance, the American Heart Association noted that less than 20 percent of American men eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. In general, the average American eats one vegetable every three days, notes the health magazine Energy Times. This overall average is lower than the first figure, as a result of teens and children going for weeks without getting their greens (green M&Ms don't count).

Like the previously mentioned categories of ingredients, vegetables can be found at your local health food stores, typically cheaper than at mainstream grocery stores. California Certified Farmers' Markets makes it easy for Californians to find the nearest farmers' market. One way to compare the nutritional merits of various vegetables is by searching the USDA Nutrient Database. Americans interested in eating pesticide-free foods, can enroll in organic food cooperatives, such as Be Wise Ranch and Organic Planet Farms, which operate in San Diego.

The use of better ingredients is not limited to vegetarian diets. Even the most committed carnivore can reduce his or her intake of animal growth hormones, herbicides, and other unhealthy chemicals, by exclusively consuming meats with superior nutritional profiles, including livestock raised organically as well as lean hunted game. For example, a well-regarded source of free-range bison and ostrich meat is Blackwing Meats.

Let's Get Cooking

Now that you know how to put together a better "palette" of food sources for your next culinary masterpiece, you can begin choosing enticing entrees to better showcase those healthy ingredients. The Internet has countless websites featuring a tremendous number of recipes, with some websites limiting themselves to particular food types or ethnic cuisine, while others offering a broad range of recipes, grouped by category. In most instances, searching is a snap.

AllRecipes has recipes rated by other website users. It has a virtual recipe box, which could be especially handy if you find a large number of recipes that you would like to try. Chef2Chef apparently has 280,000+ recipes and links to 30,000+ other culinary websites. Other noted recipe websites are Epicurious, Global Gourmet, and Meals For You.

Other websites are more specialized. FATFREE and VegEats offer vegetarian recipes, while the latter also lists vegetarian restaurants. Even more focused, Tazarat Vegan Recipes provides just that.

Ethnic cuisine, especially Asian, can be quite healthy, and fun to create. Some websites are fairly specialized, such as CombuisIndo, which has Indonesian recipes and a Q&A bulletin board. In contrast, RecipeSource appears to have recipes from every inhabited region of the planet.

On a more serious note, while cooking with a wide variety of ingredients can result in mouthwatering and healthful delights for most people, it can also cause quite unhealthful reactions (even death) in people prone to food allergies. If this is a concern for you or anyone for whom you might be preparing food, then Food You Can Eat could save more than a person's appetite. On their website, you can create a profile indicating the foods to which you or someone else is allergic, and then when you search for recipes, you will never be shown recipes that contain any of those dangerous ingredients.

Who's Got the Time?

For those cooks in a hurry, there is Allfood.com, which promises over 170 twenty-minute menus. In my own experience, meatless dishes have proven faster to prepare, store safely, and clean up. On the other hand, grilling a large piece of organically grown fish can be quick if you have the process down to an art.

Finally, if you (or your boss or children) absolutely refuse to make time in your hectic schedule for any cooking, then are you justified in giving up all hopes of eating healthfully, and instead driving straight to the nearest fast food joint? No, not by a (60-minute) mile. Unlike many of the frozen meals in the grocery stores, some meal replacement products are far more nutritious than junk food. For instance, Ultimate Meal can be whipped up with some fresh fruit in a matter of minutes.

So there you have it — enough websites to get anyone started on cooking healthy and delicious foods. For now, I bid you "bon appetit!" Time for me to Google "pizza delivery San Diego"…

Copyright © 2004 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.

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