understanding "healthy": being smart with online recipes

5 years ago

One of the websites I use to get new recipes is Pinterest. I even have an entire board set up just for recipes I want to try. Some can be made as is. Some need to be adapted, either to make them more Weight Watchers or vegetarian friendly. Some are for those special occasions when I have no problem splurging. If something looks tasty, it gets pinned.

The more I pin, though, and peruse the Food section of Pinterest, the more I've noticed that some Pinners have a rather .... unique understanding of what makes something "healthy." Maybe it's wishful thinking or just naivety, but it can be a bit alarming at times.

Take, for instance, the wildly popular Healthy Peanut Butter Cookie recipe that I keep seeing. Unfortunately, the original recipe has disappeared from the original source, but luckily most of the pins have the recipe attached: Healthy Peanut Butter cookies! Only 36 calories per cookie! Ingredients: 1 Cup Peanut butter 1 Cup Sugar 1 TSP baking soda 1 egg Mix the peanut butter and sugar first then add in the egg and baking soda. Bake for 10 minutes on 350 degrees. They’re delicious!

Ummmmmmm. Okay, I am aware that I have really terrible math skills, but even I know there is no way in hell these cookies come out to 36 calories each. In fact, I first saw a similar recipe on Kraft Canada a few years ago. At the time they weren't called healthy peanut butter cookies but super-easy peanut butter cookies. Interesting part? That recipe uses half the amount of sugar as this so-called healthy one.

One tablespoon of peanut butter is 95 calories. This Pinterest recipe calls for one cup, which is 16 tablespoons. That is 1520 calories. Just of peanut butter. Now, because the original link is missing we have to guess on servings The picture shows 18, with room for 2 more on the cookie sheet. So we take those 1520 calories and divide by 18 and get 84 calories each. If we assume two cookies are missing, it's 76. And again, that's just the peanut butter in the dough. I haven't even included the sugar or egg and already we are more than double the alleged calories in this recipe that people not only keep pinning, but probably keep baking and eating.

Look. I love using the internet for recipes, but, y'know, I'm also an academic librarian and as an academic librarian it is my job to assist students in navigating the world wide web and the vast amount of information on it. I go into classrooms and teach information literacy and research skills, showing them not only how to search but how to properly analyze the information they receive from their searches. Which is easier said than done because many of my students assume the first hit on Google is exactly what they need.

The internet lies

Sometimes on purpose, sometimes by accident or ignorance. I always liken Pinterest and Facebook to those annoying tin hat conspiracy chain emails that used to get passed around back when AOL was still popular. Like the kind that claimed some charity would donate 5 cents for every email that got forwarded. Or remember how just a few months ago everyone woke up to a multitude of FB posts claiming by the end of the week FB would be a pay service? This shit goes viral without people really stopping and thinking "Hey, I wonder if this is really true." Don't believe everything you read and don't believe everything Pinned.

Use common sense

35 calories for a cookie that uses 1 cup of peanut butter and 1 cup of sugar? Come on, people. Just because you want it to be true doesn't mean that it is. I want to consistently run a 12 minute mile. Doesn't mean I'm going to wake up tomorrow and be able to do it, I have to actually work for it. If you want to bake a 36 calorie peanut butter cookie you're going to have to figure out how to do it on your own or use different ingredients, 'cause this recipe as written ain't it. Not unless you want to make about 70 really small cookies from this dough.

Do your research

With any recipe, I have to figure out the appropriate Weight Watchers points for a serving. Luckily, WW provides a handy little tool for that. It can be annoying, 'cause you have to input each item in the recipe, but whatever. Price we pay. Thing is, there are a ton of websites out there that boast to have the right WW Points+ attached. Here's the thing: unless it's a recipe I get from the official Weight Watchers website, I always double check the recipe and input it myself to get the Points value. It's like with anything else online and what I stress the most to my students: in this day and age, anyone can put anything up online and tout it as fact. Are you really going to listen to some random person with a blog?

Case in point: I found, on Pinterest, someone who had blogged about the above pb cookies after realizing the inaccurate calorie info. She, appropriately, called them "Healthy" Peanut Butter Cookies. Exact same recipe, only she made it 24 cookies instead of 20 and says that when she checked the nutrition info, she got 80 calories a cookie. Great, right? Except when I check the nutrition info for two dozen using SparkRecipes, I get 100 calories a cookie.

I have no idea which one of us is correct, but I'm going to go with my number seeing as how, well, I'm the one that input the info to get that number. It's like with anything else, if I'm going to forward or share a piece of information with friends or family, it's only going to be after I do some research and make sure the info is correct. Not just because it keeps popping up in my Facebook feed.

Then again, I, too, am a random person with a blog, and as LaVar Burton always used to say on Reading Rainbow, You don't have to take my word for it. What's your take on using the internet for recipes and accurate nutritional info?

Lady Lazarus

The Year of the Phoenix

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