Eat, Drink and Be Healthy

Cooking Light introduces new rules for eating healthfully

By Jennifer LaRue Huget
Thursday, April 1, 2010

Chicken skin: It's the new health food.

That may sound like a nutrition columnist's idea of an April Fools' Day joke. But the April issue of Cooking Light, a leading U.S. cooking magazine, makes the case that a bit of chicken skin now and then won't hurt you and can even supply some healthful fat.

That revelation appears in a list of 10 "Nutrition myths that shouldn't keep you from the foods you love." No. 8 among them: "You should always remove chicken skin before eating." In its argument to debunk this, the article says, "You can enjoy a skin-on chicken breast without blowing your sat-fat budget."

That will come as delightful news to some of us, and nutrition heresy to others.

Which suits the magazine's new editor, Scott Mowbray, just fine. Mowbray, who's been editor in chief since the December issue, announced in the January-February issue Cooking Light's "new rules for healthy eating." The rules, he said, might surprise readers as they attempt to answer the question, "So what in the world should we eat, and can we relax about it a little?"

Mowbray says his aim for the magazine, which has nearly 1.6 million subscribers and an estimated 12 million readers, is to "generate dialogue and discussion" about the "changing science" that guides our understanding of nutrition. "This is an area people hold very dear to their hearts," he adds.

The magazine's staff members haven't relaxed their standards, Mowbray says, but they're now emphasizing that there's room for just about any delicious item in one's diet, so long as it's used judiciously. Salt, sugar and saturated fat may be pariahs in some circles, but they are embraced, albeit in moderation, by the folks at Cooking Light. Even such "bad" ingredients as butter and bacon are welcome, so long as they are of the highest quality.

Which brings us to that chicken skin. According to the April article, written by registered dietitian Julie Upton, "the long-standing command to strip poultry of its skin before eating doesn't hold up under a nutritional microscope. A 12-ounce bone-in, skin-on chicken breast half contains just 2.5 grams of saturated fat and 50 calories more than its similarly portioned skinless counterpart."

The article also says that adding a bit of sugar can make nutritious but unappealing foods more palatable, that eggs don't raise your blood cholesterol, that certain saturated fats may help balance "good" and "bad" cholesterol, and that adding salt to cooking water can help vegetables retain nutrients often lost in the process.

Even the most demonized of all epicurean items, fried food, finds a place at the Cooking Light table. The article says that if you choose a healthful oil such as canola and heat it sufficiently, the food you fry in it should retain very little fat -- and what it does contain won't hurt you. Again, notes the magazine, which for the first time in its 23 years features recipes for deep-fried foods, this cooking method can make vegetables more appealing.

"The idea is to eat our diets and live our lives as a whole," Mowbray says, adding that the embrace of foods typically not considered nutritious "is not license for carelessness. We still have to be mindful of how much we eat and in what combinations."

Registered dietitian Lona Sandon, speaking for the American Dietetic Association, isn't convinced that chicken skin should become a staple of our diets. But she's generally on board with the Cooking Light approach. "The American Dietetic Association has kept this position for many years, that all foods can fit [in a healthful diet] in moderation." In her personal life, she does a few things that Cooking Light might approve of. "I'm personally someone who puts brown sugar on my oatmeal," she says. "Plain old oatmeal isn't that tasty."

The danger for nutrition experts, Sandon says, is in appearing to deliver conflicting messages. "It's confusing, and people get aggravated" when they hear inconsistent nutrition information. "They throw their hands up and say 'I won't listen to anyone.' "

Millions of us who take our culinary cues from Cooking Light (as a longtime subscriber, I know I do; I also regularly include its recipes in my weekly Lean & Fit nutrition e-newsletter) will no doubt hesitate before welcoming fried food and chicken skin back into their kitchens. But I for one won't hesitate for long. I just bought a whole roaster to stick in the oven, having not eaten roasted chicken skin in maybe 15 years. I can't wait.

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