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The Joy of Cooking Too Much: 70 Years of Calorie Increases in Classic Recipes

Brian Wansink, PhD; and Collin R. Payne, PhD
[+] Article, Author, and Disclosure Information

From Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, and New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM, 88003.

Potential Financial Conflicts of Interest: None disclosed.

Ann Intern Med. 2009;150(4):291-292. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-150-4-200902170-00028
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The Joy Of Cooking Too Much: 70 Years Of Calorie Increases In Classic Recipes
Posted on September 10, 2009
Catherine Richards
Mailman School of Public Health, New York
Conflict of Interest: None Declared

Wansink and Payne analyzed the nutritional content of 18 recipes that have appeared continuously in the seven editions of the Joy of Cooking (1936 "“ 2006) and found an increase in calories per serving for these recipes across the editions (1). The authors note that the recipe changes may reflect prevailing tastes and norms and work to establish or reinforce exaggerated norms. However the editorial process that resulted in these 18 recipes being retained across all volumes is unclear. For instance, in 1997 the book under went a major editorial re-arrangement, and then for the 2006 version returned to the style of the earlier editions (2). Additionally, the obesity epidemic in the United States began in the mid- 1970s, and thus recipes from the 1936-1963 editions may not aid in understanding norms and tastes relevant to the obesity epidemic (3).

We selected a random sample of 50 recipes appearing in the 1975 and 2006 editions and a sample of, in our opinion, 12 classic American recipes (Apple Pie, Barbeque Chicken, Beef Pot Roast, Cheeseburger, Chili con Carne, Corn Muffins, Lasagna, Mashed Potatoes, Meat Loaf, Pancakes, Sloppy Joes, and Tuna Casserole) and conducted a nutritional analysis of the recipes (4, 5). For the random sample, the mean calories per serving was 972 Kcal in 1975 and 900 Kcal in 2006 (p=0.33). One of the recipes, Marzipan, was an outlier, with a reduction of 3,282 Kcal per pound between editions. When this recipe was removed from the analyses the mean calories per serving was 869 kcal in 1975 and 862 in 2006 (p=0.84). For the classic recipes, in the 1975 edition the mean calories per serving was 445 kcal and in 2006 the mean was 693 kcal per serving (p=0.03).

The results of a content analysis of the Joy of Cooking are dependent on how the recipes are selected for analysis. Our random sampling of recipes from the two editions did not provide evidence that there has been an overall increase in calories per serving. However, when we selected recipes we assumed to be popular, an increase in calories per serving was observed, perhaps because these recipes received more editorial attention and were more likely to be changed. To understand how evolving editions of cook books reflect and reinforce dietary norms it might be more informative to assess which recipes are dropped and added, rather than focusing on intra-recipe changes in nutritional content.


1. Wansink B, Payne CR. The joy of cooking too much: 70 years of calorie increases in classic recipes. Ann Intern Med. 2009;150(4):291-2.

2. Severson K. Does the World Need Another 'Joy"? Do You? New York Times 2006 November 1.

3. Wang YC, Colditz GA, Kuntz KM. Forecasting the obesity epidemic in the aging U.S. population. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007;15(11):2855-65.

4. Rombauer I, Becker M. Joy of Cooking Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. and New York: Scribner; 1975, 2006.

5. U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 21. 2008.

Conflict of Interest:

None declared

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