Friday, June 19, 2009

Obesity and "light" food

Some people have speculated that the idea of light or reduced calorie food is partially responsible for the obesity epidemic, but usually with regard to processed food with the famous ``Snackwells effect'': people eat a whole box of low fat cookies instead of 2 Oreos.

I started thinking about that after baking a cheesecake. I used this recipe from Rose Levy Birnbaum with full fat cream cheese and sour cream but no crust because I grew up without pie crusts. I never have foods like full-fat cream cheese and sour cream in the house and I felt so decadent buying them and putting them all in a bowl together, so it was with a morbid curiosity that I decided to compute the calories: 12 slices = 240 calories each, 8 servings = 350 each. If I'd used Neufchatel cheese which is an almost invisible substitution, 8 servings = 300 each.

That didn't seem like many calories, so I decided to compare a light cheesecake I'd recently heard about from the Best Light Recipe. The light recipe uses cottage cheese, yogurt, and Neufchatel cheese, so clearly they must save some calories, yet according to their calculations the cheesecake serves 12 and has 340 calories in each slice, 100 calories more than Birnbaum's recipe. Both recipes get made in a 9 inch dish. Maybe slices of the Best Recipe are marginally taller, but like glass width I'm guessing that's the type of size difference that people don't perceive readily.

So it's not just the Snackwells effect: the low-fat version doesn't even have less calories, and could have more. I've made my decision: when it comes to dessert, full fat only. The rest of the time I can scrimp and use 1 T oil when the recipe calls for 1/4 c.

Here's my calculation of the Birnbaum cheesecake calories for those who want to check my math:

  • 1 lb cream cheese, 1600 (1120 if Neufchatel cheese)
  • 1 c brown sugar, 829 (774 if white sugar)
  • 1 T cornstarch,
  • 3 eggs, 225
  • 1/2 T vanilla
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 lb sour cream, 900

Total calories: 2855 (2375 if Neufchatel cheese).


RAK said...

Actually, homemade desserts don't have calories. No label = no calories.

Benjamin said...

I also sometimes wonder if people (or myself) will eat less of a rich food as its flavor is stronger