When it comes to healthy food, context is everything. The number of calories doesn’t often matter as much as the type of calories. Whole grain bread is healthy, but broccoli is healthier. And while some restaurant foods—even some ‘fast’ foods—can be considered healthy, a new study suggests home cooked meals are the healthiest food of all.
The study, published in the recent issue of the journal Public Health Nutrition, found a strong link between overall health and the frequency of home cooked meals.
“If a person–or someone in their household–cooks dinner frequently, regardless of whether or not they are trying to lose weight, diet quality improves,” wrote the study authors Julia Wolfson and Sara Bleich, researchers in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “This is likely due to the relatively lower energy, fat, and sugar contents in foods cooked at home compared with convenience foods or foods consumed away from home.”
The researchers looked at data on home cooking and health from the CDC and from Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Study. “Researchers found that households that reported cooking dinner at home most frequently (6 to 7 times a week) consumed ‘significantly fewer’ calories and ate better than those who relied more heavily on restaurant meals and frozen foods,” reports Civil Eats.
And the benefits didn’t stop there. Again, Civil Eats reports:
The researchers found that 8 percent of adults lived in households in which someone cooked dinner no more than once a week; 44 percent cooked dinner 2 to 5 times a week; and 48 percent reported cooking dinner 6 to 7 times a week. Compared to the low-cooking category, those in the high-cooking category consumer significantly more fiber, fewer carbohydrates, and less sugar.
“From first-hand knowledge, I know how much fat and salt can be in restaurant food, whether it’s fine dining or fast food,” said Wolfson, who also worked as a chef for 10 years. “The food is formulated for flavor, so health is not at the top of a list of concern.”
The study’s explanation of “cooking” was a little vague, however. Just like “healthy food” can be quite a layered definition, home cooked meals can also include many shortcuts like canned soup or sauces, refined sugars, flours and artificial ingredients that can make a “home-cooked” meal little more than reheated processed food.
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