Nutrition in the modern world has become increasingly elusive. Even with the rising trend of personal health awareness over the last few years, choosing nutritious meals on a consistent basis remains and ongoing challenge for millions of people, many of whom still choose speed and convenience over health. As of 2013, over 25% of Americans consume fast food every day. So what's the value of not choosing fast food, and does a home-cooked meal really make that much of a difference to your health?
Analyzing Home Meals vs. Dining Out
To compare the benefits of eating at home to dining out, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future analyzed data from the 2007-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey which contained more than 9,000 participants aged 20 and older. In the survey, participants were asked what they usually ate during a 24-hour period as well as their fast food eating habits of the last 30 days.
Results showed that 8% cooked dinner only once a week. This group consumed—on a daily average—2,301 total calories, 84 grams of fat, and 135 grams of sugar. Forty-eight percent cooked dinner six-to-seven times a week, consuming 2,164 calories, 81 grams of fat, and 119 grams of sugar on an average day. Other results from the study showed that those who prepared meals at home more regularly relied on frozen foods less and were unlikely to choose fast foods on the occasions when they did eat out.
"When people cook most of their meals at home, they consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar, and less fat than those who cook less or not at all—even if they are not trying to lose weight," says Julia A. Wolfson, MPP, a CLF-Lerner Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and lead author of the study.
The Culture of Dining Out and Making Holidays Healthy
Although studies show eating in is can be healthier there are certain times a year, mainly holidays, when there are concerns about eating at home. One of the main holidays for eating in—which is almost upon us—is Thanksgiving. However, there's still the concern of overeating at family gatherings. Keeping your holidays healthy can be simple with a few easy steps. If you know you are going to have a major meal like Thanksgiving dinner and you want to limit your intake, be sure to eat a decent breakfast. Often, people try and "save room" for Thanksgiving or other holiday meals, which can easily lead to overeating.
Here are some other quick tips for making this Thanksgiving holiday season a healthy one:
- Use fat-free chicken broth to baste the turkey and make gravy.
- Use sugar substitutes in place of sugar and/or fruit purees instead of oil in baked goods.
- Reduce oil and butter wherever you can.
- Try plain yogurt or fat-free sour cream in creamy dips, mashed potatoes, and casseroles.
Let Home Be Where the Health Is
It can be easy to fall into the habit of eating out or buying prepared meals in our on-the-go society. But studies have shown that home-cooked meals can allow you to exercise greater control over your daily intake of calories, fats, carbohydrates, and sugar. The more you're able to control your daily diet, the better you'll feel and the easier it can be to make healthy decisions. Be your own healthy personal chef throughout this holiday season.