Home cooking generally better for your diet

home cooking. A woman admires a man safely handling his courgette.
Photo by Werner Heiber, c/o Pixabay.

Whenever pieces of research on cooking and diet come up, its usually related to some food item. In this case, its all about whether you cook at home or go out for a meal. A new study from Public Health Nutrition finds that those of us cooking our meals at home are on average likely to have the better overall diet. It does however depend on how much income we have and how affordable it is to do such an activity as home cooking. The survey was conducted by the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

The researchers examined diets using the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) which is a way for nutritionists to measure the quality of a diet based on foods recommended in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The range is from 0 to 100. The higher the score the better the diet in terms of content and quality of food.

In this example, the researchers collected data from 8,668 people who were aged 20 or over. They looked at data from 2007 to 2010 which was recorded in the Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. There specific evidence came from just two 24-hour dietary recalls. From that study, there are some interesting findings which reflect on dietary habits from that period. It appears that in the group examined, 13 per cent were living in households where they had someone who did not cook their dinner or did just two dinners every week. the next category was larger, 21 per cent living in households where dinner was cooked 3 to 4 times every week, a category of 31 per cent where dinner was cooked  5 or 6 times every week and finally, one where 36 per cent lived in a household where dinner was cooked at least 7 times per  week.

When you looked at the HEI score for each category, it was clear that if you lived in one household where three or more dinners were cooked per week, then you had a healthier and higher total HEI. The base category was zero to twice per week home cooked dinners. If you had a cooked dinner seven times every week, the HEI was a 2.96-point increase overall. Generally, the more homecooking the better the HEI.

Overarching these findings though was the importance of income – whether it was high- or a low-income household.   Socioeconomic status is one of the most important facets on diet quality and it probably comes as no surprise when you look at these results. The lower-income households who did home cooking of dinners, seven times per week enjoyed a 2.68-point increase in their HEI score. If you were more affluent, coming from a higher-income household the value rose by 5.08 point which is is substantial.

Household economic are important. Clearly more research is needed to tease out the factors as to why poverty or lower income influences the type of home cooking done. Healthy home cooking would be ideal but in keeping with other pieces of research, being able to afford better quality ingredients or use cooking methods may be beyond the reach of many on lower incomes.

The lead author, Julia Wolfson, assistant professor of health management and policy at the University of Michigan stated in the press release:

“Helping more people cook healthy meals at home is a laudable goal, but it is not always feasible for everyone. More must be done to help ensure that all people, no matter how frequently they cook, or their level of income, are able to consume a healthy diet.”

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