More Cooking, Better Health?
The following is an archived post
Cooking is an essential part of life and has been for periods of human history. In fact, the “cooking hypothesis,” although controversial, is believed to explain why our ancestor, Homo erectus, emerged in our evolution with larger brains and smaller teeth than earlier species.1
Cooking makes nutrients more available—meat and other tough foods (like fish and some raw vegetables) can be chewed, digested, and absorbed more easily into the body. Some foods must be cooked to get rid of toxins and be edible in the first place, such as raw lima beans. When nutrients are abundant, growth and development are possible.
Today, nutrients (and calories) are extremely abundant and easy to obtain without significant energy expenditure. This may be partly to blame for the rise in obesity and chronic disease. Although the food we eat is “cooked,” many do not often prepare the food they eat themselves for a variety of reasons, such as time, lack of skills, cost and more.
This is important to consider when evaluating the impact of this trend. A recent study investigating the effects of children eating > 80% of meals at home versus <80%, with the remaining at pre-school, restaurants, or elsewhere, found that children who ate the most other meals at restaurants had the lowest value for dietary adequacy and the highest consumption of cakes, salty snacks, fruit juices and sodas.2 Eating mostly at home or with other meals at preschool was associated with more fruit and vegetable intake. Although the study did not look at BMI or weight data, these results are especially concerning since overweight or obese children are likely to be overweight or obese as adults and subsequently suffer the associated health consequences.
Eating out has consistently been associated with higher calorie intake along with low nutrient intake (think essential vitamins and minerals lacking in processed or fast foods).2
On the other hand, true cooking at home often leads to greater utilization of fresh/whole ingredients, understanding of food/ingredients and a sense of appropriate portion sizes. There may also be benefits around increased quality time with family and friends and decreased time on activities that in abundance may not be so great for us, like screen time.
Some tips for easer home cooking:
1. Wash, chop and/or prepare fresh fruits and vegetables immediately after grocery shopping. Buy pre-chopped if you’re willing to splurge a couple extra dollars.
2. Always cook for one or two more people than you need, and package up the extra servings to place in the fridge and enjoy at a later time. Prepare a whole meal or extra portion of your main ingredient such as rice, quinoa, chicken, or fish. Make even more and freeze leftovers.
3. Have a well-stocked pantry for basics such as olive oil and vinegar. Buy ingredients like canned beans (drain and rinse before eating) or tuna fish that have long shelf lives and are easy to utilize.
1. Miller K. Archaeologists Find Earliest Evidence of Humans Cooking With Fire. 2013; http://discovermagazine.com/2013/may/09-archaeologists-find-earliest-evidence-of-humans-cooking-with-fire
2. Moreira T, Severo M, Oliveira A, Ramos E, Rodrigues S, Lopes C. Eating out of home and dietary adequacy in preschool children. The British Journal of Nutrition. Jun 17 2015:1-8.