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November 18, 2014 | 3 minute read

Cook meals – eat better, new study (it can help prevent cancer too)

We talk a lot about food and eating here because research shows it matters for cancer prevention. Now a study that quantifies the benefits of home cooking finds that if you frequently cook dinner at home you’re more likely to eat fewer calories, both at home and eating out, compared to those who seldom cook.canstockphoto18508832

The study was published in Public Health Nutrition yesterday.

People who cooked dinner the most, at least six nights a week, were eating 137 fewer calories per day on average compared to those cooking dinner only once a week or not at all.

Study authors used data from almost 9,600 adult participants of the government National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Participants answered questions about how many times they cooked during the past week and what they ate during the past 24 hours, along with questions such as about dieting.

The more people cooked, the less calories they ate. In 8% of adults’ homes, someone was cooking dinner once or less a week. These people were eating on average 2,301 calories a day. Almost half of households – 48% – were cooking dinner six to seven times a week and they ate 2,164 calories a day. Those eating home-cooked dinners more frequently were eating less carbohydrates, sugar and fat.

The healthier eating carried over into restaurants, with those cooking at least six times/week eating about 300 fewer calories less when they ate out compared to those who seldom cooked dinners. People might be simply consuming less food away from home because they cook the majority of their food at home, or they might be making healthier choices when they eat away from home, says lead author Julia A. Wolfson, MPP, a CLF-Lerner Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. “We need more research to tease this out a little more, but what is clear is that when people cook more frequently at home they consume fewer calories overall, and many fewer calories from foods away from home which we know are typically more highly processed and higher in calories, fat, sugar and salt.”

Regardless of how much they cooked, people trying to lose weight ate healthier. There were also no links between what people weighed and how much they cooked dinners at home.

For cancer prevention, research shows that eating a plant-based diet filled with fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of many cancers. It’s a big part of helping with weight control, which is the single biggest way to reduce cancer risk aside from not smoking.

We here at AICR know that cooking a healthy dinner every night for you and/or your family can be challenging. And there are plenty of ways you can eat healthy with prepared foods and at restaurants. We’ve written about a few of those ways here.

But cooking is one simple and powerful way to take control of your cancer risk, and your health in general. It can also be fun and delicious. That’s why AICR offers strategies and recipes to make it easier. Our recipes were developed and tested to be part of a cancer-protective lifestyle. Here’s our new healthy holiday recipes, for example. Enjoy.

One of the authors of the study was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

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