Home cooking brings the family together and saves money. New research shows it’s healthier than eating out regularly. Let’s take a closer look at what it takes to get the most out of home cooking and how to improve choices when eating out.

Eating out is usually less nutritious

The percentage of meals eaten outside of the home has roughly doubled since the 1970s while eating out keeps getting more popular. Even though some restaurants offer good choices, the dietary quality of meals away from home, especially from fast-food chains, is usually lower compared with meals cooked at home. Meals away from home tend to be higher in calories, fat, and sodium, but lower in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fibre and antioxidants.

“Emerging, although still limited, evidence suggests that eating out frequently is associated with increased risk of chronic diseases, such as obesity and diabetes and biomarkers of other chronic diseases. However, little is known about the association between eating meals away from home and risk of mortality,” said lead investigator Wei Bao, MD, PhD.

Steak and salad
Meals away from home tend to be higher in calories, fat, and sodium. © Profimedia

Researchers from University of Iowa decided to investigate if this lower average quality of restaurant food has an impact on health and mortality. They analysed questionnaire data from over 35,000 adults that explored dietary habits including frequency of eating meals prepared away from home. The data was linked to death records, especially with all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, and cancer mortality.

Home cooking most of your meals is healthier

Researchers adjusted results for age, sex, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, dietary and lifestyle factors, and body mass index to get a clearer picture. They found that participants who ate 2 or more meals per day away from home were at a much higher risk of mortality compared with those who only ate fewer than 1 meal per week away from home.

  • 49% increase in risk for all-cause mortality
  • 18% increase in risk for cardiovascular mortality
  • 67% increase in risk for cancer mortality

“Our findings from this large nationally representative sample of US adults show that frequent consumption of meals prepared away from home is significantly associated with increased risk of all-cause mortality,” said lead author Dr. Du. “The take-home message is that frequent consumption of meals prepared away from home may not be a healthy habit. Instead, people should be encouraged to consider preparing more meals at home,” the researchers concluded.

Homemade Mexican meal
There are four main reasons why people quit their diet. They either lack planning, set their goals poorly, don’t have proper support or don’t know how to recover from setbacks. © Profimedia

Make healthier choices when eating out

The authors of this study also mentioned that it’s possible to make healthier choices when eating out, which can reduce the negative effects. The only problem is that most people don’t choose healthier options in restaurants.

“It is important to note that the study design for this research examines associations between frequency of eating meals prepared away from home and mortality. While encouraging clients to consider preparing healthy meals at home, registered dietitian nutritionists might also focus on how selections from restaurant menus can be healthy. Tailoring strategies to each client by reviewing menus from restaurants they frequent can help them make healthy food choices,” added co-investigator Linda G. Snetselaar, PhD.

There are a few simple rules you can follow to improve your eating out.

  • Order water instead of a sugary drink
  • Get a salad as a side to your main meal
  • Choose a balanced meal that contains some lean protein

If you want more tips on how to stick to home cooking, you can check out our previous article.