On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness information for all Oklahomans, published three times a week.

Why Cooking at Home is Good for Your Health

It’s no secret that eating at home is healthier than eating out, because cooking at home puts you directly in control of your diet.

People who eat at restaurants consume 200 calories more per day on average than people who eat at home, according to a study by the University of Illinois. Even when you pick options that seem healthier, you really don’t know all the ingredients in the dish you’ve ordered.

“Restaurants include things like extra butter, cream and salt – things you may not normally use at home,” says Grant Johnson, who works as a chef in Oklahoma City. “That's what makes restaurant food taste so good, but also much less healthy for you.”

Fresh means more nutritious

Cooking at home allows you to control the freshness of your ingredients. Fresh food is important because nutritional value deteriorates over time, especially after something has been cooked. For example, Johnson mentions juice. He says juice bought at your local grocery store is a product that’s gone through a long process to get to you.

“The raw produce is sent from a farm to a manufacturer who does the juicing or processing,” Johnson says. “Then they bottle it, package it and ship it to a larger wholesale purveyor who sells it to a retail store, who finally sells it to you. That’s six steps, which can take a minimum of three to 10 days – even longer if the juice is pasteurized.”

But if you make juice at home, you buy the produce, you juice it and then you drink it. All can be accomplished in less than an hour, and that’s if you have to go to the store.

The same is true for ingredients used in restaurants. You probably can’t know when the restaurant received their vegetables or how they cooked them. All produce can lose nutrients as time passes, including vitamin content.

Pam Patty, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with INTEGRIS, says four factors can affect the nutritional value of foods: exposure to air, light, temperature and moisture.

“When a vegetable or fruit is harvested, the spoilage clock immediately starts ticking,” Patty says. “If the produce is handled properly by providing the right amounts of exposure to air, light, temperature and moisture, then nutritional decline – along with appearance, texture and flavor loss – is kept to a minimum.”

Some vitamins, like vitamin C, are heat sensitive. “As much as a third of the vitamin can be degraded in a tomato when it is cooked at 190 degrees for 30 minutes,” Patty says. “Other vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin and niacin (vitamins B1, B2 and B3) are water soluble, so they dissolve in a water medium like a pot of boiling water on the stove top.”

If you pair the right technique with your ingredients, the highest amount of nutrition will remain. You’ll also get a better flavor and a more appealing appearance. Johnson suggests keeping it simple when deciding how to cook your ingredients: “You want the least amount of processes from the ground to your belly.”

Meals to meet your needs

At home you’re able to tailor your meals to your specific health needs. If you need less salt in your diet you can simply use less salt – no need to ask your server to ask the kitchen if they can make your meal differently. And let’s be honest: you may never know if the restaurant actually accommodates your request.

If you need to supplement your diet by adding different side dishes, it’s easy to do at home. For example, if you need more calcium you can add more dairy, or vitamin K, which helps your body metabolize calcium. You can find vitamin K in dark leafy greens like kale.

People with conditions like diabetes, osteoporosis and high blood pressure can make sure they’re eating foundational foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, meats, poultry, fish, legumes, and seeds and nuts to address their challenges, Patty says.

Building relationships

“Cooking at home allows everyone in the family to be involved,” Patty says. “It creates a sense of connection and a better appreciation of the time and energy it takes to cook an entire meal.”,

Even better, it’s practically impossible to use your phone (or other hand-held device) while cooking, so if you’re cooking with family, you’ll have your kids’ full attention.

“At our house so much centers around cooking in the kitchen together,” says Oklahoma blogger Katie Johnstonbaugh who writes Dishin & Dishes. “I love having my husband and kids with me while we chop, sauté and bake together. Our kitchen is our fun hub! I started cooking with my kids at an early age, and now our four granddaughters help pick fresh produce from our garden. It makes them want to try it all!”

Perhaps the hardest part of cooking at home is thinking of recipes the whole family will enjoy and finding time to prepare and cook. Johnstonbaugh shares one of her favorite recipes here.

Roasted Carrots with Tahini Turmeric Dressing image courtesy of Dishin & Dishes

Roasted Carrots with Tahini Turmeric Dressing

  • 1 lb. carrots, peeled
  • 3/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoon tahini (use 1 T. If you don't love tahini)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • dash of pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. Peel carrots and trim off tops.
  3. In a bowl, toss the carrots with 1/4 cup of the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss well with your hands, making sure to coat all carrots.
  4. Spread carrots in even layer on a lined baking sheet.
  5. Place in oven and roast 30-45 minutes or until brown and black spots are noticeable and carrots are softened.
  6. While carrots are roasting, mix 1/2 cup of olive with remaining ingredients. Whisk well.
  7. Drizzle over carrots upon removing from oven.

If you want to start cooking but don’t know where to begin, look into services like HelloFresh and Blue Apron that will build a menu for you and send fresh ingredients to your home every week.

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