Study suggests home cooking for a healthier diet

People who frequently cook meals at home eat healthier and consume fewer calories than those who cook less, according to new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research.

"When people cook most of their meals at home, they consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar, and less fat than those who cook less or not at all—even if they are not trying to lose weight," says Julia A. Wolfson, a CLF-Lerner Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and lead author of the study.

The findings also suggest that those who cooked at home frequently—six to seven nights a week—consumed fewer calories on the occasions when they ate out.

Wolfson presented the research at the American Public Health Association's Annual Meeting, held in November in New Orleans. The study is published online in the journal Public Health Nutrition.

Wolfson and co-author Sara N. Bleich, an associate professor in Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School, analyzed data from the 2007–2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of more than 9,000 participants age 20 and older. The survey asked detailed questions about what participants ate during a 24-hour period as well as other eating behaviors, such as consuming fast food in the previous 30 days. The researchers found that 8 percent of adults cooked dinner once or less a week, and this group consumed, on an average day, 2,301 total calories, 84 grams of fat, and 135 grams of sugar. The 48 percent of participants who cooked dinner six to seven times a week consumed 2,164 calories, 81 grams of fat, and 119 grams of sugar on an average day. The researchers also found that those who cook at home more often rely less frequently on frozen foods and are less likely to choose fast foods on the occasions when they eat out.

The research found that blacks are more likely to live in households where cooking occurs less frequently than whites, and individuals who work more than 35 hours a week outside the home also cook less often.

"Obesity is an escalating public health problem that contributes to other serious health issues, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease," says Wolfson. "The evidence shows people who cook at home eat a more healthy diet. Moving forward, it's important to educate the public about the benefits of cooking at home, identify strategies that encourage and enable more cooking at home, and help everyone, regardless of how much they cook, make healthier choices when eating out."