Cooking at home tonight? It's likely cheaper and healthier, study finds

Researchers from the University of Washington School of Public Health have been peeking into kitchens - via interviews - for years now. They've just published results showing people who cook at home more often are likely to eat a healthier overall diet. The measurement used to define a healthy diet is called the Healthy Eating Index. It gauges whether a person's diet is giving them the right combination of fruits, vegetables and other elements.

"By cooking more often at home, you have a better diet at no significant cost increase, while if you go out more, you have a less healthy diet at a higher cost," said Adam Drewnowski, director of the UW's Center for Public Health Nutrition and senior author of "Cooking at home: A strategy to comply with U.S. dietary guidelines at no extra cost," published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

As part of the Seattle Obesity Study, researchers interviewed 437 King County adults, who were asked to remember their last week of eating in and eating out. Researchers supervised the adults answering a questionnaire, with detailed sections on what they ate and where.

The study found that home-cooked dinners were associated with a "greater dietary compliance," meaning the overall weekly diet met more of the federal guidelines for a healthy diet. Households who cooked at home about three times per week showed a score of about 67 on the Healthy Eating Index. Those who cooked at home about six times per week had a score of about 74.

"The differences were significant, even with a relatively small study sample," said Drewnowski, also a professor of epidemiology.

Don't feel bad if you don't have time to cook at home every night. Researchers understand.

Drewnowski realizes that some people in the United States suffer from what epidemiologists call "time poverty."

Roughly half of all food dollars in the United States are spent outside the home, which suggests that cooking at home may not be feasible for a large chunk of the population.

Public health nutritionists suggests that efforts to promote cooking at home should be balanced with efforts to encourage retailers and restaurants to offer healthy, less expensive prepared foods for easy purchase outside of the home.

Other measures of food consumption use calories instead of dollars. The contribution of away-from-home food to total calories rose from 18 percent in the 1970s to 32 percent by the late 1990s, according to the study. Only one in five U.S. residents meets the dietary guidelines set by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

What was surprising to Drewnowski was that the study showed there was no increase in costs for eating a healthier diet. Home cooked meals were associated with diets lower in calories, sugar and fat, but not with higher monthly expenses for food.

One other message of the study was that some common assumptions are wrong about income and education. The study showed no association between income or education and eating at home or eating out. The 437 people chosen for the study were a stratified random sample.

"People have the preconception that a lower income leads to eating more fast foods, but that was not true in our study," Drewnowski said. People who cooked more often at home were likely to have larger households with more children in them.

One of the limitations on the study was that people had to remember everything they ate in the past week, and perhaps some memories are not perfect. But he pointed out that almost all nutritional research is done using self-reported information.

The message of healthier-doesn't-cost-more is one he is sharing immediately with students in his Nutrition 303 class, where one of the assignments is to carefully pencil out how much your typical dinner costs.

"There's a lot of ramen," he joked, in regard to homework papers.

The project was supported by a National Institutes of Health grant for the Seattle Obesity Study.

Tiwari A, Aggarwal A, Tang W, Drewnowski A.
Cooking at Home: A Strategy to Comply With U.S. Dietary Guidelines at No Extra Cost.
Am J Prev Med. 2017 Feb 27. pii: S0749-3797(17)30023-5. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2017.01.017.

Most Popular Now

Pfizer begins a Phase 1/2 study to evaluate respir…

Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) today announced that it has started a Phase 1/2 trial of its respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine candidate in healthy adult volunteers. RSV i...

Eczema drug effective against severe asthma

Two new studies of patients with difficult-to-control asthma show that the eczema drug dupilumab alleviates asthma symptoms and improves patients' ability to breathe bett...

Most popular vitamin and mineral supplements provi…

The most commonly consumed vitamin and mineral supplements provide no consistent health benefit or harm, suggests a new study led by researchers at St. Michael's Hospital...

AstraZeneca heads to 2018 ASCO Annual Meeting with…

AstraZeneca and MedImmune, its global biologics research and development arm, head to the 2018 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in Chicago, US...

Tiny particles could help fight brain cancer

Glioblastoma multiforme, a type of brain tumor, is one of the most difficult-to-treat cancers. Only a handful of drugs are approved to treat glioblastoma, and the median ...

Novartis data at ASCO and EHA reinforce company's …

Novartis will present data from across its oncology portfolio at the upcoming 54th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) to be held June 1-5 ...

Spiolto® Respimat® enables greater physical activi…

Boehringer Ingelheim announced data which add to the growing body of evidence that show Spiolto® (tiotropium/olodaterol) Respimat® enables greater physical activity in pa...

New approach to immunotherapy leads to complete re…

A novel approach to immunotherapy developed by researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has led to the complete regression of breast cancer in a patient who was...

Amgen Foundation and Harvard team up to offer free…

The Amgen Foundation and Harvard University today announced plans to launch a free online science education platform uniquely designed to level the playing field for aspi...

Study demonstrates new treatment for severe asthma

Researchers from McMaster University and the Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, together with colleagues at other partnering ...

The Pfizer Foundation announces $5 million in gran…

The Pfizer Foundation announced a new $5 million grant commitment to initiatives in low- and middle-income countries that provide family planning access and education for...

Study finds antioxidant-enriched vitamin reduces r…

Researchers at Children's Hospital Colorado (Children's Colorado) and the University of Colorado School of Medicine have found that taking a specially formulated antioxid...