By Jana Bounds
January always brings with it the promise of a clean slate; the ability to make lasting changes that will hopefully stand the test of the remaining 11 months of the year.
It doesn’t seem unfair to label most fast food and restaurant meals as unhealthy by nature and more costly financially, but just how bad are they?
As we boldly look to the rest of the year with big moves in mind, what if even mild or moderate changes can increase our lifespan and improve our quality of life? It’s worth considering.
We will explore the science behind shifts in eating habits and creative options that can pay dividends throughout the year.
Whichever way you choose to embark on your culinary/health adventure, 2023 is bound to be bright with a little effort.
Is Eating Out THAT Unhealthy?
Findings from a sizable cross-sectional study of 35,000 American respondents aged 20+ over an 8-15 year period showed that individuals who dined out two or more times per day were 50% more likely to die, also their risk for cardiovascular death and cancer-related death was 18% and 67% greater, respectively.
“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,” according to Yang Du, MD, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Epidemiology, University of Iowa.
Lead investigator Wei Bao, MD, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Epidemiology, College of Public Health, University of Iowa, noted that this is one of the first studies to quantify the association between mortality and eating out, pointing out that the study findings are in line with previous results that suggest frequently eating out has adverse health consequences.
Meal Prepping Pros for Those Who Don’t Know
Some savvy people are turning to meal planning as a positive habit for the new year, and science has some surprising and positive news for the people investing in new Tupperware and bulk vegetables: the benefits go far beyond the pocketbook.
Not only are these individuals saving the cost of eating out, but also the associated calories. Plus, they can pack their meals with life-and-health-sustaining vitamins and minerals.
“Meal preppers” as they are now commonly called are taking advantage of key downtime to chop and marinate, laying the groundwork for delicious and healthy culinary creations.
Improved Food Quality and Variety
More thought goes into meal planning, which pushes against the impulse toward unhealthy foods, Mia Syn, RD, owner of Nutrition by Mia told Everyday Health. In fact, meal planning is scientifically linked to a more nutritional, diverse, and higher-quality diet.
What happens when even more time is spent on meal preparation, even more than an hour a day? An increase in the consumption of fruits, salads and vegetables.
Link to Obesity Prevention and Weight Loss
It’s no mystery that many restaurants are focused on flavor over health, which means a general increase in saturated fat, total fat, and sodium when compared to home-cooked meals. The shift to meal planning/prepping means an almost automatic reduction in fat and calories and increase in nutrients.
“In one pilot program documented in research, participants met every Sunday for six weeks to prep healthy weekday lunches and dinners. By the program’s end, participants not only adopted a more balanced diet but averaged a weight loss of more than 3 pounds,” according to the Everyday Health article.
An added bonus to meal prepping is portion control, particularly with batch cooking. The ability to control ingredients and the cooking method can mean the ability to appropriately portion in order to meet your unique nutritional needs. Some meal preppers acquire tools that streamline the process: a food scale, good storage containers, and appropriately sized measuring cups and spoons.
It shouldn’t be any surprise that at-home meal preparation and its increased health benefits would decrease the risk of death.
“In one study, individuals who ate at home often (less than one takeout meal per week) lived longer than those who dined out frequently (two meals or more per day),” according to the article, which cited a study that tracked the dietary habits of 35,084 adults and their death records.
Say Goodbye to “Hanger” and Impulsive Food Selections That Sabotage Your Diet
When blood glucose levels drop, people begin making poor food choices.
She added that meal prepping helps people feel good both mentally and physically by promoting the concept of mindful eating.
Meal Kit Services: Do Kits Take the Heavy Lifting Out of Eating Fresh and Healthy Food?
What about those of us who are so busy that meal prepping seems daunting?
Registered dietitian Sally Kuzemchak assessed meal delivery kits for WebMD, and per her assessment there are more pros than cons, including creative inspiration, convenience, skill-building and a sense of pride from creating something. These are all positive and bode well for good habit creation.
But how does the health stack-up when compared to cooking from scratch?
She was impressed, noting the emphasis placed on fresh vegetables and even plant-based meals. Additionally, Kuzemchak pointed out that it was easy to discover meals that were built around specific patterns of eating, like vegan or vegetarian.
Bon Appetit to a Healthier Future!
It seems like health is always at the top of many lists at the start of each new year. One small change, even the shift from eating out to preparing meals at home, can create a positive domino effect within your life. Not only is meal prepping good for your finances, and even your mental health, but also your diet, plus it contributes to weight loss.
It seems that meal prepping checks almost all the boxes for a bright and healthy new year! Dust off your chef’s hat, find your favorite healthy recipes, dig out your Tupperware and start 2023 off right!