If you do one thing for your health this year, make it this: cook your own food. Today’s busy lifestyles mean that we enthusiastically embrace anything that offers us ease or convenience. But when it comes to food, the perceived benefit of convenience – whether it’s in the form of takeaway food or store-bought ready meals – may be robbing us of our health, energy and money.
Cooking your own food at home has many benefits. Some are immediate, and some only become apparent over time. Here are some of the ways in which preparing your meals from scratch at home will help you to live a healthier life.
Although preservatives are seen as a necessary evil in processed food, they can cause heart damage, hyperactivity in children, breathing difficulties and even cancer. If you cook your own fresh food, you immediately cut your exposure to these preservatives and improve your health right away and in the long term.
Creators of processed food and junk food are in the business of making you want to come back for more. For this reason, they use chemical flavour enhancers to deliver a fake taste sensation and keep you buying their product. If you cook at home, you avoid these chemical additives.
The preservatives in processed food may keep it from spoiling, but they do nothing to preserve its nutritional content. Fruit and vegetables lose vital nutrients like Vitamin A and C rapidly after they are picked, sliced and cooked, so for the best vitamin boost, chop and prepare your vegetables yourself.
While it’s obviously possible to make unhealthy food at home – cakes and white bread sandwiches being a case in point – the more you cook, the more aware you become about what goes into your food. This makes it easier for you to follow a healthy eating plan because there are no hidden ingredients.
If all your food is being prepared for you by someone else in a factory, you are paying not only for the ingredients, but for the equipment and labour as well. Cooking meals from basic ingredients at home works out much cheaper than buying ready-made food. And yes, there are cheaper processed foods, but they are cheap because they contain fillers, poor quality ingredients and chemicals to make them taste good – all of which you are trying to avoid.
If you cook every night, chances are you’ll have leftovers as well as healthy raw ingredients in the fridge. This means that you’ll have home-made meals and healthy snacks to consume throughout the day– which means that you are less tempted by vending machines or expensive takeaway lunches.
Processed and takeaway foods often come in large portions – to satisfy all customers – which can easily convince you that that’s how much you should be eating. When you’re making food for yourself, it’s much easier to listen to your body and eat only as much as you need.
For many people, cooking is a chore, but if you can get it right, it’s a great social exercise for you and your loved ones. If you have made a meal from scratch, you’re more inclined to encourage your family to sit around the table and enjoy it – and even better if you can enlist their help in the preparation, it also sets a good example about healthy cooking and eating habits for your children.
One of the most common reasons people give for not cooking from scratch is that it takes time. However, the healthiest foods don’t take a lot of time to prepare. Grilled chicken or fish is ready in 20 minutes. Vegetables steamed or stir fried to retain their nutrients are done in minutes. And most healthy carbs – like grains or rice – don’t require too much attention while they’re cooking.
Cooking at home doesn’t have to mean that you never dash out to your favourite fast food joint or don’t ever buy a chocolate again. All it does is establish a foundation of healthy eating, so that if you indulge yourself with a doughnut from the corner shop, that’s the exception rather than the rule.
Take control of your health by starting to cook your own meals today. It helps to plan, ensure you shop over the weekend so that you don’t have any excuses during the week. If you’re short on inspiration, the internet has a wealth of ideas – search for meals that are “easy”, “quick” or “simple”, and build up your repertoire of home-cooked meals.