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Not cooking your own food is a recipe for obesity

The public health community has labeled obesity in the United States an epidemic. The deleterious effects of obesity on a person’s health are numerous, including high blood pressure, joint pain, and diabetes. The rising rates of obesity correspond directly over the last three decades with the increase in driving, increase in food portion size at restaurants, increase in the consumption of high fructose corn syrup laden soft drinks, and the government subsidization of commodity crops like corn and soybeans. On top of these damaging trends, researchers are now giving serious attention to the dropping rates of cooking food at home and how that contributes to obesity.

In May 2006 the Keystone Forum at the FDA reported that “Frequently eating foods prepared away from home is associated with obesity, higher body fat and a higher BMI (body mass index).” and “Eating more fast-food meals is linked to eating more calories, more saturated fat, fewer fruits and vegetables, and less milk.” Furthermore, in Volume 54 in the 2008 Consumer Interests Annual, Jane Kolodinsky of the University of Vermont wrote that preliminary findings of research that looked at time spent preparing meals at home and obesity showed that “Both males and females who spent the most time preparing food and eating were found less likely to be overweight or obese.” Note that she mentioned more time spent eating as well as cooking. This means that taking your time when eating and enjoying the home cooked food were also factors. Slow food enthusiasts apparently know what they are talking about.

Mere laziness is not the cause of less time spent cooking. Like most people, you have likely made the statement that you do not have time to cook. Data bear out the time-crunched status of most Americans. Returning to the Keystone Forum’s 2006 report, it is a fact that people are spending more time stuck in their cars driving, which takes away from time for cooking at home among other important activities. Time used commuting back and forth to work has increased from about 21 minutes each way in 1980 to about 24 minutes each way in 2000. At the same time people have been spending more time driving, the availability of super large soft drink products has increased. A 32 ounce soft drink adds a whopping 720 calories to a person’s diet.

The significant source of sweetness in soft drinks comes from high fructose corn syrup, which is also widely used in many types of food and drinks. Research presented by the FDA’s Keystone Forum showed that high fructose corn syrup “tends to override our sense of feeling full.” Popular journalist and author Michael Pollan in his book “In Defense of Food” reported that our bodies do not have a natural relationship with metabolizing high fructose corn syrup, which appears to be causing ill health. Whether the refined corn sugar directly causes disease remains debatable, but it is certainly a source of calories. Pollan and many other sources state that Americans are eating at least 300 more calories a day than they did in 1985. Almost 25 percent of those extra calories result from high fructose corn syrup.

How do government farm subsidies contribute to obesity? Billions of taxpayers’ dollars every year are spent on farm subsidies. On the surface this seems like a good idea. Society needs food and farmers need money just like anyone else. Of course most of these “farmers” and giant agribusiness corporations that gobble fossil fuels and petrochemicals to grow corn, much of which is refined into high fructose corn syrup. The subsidies effectively make the cost of this sweetener cheap, which results in cheaper, but mostly unhealthy food, like cheap soft drinks. According to the 2006 report from the Keystone Forum, food overall is cheaper. Americans spent about 15 percent of income on food in 1970 and, at the time of the report in 2006, they were spending only 11 percent on food. Unfortunately most of that cheaper food is unhealthy and served in larger portions that are bought more often than ever before.   

How does cooking food at home alleviate the unhealthy effects of abundant, affordable, and unhealthy food that is readily available to time-crunched people? When you cook at home, you increase your chances of using better quality ingredients and preparing proper portion sizes. You are also by the very act of cooking engaging in an activity, which burns calories in itself. Sitting in a car at a drive-through breathing the exhaust fumes of the car in front of you does not burn many calories in your body.

For better health, cooking food at home is clearly an important lifestyle choice. This does not mean that you will never resort to fast food or indulge in a nice restaurant, but to avoid becoming overweight and protect your family from the overwhelmingly available poor food choices, you need to focus on cooking most of your food at home. Please use the recipes and information at this website to speed your journey toward a healthier and more satisfying diet as you develop cooking skills that will enrich your life in innumerable ways.

Information sources:

Obesity and Time Use by Jane Kolondinsky, University of Vermont. Link no longer available. Inquire for report at the American Council of Consumer Interests.

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