A recent Harvard University study reveals that making meals at home has a benefit that could help tens of millions sidestep a serious health threat. That’s right! Eating dinner at home could cut your risk for Type 2 diabetes by 15 percent! And brown-bagging lunch or munching your mid-day meal at home could slash your odds by 9 percent.
Researchers discovered home cooking’s big perk when they tracked the health and eating habits of more than 99,000 women and men for 25 years. People who made most of their lunches and dinners at home got the biggest protection from high blood sugar problems — a sign of prediabetes or diabetes. But putting together your own lunches and dinners even a couple of times a week has protective powers from the extra fruit, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins and good fats you put on your plate when you’re the chef! As a result, say the researchers, home-based meals provide more health-promoting vitamins, including B-6, B-12, folate, C, D and E, along with cell-protecting carotenoids (small plant-based nutrients with really big benefits).
At home you’ll also be able to sidestep mega-portions and calorie-boosting add-ons like cheese, butter, lard, syrups and sugar, some of which are snuck into restaurant food. Then there’s sugary drinks that too often invite themselves to the table at fast-food chains, casual dining spots and even more formal restaurants. Homemade meals tend to be lower in calories and deliver more high-satisfaction foods, a double header that helps control weight.
You’ll also save money and time eating at home (rustling up a 15-minute dinner is faster than bundling the family into the car to drive to a local pizza parlor), set a stellar example for kids and find out what’s going on with family members (especially teens) in a relaxed, conversational setting.
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You don’t have to spend hours at a hot stove or turn into a gourmet chef to prepare delicious homemade meals. Just look at us! We love making dinner and weekend lunches at the table with our families. And we make it happen by keeping it simple. You can, too, with these proven strategies. Here’s how to make it work.
Invest restaurant savings in cooking equipment. Dr. Mike recommends taking half of what you’d spend per month eating out and using those dollars to buy a couple of good, sharp kitchen knives as well as any pots, pans, spatulas and steamers you need for efficient food prep. Having the right tools on hand makes cooking a pleasure.
Stock your fridge, freezer and pantry strategically so quick-to-prepare food is on always hand. Invest in precut, fresh veggies from the produce department, pouches of precooked whole grains and cook-in-a-flash proteins like boneless, skinless chicken breasts or frozen salmon burgers (without restaurants’ mystery fillers), Dr. Mike’s go-to favorite for lunch and dinner.
Keep enough fresh produce on hand for a couple of days. Keep bags of frozen berries, peaches and your favorite plain veggies in the freezer. Frozen broccoli is great in a saute with garlic and olive oil. Same goes for frozen green beans, steamed and topped with a dollop of pesto sauce or some basil and garlic.
And make sure you have plenty of healthy flavor boosters around to add zing to your dishes. We suggest olive oil, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and your favorite spices and fresh herbs, such as basil, cilantro or parsley. Also great: chopped plain nuts (walnuts are loaded with omega-3, and eating a handful 15 minutes before a meal will tamp down your appetite too!). With goodies like these, you can whip up a meal in 15 minutes.
Don’t forget dessert! Try mixing frozen raspberries, canned peaches (in juice, not heavy syrup) and sliced bananas, strawberries and/or plums. Or whirl frozen berries or bananas with or without low-fat milk or no-sugar-added fruit juice in your food processor (or Yonanas) to make a super-healthy sorbet in seconds.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.