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How Much Does Cooking at Home Affect Your Health

 Due to hectic schedules of both adults and children, the average American Family eats out four to five times per week. This includes any meal such as stops at Starbucks for coffee and a pastry. This means that others are preparing your food and you are not in control of what is going into your mouth and into your body. Not only are we concerned about growing portion sizes, but questionable ingredients that may be contributing to America’s ever-growing obesity crisis. In this article I will share astounding data as well as how you can get organized at home. Keep reading if you want to find out how cooking at home can save you money both on groceries and medical costs.

The very first thing to understand is portion sizes and how they’ve grown over the years. Health coaches use a game called Portion Distortion to demonstrate this growth in serving sizes when eating out. Here are a few examples:













Before dinner time we have racked up nearly 1300 calories. This does not include the cookie you had at the office for Karen’s birthday. Those used to be 1.5 inches in diameter and come in at 55 calories. Today’s cookies are like mini cakes at 3.5 inches and 275 calories.

Speaking of the office, you left late, your kids have a soccer game and there is just no time to cook. Chicken is healthy and so are vegetables, so you pick up some chicken stir fry. The problem is a chicken stir fry serving size is now 4.5 cups and packs in 865 calories as opposed to 2 cups at 435 calories 25 years ago.

25 years ago, you would have consumed just under 1100 calories leaving you more room for snacks or indulgences. If this was your typical day above, today, you would consume 2430 calories and be over even the standard 2000 calorie diet we hear so much about.

Let’s talk about that 2,000-calorie diet for a minute. That is just a ballpark average from some numbers that are probably less than accurate. The FDA used some food consumption surveys from the USDA in 1990 and found that men generally consume between 2,000 and 3,000 calories in a day and women between 1,600 and 2,250 per day. There wasn’t enough room on the label for both numbers, so they settled on 2,000 calories for everybody after some debate about using 2,350. Today we are a bit more self-aware that everybody has different caloric needs. This is based on weight, age, gender and lifestyle. A construction worker will need more calories per day to maintain their body weight vs an office worker. The FDA knew this but didn’t really publicize it well, nor did we have easy access to caloric needs calculators.

Many people need or want something sweet after dinner to feel full. It’s fairly normal as it tells our brain that the meal is complete. By first knowing how many calories you need and then knowing how many calories you are consuming throughout the entire day, you will be able to decide if you can have that sweet dessert or how even how much of it if you are trying to stay within a certain calorie allotment per day.

A common thing I hear is, “I exercise, so I can eat what I want.”

If your goal is to lose weight, it’s most likely not the case. To break even from a 500-calorie overage, you need to run 4.5 miles that day or perform some really high intensity interval training (HIIT) for 75 minutes. For many people this is not feasible. Remember, this is just to break even. You need about another mile per day to lose 10lbs in a year. My strategy has always been to allow myself a few more calories per day when I work out or have long runs. It really is a math game.

But how can you play the math game when you don’t know some of the numbers? This is not like algebra where we can solve for x. You need to know what x and y are and how it’s affecting your waistline and overall health. Cooking at home allows you to control the ingredients and portion sizes of your meals.

Another strategy is meal timing, but that is a whole other article that we will tackle later.

By cooking at home, you know exactly what goes into your food and how much. The biggest problem with restaurant and fast food joints is the amounts and types of oils used in their dishes. Profit margins are hard in the food industry due to loss of product from spoilage and the cost to produce a meal. You will not find French fries at McDonald’s fried in virgin coconut oil because the oil costs too much and shelf life is not as long. You are going to get ultra-refined canola and vegetable oils (most likely from GMO sources). Even whole foods uses canola oil in their hot bar items.

We’ve been told that not all fat and oils are our enemies and I agree. However, oils that are considered healthy are not cheap. Many restaurants are not going to use expensive oils as it will cut into already thin profit margins. You will not see this at in fast food restaurants otherwise their products would not be affordable.

Most French fries served in US restaurants are immersed in corn-based oil – usually considered the worst oil for human health – before they’re fried, according to the authors of a new study. Corn oil contains copious amounts of saturated fat, known to contribute to heart disease. This type of oil is also low in monounsaturated fat, which most Americans need more of, and high in polyunsaturated fat, which, in too-large quantities, can lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol along with LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.” According to Registered Dietician, Karen Congro, Director of the Wellness for Life Program at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City.


In addition, these oils are partially or fully hydrogenated. Trans fats, as they are called, may interfere with the ability of the cells of the body to metabolize the good fats and lead to weight gain.

It is not just that. Even if a restaurant uses organic extra virgin olive oil, it’s the amount they use in their dishes. Have you ever noticed that after you finish a plate of pasta alla olio and there is a little pool of oil on the bottom of the plate? Just one tablespoon of that contains 120 calories and that is only the tablespoon that fell through the noodles. Below is the recipe for four servings of Spaghetti Aglio E Olio. Keep in mind that restaurants give you 3-4 servings on each plate.












If you cook at home you can control excessive oil, sugar and other ingredients from going into your food. An older study once found that when pouring from a small olive oil bottle, pours were 30% small per person compared to larger bottles. Restaurants do not buy small bottles.

When people cook most of their meals at home, they consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar and less fat than those who cook less or not at all – even if they are not trying to lose weight.

People who eat home cooked meals most nights of the week, consume up to 140 less calories a day than those who rely on ready-made meals, restaurants and takeaways. That amounts to over 50,000 calories in a year – the equivalent of 14lbs of fat. This, according to a John’s Hopkins University study.

At home you can also control your portion sizes. We’ve already mentioned the numbers on portion sizes at restaurants and fast food joints, but this is something you can control at home. You can measure out your portions using a measuring cup. Try following recipes that give you the nutritional data and the first few times, measure everything accurately. After a while you may be able to eyeball it. Then measure out your portions. If a serving is 1 cup, measure 1 cup onto your plate or bowl. You’ll get a good idea of serving size and just how many calories are going into your body. You might be amazed when you find out how many calories you are consuming daily.

Use smaller dishware and leave leftovers in the other room. If you can fit less on your plate, you eat less. And if you leave the leftovers in the kitchen you are less likely to get up and get more unless you are truly hungry. Similarly, if you are at a party, try to sit or stand in a place that is farthest away from where the food is when you are socializing. You will be less likely to make the trip back to the table.

Some dishes that you can make that are lower in calories and easy to control the portions and ingredients are:

Broth based soups: this may not seem filling but add in lots of veggies and especially greens along with beans and you can end up with a fiber filled dish that keeps you fuller longer. These also freeze well so you can make it in large batches.

Salads and vegetable dishes: Raw veggies and greens keep well in the fridge so you can make large bowls of salad and keep it in the fridge. If people can do it with candy bowls, then why not salad bowls? Grab a handful and go right? Add an oil free dressing or moderate your oil-based dressings.


Earlier I mentioned that many restaurants use liquid margarine on their grilled chicken. You can avoid this problem by making your own chicken breasts at home and storing them for 2-3 days. One thing I used to do often before going vegetarian was to bake or grill batches of chicken breast on Sunday so that I had them almost all week. You can then, in turn, use them quickly in salads, with your rice and vegetable dishes or add some veggies as a side.

Cooking at home does take more time, I get that. It is however a commitment to your health. If it’s important to you, you will take the time. One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to designate a prep day. A day which you do all your prep work for the week. Cook your rice, chop your veggies, cook your meats so that you just have to reheat them, assemble casseroles. Make it a family event. Get the spouse and kids involved. Especially if they have requests or are fussy eaters. Cooking has become a lost art form! We have two videos that can help you get a start on prep work and will list the web address at the bottom of the article.

There are companies that can help with this as well. I have clients that use here in Chicago. You choose from their menu, they prep it, pack it and give you a recipe card. All you do is cook and eat. Many recipes only take 25 minutes to make because your sauces are done, veggies are chopped and meats, tofu or whatever are seasoned.There is also another Chicago company called Factor 75 that does virtually the same thing. Meez Meals allows for individual meal purchases. Factor 75 is a minimum of 4 meals per week. Neither are subscription based.

Eating at home can save you calories and extra weight gain of up to 14lbs a year. Take time and make cooking at home a priority. Make it a family thing. Bond! Should you need healthy recipes or cooking tips, come find us on Facebook at Momentum Fitness and Health. Should you need a place that preps a couple of meals a week for you visit or Keep the extra ingredients and calories out of your meals and off your waistline.

Basic Meal Prep:

Meal Prep 2: Knife Skills:

The Wellness Path – Chiropractic Center is a holistic wellness clinic located in La Grange, IL.  It is our mission to empower our community towards optimal wellness with chiropractic care, lifestyle education, clinical massage therapy, and monthly workshops.  Interested in learning how we can help you?  Call us today!  (708) 497-2441




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