Transcript: Cooking to Live Longer
Modern Americans are described as eating breakfast in their cars, lunch at their desks and chicken from a bucket. Within the last few decades Americans are eating out more and more and cooking fewer meals at home, and food prepared at home tends to be healthier, less saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, more fiber. And so the benefits to preparing healthful food at home may include chronic disease prevention. But even during the recession, folks were found resistant to dietary change and kept going out to eat or bringing it home. Almost half of all fast-food eaten by children is eaten at home, so just because they’re technically eating at home doesn’t mean they’re eating healthy.
Even when food is prepared at home, it still may not mean much, as most dinners incorporated processed commercial foods. Microwaving a frozen pizza ain’t exactly home cooking. One of the problems is many people no longer know how to cook. For example, one study reported that 25% of the men had absolutely no cooking skills, whatsoever.
It is encouraging to see the new wave of interest in cooking, in numerous television shows, but what are they actually cooking? A study in the UK compared the nutritional content of meals created by television chefs with ready meals, like TV dinners, to compare both with nutritional guidelines published by the World Health Organization. They looked at a hundred of each and not a single one complied with the nutrition standards. And the TV chef recipes were even less healthy than the TV dinners.
Many people don’t know how to make healthy food taste good. But this is not a new problem, as an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association bemoaned back in 1913. In the United States, vegetables are frequently boiled in a way which deprives them of their characteristic odor and their toothsomeness. "Villainous and idiotic" are the only adjectives that can describe our methods of cooking vegetables.
Is there any research showing that cooking meals at home actually improves health outcomes? Do people who cook live longer? We didn't know until now. Researchers in Taiwan found that those who cook their own food are healthier and live longer.
In a 10-year study, those who cooked most frequently had only 59% of the mortality risk. And this took into account the exercise people got grocery shopping, and physical function and chewing ability. So why did they live longer? Well, those that cooked ate a more nutritious diet, as evidenced in their higher consumption of vegetables.
The effect on mortality was much more evident in women than in men, though. Turns out that men were, with doubtful justification, more positive about the nutritional value of convenience foods so their idea of cooking was like microwaving a poptart, whereas women who cook make better food choices.
As one author noted, last century we began the long process of turning over to the food industry many of the decisions about what we eat. Today our staggering rates of obesity and diabetes are testimony to the faith we put in corporations to feed us well. But the food industry is a business, not a parent; it doesn’t care what we eat as long as we’re willing to pay for it. Home cooking these days has far more than sentimental value; it’s a survival skill.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.
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