Nutrition News: The benefits of a home-cooked meal

How many meals a week do you prepare at home? The answer may impact your risk of developing diabetes, according to a new study.

Researchers at Harvard tracked the eating habits and health of nearly 58,000 women who took part in the Nurses' Health Study and on more than 41,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study from 1986 to 2012. All were free of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer at the start. Nearly 9,000 developed Type 2 diabetes during the monitoring period. People who ate 11-14 homemade meals a week had more than a 10 percent lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared to those who ate less than six.

The researchers found that for each lunch prepared at home in a week, the risk of type 2 diabetes dropped by 2 percent. For each dinner prepared at home, the risk decreased by 4 percent.

How might eating at home help? Eating more homemade meals may help lessen weight gain, which in turn can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, the researchers said.

"There is a growing trend of eating meals prepared out-of-home in many countries. Here in the United States, energy intake from out-of-home meals has increased from less than 10 percent in the mid-60s to over 30 percent in 2005-2008, and average time spent on cooking has decreased by one third," said study author Geng Zong, a research fellow at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

Those who ate home cooking more often had higher intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy ... and lower intake of sugar-sweetened beverages. However, they did consume more red meat. Preparing meals at home was also associated with less weight gain.

Results from the study are to be presented at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. 

"We tried to analyze differences in the diet of these people and found, among other differences, that there was a slightly lower intake of sugar-sweetened beverages when people had more homemade meals, which is another bridge linking homemade meals and diabetes in this study," Zong said.

The researchers also noted that people who ate at home more often were slightly leaner.

In addition, new data from a national survey has also shown that cooking dinner at home is associated with lower intakes of fat and sugar, Zong said.

"We need more studies to demonstrate whether preparing meals at home may prevent risk of diabetes and obesity, and how," he said. "Most important of all, even if meals prepared at home may have better diet quality, it does not mean people can eat without limits in amounts."

Q and A

Q: Does heating improve the bioavailability of turmeric (as in curry)?

A: Researchers at Tufts' HNRCA Vascular Biology Laboratory have been investigating curcumin, the key ingredient in turmeric spice, as a possible weapon against atherosclerosis, so-called hardening of the arteries. "I do not think heating improves the bioavailability of turmeric," says Mohsen Meydani, director of the laboratory. "But I assume that when it is in curry, it will be more bioavailable. That is because studies have shown when curcumin from turmeric is mixed with piperine (the compounds that give black pepper, typically found in curry, its pungency), the bioavailability of curcumin increases by several-fold." -- Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, November 2015.


To help you get dinner on the table fast, here's a recipe from Cooking Light magazine for Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup. Total time to make it is under 30 minutes.

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil

1 cup finely chopped onion

2 cups water

1 teaspoon dried thyme

8 ounces skinless boneless rotisserie chicken breast shredded

4 ounces skinless boneless rotisserie chicken thigh, shredded

1 1/2 cups thinly sliced carrot

2/3 cup thinly sliced celery

1 (32 ounce) unsalted chicken stock

6 ounces whole grain rotini

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Heat a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan, swirl to coat. Add carrot, onion and celery, saute 5 minutes. While vegetables cook, pour 2 cups water and stock into a microwave-safe bowl. Heat at HIGH for 5 minutes. Add hot stock mixture to pan; bring to a boil. Stir in thyme and pasta; reduce heat to medium and cook 8 minutes. Add chicken, salt and pepper to pan; cook 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated and pasta is tender. Serves 6 (serving size: about 1 1/4 cups).

Per serving: 273 calories, 25 g protein, 26 g carbohydrate, 8.1 g fat, 58 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 618 mg sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill., and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  For comments or questions, contact her at or follow her on Twitter @Nutrition Rd. 

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