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The Best Reason to Cook Your Own Dinner

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The less you cook, the more weight you gain. That may sound like an over-simplification. But a recent report from Johns Hopkins University hammers home the small-belly benefits of home cooking.

The report’s authors found people who cook their own dinner most nights tend to swallow significantly less sugar, fat, and calories than people who rarely cook. (And no, heating up a pre-packaged meal doesn’t count as “cooking.”) Specifically, at-home chefs eat about 140 fewer calories per day, which could add up to several pounds of added weight over the course of a year, the research suggests. People who cook for themselves also cut back on sugar and fat in similar proportions, the study shows.

Restaurant meals and pre-packaged foods tend to be calorie-heavy and less nutritious than stuff you’d prepare at home from fresh ingredients, says study co-author Julia Wolfson, of JHU’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. Even when you’re cooking the same items you’d normally order from a restaurant menu, it’s healthier to eat at home, Wolfson says. Why? “I cooked professionally in restaurants for a decade, and restaurant cooking can be very heavy on fats—butter, oil, cream, etc.—and also on salt and sugar,” Wolfson says. “Much more so than what home cooks typically add to their food.”

She says deep frying—one of the unhealthiest methods of food prep—is also a lot less common at home than at restaurants. (But, if you're stuck dining out, choose one the 15 Off-Menu Healthy Meals You Can Always Order.)

So there’s your best one reason to prepare your own meals. But here’s another one: People who cook a lot at home consume fewer calories even when they go out to eat, Wolfson’s research shows. She says it’s not clear exactly why that’s the case. It’s possible home cooks eat less and opt for healthier choices when they dine out simply because they’re accustomed to the healthier stuff they make at home, the study indicates. So grab a spatula and tie on an apron. If you want to stay slim and fit, you need to get your hands dirty in the kitchen, the study suggests.

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