When you’ve spent three months eating all your meals at home (and cooking the vast majority of them yourself), it’s only natural for several food truths to emerge. Truth one: the importance of a good snack stash. Truth two: Frozen veggies can be used for way more than just stir-fry. Truth three: yeast is a precious commodity we should never take for granted again.
There’s also a more surprising truth that you might not even have realized: eating more meals you make yourself also directly impacts your gut, therefore affecting your digestion and overall health. Here, a gastroenterologist and nutrition coach explain exactly how home cooked meals affects gut health. The facts they highlight just might inspire you to continue your cooking streak, even after the pandemic ends.
1. Home cooking methods tend to be more gut-friendly
For most people, eating at a restaurant is their time to go all-out. Fried calamari apps, a side of French fries with their burger…it’s all happening. Niket Sonpal, MD, a gastroenterologist and adjunct professor at Touro College, points out that at home, frying is less likely to be someone’s cooking method of choice (especially since the invention of the air fryer), and this is turn is good news for your gut. “Baking or boiling ingredients instead of frying them will eventually compound into an improvement in our gut’s system,” he says. These cooking methods are easier on the digestive system than fried foods, allowing your body to not have to work as hard to break them down.
2. You’re less likely to overload your stomach
Unless you’re eating somewhere super fancy, most restaurant meals tend to be a lot bigger than what you may serve yourself at home. Nutrition coach Katie Boyd points out that when you’re served a large portion, it’s much easier to eat more than you originally intended. “When you cook your own food and make it a mindful experience, you tend to appreciate the food more and tend to eat less of it,” she says. Science backs her up: According to a study out of Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, people who frequently cook meals at home eat less sugar and fat than those who cook less. This means you’re less likely to overload your digestive system with more than it can handle at one time, which can lead to gas, bloating, and stomach upset.
3. You have more control over salt and sugar
Besides having better control of your portion sizes, both Boyd and Dr. Sonpal say another way how home-cooked meals affects gut health is that you get to decide how much salt and sugar you want to include. When someone else cooks for you, it’s easy to be blissfully unaware of just how much of these additives are included. (And research has shown that most menu items at chain restaurants contain way more fat, saturated fat, and sodium than recommended in one sitting by the USDA.) But when you’re actually measuring it out yourself, it forces you think a little more about just how necessary they are.
Dr. Sonpal says this awareness can benefit health overall, gut included. “Consuming less salt has a positive impact on your overall health, including improved cholesterol, more stable blood pressure, decreased chances of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes,” he says. “There are also findings that suggest that salt can be detrimental to the beneficial bacteria strains in the gut.” Ditto for sugar, which feeds the bad bacteria in the gut, not the healthy strains you want to thrive.
4. It’s easier to eat a wider variety of foods
If you want your gut health to be on point, eating a wide variety of plants is key. “When you cook for yourself, you can diversify the food choices that you consume, thus diversifying your microbiome and healing your digestion,” Boyd says. “A diet that consists of a wide variety of whole foods such as low-glycemic carbohydrates like berries, and cruciferous veggies such as cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, can alter your gut flora profile in just a few days.”
Wondering what foods in particular are best for gut health? Watch the video below:
5. You have more awareness of what’s in your food
Perhaps the most overarching way how home-cooked meals affects the gut is that it brings more attention to what’s actually going into what ends up on your plate, an observation both Dr. Sonpal and Boyd say is an important takeaway. Not only can this lead to healthier eating habits, but it’s also easier to pinpoint anything that may be causing you digestive distress, since you have a better knowledge of what’s in your meals when you make them yourself.
“Cooking your own food can be a fun experience as we learn to make our favorite dishes, we can make them even healthier,” Dr. Sonpal says. “Learning basic information about food groups and how they affect the gut can be exciting, and putting that knowledge to use in your own kitchen will do your gut lots of good.”
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