Homemade Food Isn’t As Healthy As You Think
Hygiene and health are two vastly different things.
“Oh you’re sick? You should eat only home cooked meals for a while”
“I’m down with acidity from last night’s outing, so I’m only going to stick with home food for the next few days”
“My friends and I got together at my place to watch the games, and we didn’t order a single thing from outside”
“I’ve got a fever, so I won’t be eating anything from outside for the next few weeks”.
How many times have we heard these platitudes over and over again?
More importantly, how many times have we ourselves used some of them to justify eating unhealthy food at home? Have we gone so far over the edge that we have now lost the ability to judge the validity of our own statements objectively? Have we forgotten that when we blatantly put out such statements, we perpetuate unhealthy stereotypes and trends in the society, which could harm others in the most subtle and insidious ways possible?
Trends come and go on social media every single day, month, and year. But certain food habits tend to stick with us and merge with our lifestyles for the long run. One of those happens to be the “home cooked food” trend. Just search Instagram for hashtags of #homecooked and #healthy. You’ll understand exactly what I mean.
“Just because someone’s eating only home-cooked food, doesn’t mean they’re eating healthy.
Just because someone’s following a healthy diet, doesn’t mean they aren’t regularly dining outside.”
For example, during the very height of the pandemic, Dalgona coffee (which is probably one of the unhealthiest drinks out there containing heaping amounts of sugar and coffee) was trending on social media. As were cupcakes and home baked fare in general. People gladly showed off all their homemade bakes on social media, which contained voluminous amounts of butter, sugar, milk, eggs, and syrup. But not to worry, it’s all homemade! So quantities and ingredients don’t matter one bit, right? After all, you know exactly what went into the product you so thoughtfully crafted with your very own hands. So why worry?
You see, that’s exactly where you’re wrong.
Homemade IS healthy…
People generally have this skewed notion that homemade food is healthier, which it actually is, and for very good reasons. So let’s get that out of the way first.
Homemade food is healthier because:
1.) You made the food yourself, i.e., you know the nutrition levels of the dish and the calories it contains.
2.) You know each and every single ingredient that went into the dish.
3.) It’s your own kitchen, so there’s no chance of adulteration happening or cross-contamination with foods you dislike or don’t even know.
4.) You maintain personal hygiene. You scrub your kitchen counter top, utensils, and cooking equipment clean every single day.
5.) You bought all the produce yourself, so you can rest assured that only high quality ingredients went into the dish.
6.) And lastly, you know how the produce was stored, where you might have gone out of your way to intentionally create the perfect conditions for hygienic and safe storage.
Furthermore, there’s no denying the behavioural aspect of eating outside. We tend to eat more, isn’t it? And it isn’t anything that we tend to eat more of when we eat outside. It's usually the high carb, high fat, sugar-laden stuff that we’re more likely to stuff ourselves with. If you’ve ever gone through an entire tub of popcorn at the cinema all by yourself, you know exactly what I’m talking about. There’s even studies that have been conducted to prove this relationship.
“ “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,” says Julia A. Wolfson, MPP, a CLF-Lerner Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and lead author of the study.”
Now coming to hygiene, I am well aware that restaurant chefs use caps to prevent their hair from falling into the food. But I’m sure almost everyone would agree with me when I say we trust ourselves and our loved ones more, even though they don’t follow any such stringent safety precautions while making food at home.
We’d gladly prefer a homemade meal by our friends and relatives than any toque-sporting chef at a restaurant any day.
So after extolling the virtues of home cooked food, let’s discuss the scenarios where it may not be the idealist utopia of health that it is imagined to be.
Here’s where you go wrong. This is where homemade food is NOT healthy
You go wrong when you say homemade food, that’s dripping in oil, butter, salt, and processed meat, is healthier than a restaurant serving whole food gourmet meals.
You go wrong when you say home food in which you’ve added lots of processed ingredients, store-bought syrups, and sauces, is healthier than restaurants that make all their condiments in-house.
You go wrong when you say home food, in which you’ve added processed sugar, and refined wheat flour, is healthier than the stuff from health food restaurants. Joints that make their baked goods only with whole-wheat, almond, or millet flours using alternative plant-based sweeteners.
You go wrong when you say home-cooked dishes, overflowing with saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol and sugar, are healthier than my neighbourhood corner salad joint.
Home food is hygienic? Sure. Home food is clean? Definitely! Home food is undoubtedly one hundred percent clean, sanitized, hygienic and all of those beautiful adjectives.
But it could also be none of those things.
I’ve seen some people live like total pigs. A person could eat homemade food all day and still be incredibly obese just because of the ingredients he’s putting in it. I’ve read a lot of articles recently speaking about how the pandemic has spurred on the trends of ‘healthy eating’ and ‘home cooking’. But what the readers don’t understand is that those two are vastly different things.
They’re mutually exclusive.
Just because someone's eating only home-cooked food, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re eating healthy all the time.
Just because someone eats out often, doesn’t mean they’re filling their bodies only with processed junk.
You can have the best of both worlds!
I’ve seen some kitchens so ugly and dirty beyond belief, that a restaurant at a mall's food court would be put to shame in front of it.
Just like the chef at the restaurant, the hygiene factor ultimately rests in the hands of the one responsible for cooking food at home, doesn’t it?
It all just boils down to a couple of things, basically:
- Who’s the one buying groceries…
- Who’s storing all the food properly…
- Who’s in charge of cooking…
- Who’s the one tasked with cleaning up before and after cooking…
- How well versed is the cook with health and hygiene…
- Are they even interested in eating healthy in the first place?…
I am in no way, through this story, trying to pull down people who deliberately want to eat unhealthily. I understand that most unhealthy eating comes from an emotional place, and sometimes even from a place of convenience, pleasure, and affordability. Most people are aware that they’re on the wrong path and would like to make a change.
What I am trying to do, however, is bust the myth of “home cooked food is healthier”. And if I managed to get across that message to you readers, I’ll consider this article a success.
There’s a Falafel joint very close to my place which offers healthy, affordable, and quick meals all in just a few minutes. I eat there almost thrice a week. Never been sick. You know why? They use only whole-wheat bread for their Pita pockets. They use Tahini, which is a superfood. Only whole food ingredients like tomatoes, potatoes, green chillies, carrots, and cucumbers go into all their dishes. While the falafel balls themselves are deep-fried, at the end of the day, it doesn’t take away from the overall healthiness of the dish.
On the other hand, I’ve dined at some of my friends’ houses, where they cook traditional Indian food in some of the unhealthiest ways possible. The Indian breads would be dripping with butter. The curries would be floating in oil. They use refined wheat flour for most dishes. There’s tons of sugar and animal products in other dishes. Everything has dairy. The spiciness of the dish is through the roof. If your ears don't start getting hot, and your nose doesn’t start running, give me a call.
Now tell me, what would you be more comfortable eating? A home cooked meal from someone who doesn’t know anything about health and hygiene? Or a healthy meal from a restaurant that uses only Whole Food Plant-Based ingredients made using healthy cooking techniques?
I know what I’d choose.