When it comes to eating better and having a healthier lifestyle, most people tend to focus solely on ingredients. Just look at any magazine with an article on eating healthier. It’s normally something along the lines of “10 Veggies to Help You Get Trim for Summer” or “10 Foods to Avoid.”
But here’s the thing: if you’re looking to eat better and live healthier, there’s one thing to do that tops the list. It’s cooking.
Author and professor Michael Pollan has recently become one of cooking’s biggest proponent, his latest book titled “Cooked.” In talking about his research on nutrition and what we eat, he says that he found that, “What predicted a healthy diet more than anything else, is the fact that it was being cooked by a human being and not a corporation.”
That’s because you cook differently than a corporation does, and that’s a good thing. Think about all the additives, fats and sugars that go into making industrial food. Many of those foods are foods that were once made at home, but when we make them at home, our ingredient list is far shorter. Take a chocolate chip cookie for example. At home, that cookie isn’t much more than butter, sugar, flour, eggs and chocolate chips. But an industrial chocolate chip cookie? An assortment of colorings, partially hydrogenated oils and artificial flavorings. And often, they’re not even as good as the homemade version, but we keep eating them because food brands know how to make their products so that we will crave them and keep coming back for more.
But it’s not just the “cravability” of foods that keeps us coming back, it’s the simplicity of getting them. While making french fries at home might be a time consuming process, swinging by the fast food joint and ordering some is something that can be done in a matter of minutes. Therefore, as Pollan points out, when we let industry cook for us, special occasion foods all of a sudden become everyday foods, and the things that we used to eat only once in awhile become the new normal. French fries every few months? Not a bad thing. French fries twice a day? Very bad.
Which ultimately leads us to Pollan’s claim: if you want to eat better, just cook. When we cook for ourselves we don’t use all the additives and chemicals that industry does, and we limit ourselves in what we eat, simply because cooking takes time, and we don’t have a lot of it. If we’re craving a cupcake and we don’t have the time to bake a batch then we don’t eat a cupcake. Which is why Pollan’s general guide for eating is, “Eat anything you want, just cook it yourself.”
Certainly, that doesn’t mean making three hamburgers at home every day, but if you want to focus on one thing to ensure that you eat better, it’s cooking. It’s a simple choice with a big impact, getting you on a track of eating fewer processed foods and ingredients, and being better engaged with what you eat. Feel like a chocolate chip cookie? Go make a batch. Want a salad for lunch? Throw together lettuce and some fresh vegetables and douse it in olive oil, a much better alternative than the packaged dressing with a list of ingredients that you can’t even pronounce.
So, want to eat better and be healthier? Just cook. The best part about this plan to eat better? You can start right now.
Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks