Some people swear by a paleo diet, others by Weight Watchers, Atkins, or South Beach.
People can lose weight on these diets, but there’s a good reason why picking the “best” one is confusing — none of them really work better than another.
This may sound like good news, but following diet programs can be confusing, limiting, and expensive. Plus, people frequently put on weight again once they stop their program.
Fortunately, there is a solution that research says leads to healthier eating and greater life satisfaction. And it’s something that can easily be kept up for the rest of one’s life without ever becoming boring.
The key is learning how to cook real food.
Cooking at home “solves everything,” according to bestselling cookbook author and James Beard Foundation Leadership Award winner Mark Bittman.
By that he means that if everyone started cooking or eating home-cooked meals instead of pre-made food, we’d take serious steps towards dealing with the obesity epidemic and the environmental catastrophe caused by our processed and fast food heavy food industry.
In Business Insider’s 21-day self-improvement program, one of the final assignments is to cook an ambitious dinner using unprepared foods. “Ambitious” simply means challenge yourself — it doesn’t have to be complicated, you can cook a quality meal with a few cheap easily available ingredients in less than half an hour.
The reason we advocate unprepared or “real food” — nothing processed or preserved or that comes prepared and just has to be heated up — is that it’s the best way to eat well. Eating things that aren’t pre-prepared eliminates concerns about trans fats, excess salt (most of our sodium comes from processed food), or hidden sugar — which appears in shocking quantities in pre-prepared foods like salad dressing and tomato sauce.
So, aside from the fact that cooking helps people avoid processed food, why else is it worth it?
A few benefits:
- People who cook at home eat healthier meals. A report from the US Department of Agriculture found that families who eat at home consume fewer calories, fewer unhealthy fats, and less cholesterol. While it’s still possible to cook unhealthy food at home, cooking gives people more control over what they eat — the best plan is to buy good options at the grocery store in the first place.
- People who cook at home save money. Despite claims by some that junk food is cheaper, evidence doesn’t bear that out. Multiple tests show that eating at home is cheaper than buying pre-made food.
- People who cook at home enjoy their food more. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found some evidence that working for a meal can make it more satisfying and even tastier.
By taking control of your meals you can focus on the one “diet” that researchers find successful: eating real food. You’ll also save money, get healthier, and enjoy your food more.
Bittman makes the argument that even though it may seem like cooking takes a while, many meals can be made quickly — an argument he backs up with his newly published book “How to Cook Everything Fast.”
At the James Beard Food Conference in October, he said that the best part about learning to cook is that it’s enjoyable.
That seems like as good a reason as any to give it a shot, but if you need more, Bittman gave a great explanation to Edible Manhattan. “Cooking real food is the most radical thing that we can do for our diets because it does more to improve and sustain health than any trendy diet ever could and because it allows people to find answers about their diets in their own kitchens,” he told the magazine. “It also takes power away from the giant food corporations and restaurant chains that have so much of it, and puts us back in control over what goes into our bodies.”
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