Cooking your own meals isn’t just a way to spice up your activity in the kitchen or pass the time; it’s essentially one of the best ways to improve your health, without much effort at all. Sure you can nit pick the small stuff, like choosing organic over conventional foods, opting for whole grains over processed, and using naturally sweet foods in place of sugar. Avoiding refined foods, dairy and meat are also smart choices that improve your health, but even aside from all of those important things, just preparing your own foods at home can benefit you in ways you might not realize.
You don’t have to be a chef or kitchen wizard, or even have more than a handful of meals to start out with. All you really need is a source of heat, a passionate belly, and a mindful spirit. The first time a person begins to cook for themselves, something really incredible happens. A natural spirit almost takes over and food takes on a whole different meaning. Food is essentially what we become because our bodies use the nutrients we give them, and provide us the final output. I don’t know about you, but whatever I put into the pot, bowl or pan, had better be something worthwhile, because I sure don’t want any health issues to pop up due to poor meal choices, that could have easily been prevented. But I haven’t always been this way, and used to eat directly opposite of the nutritious foods I eat now. Ironically, at my unhealthiest, I never once cooked for myself unless you count heating up the griddle to make a grilled cheese covered in butter (!!!), or popping some popcorn in the microwave.
Gloria Cabada Leman/Flickr
I became my healthiest self when I started preparing foods for myself, all of which I did without anyone to teach me. I let my mind and body be my guide and simply quit relying on restaurants, take-out/fast food or processed foods to fill that role. And I’m not the only one, nor is anyone else incapable of doing the same. Cooking isn’t a chore; it’s a powerful gift we’ve all been given that only requires the will to try.
Here’s exactly why all of us benefit from cooking our own meals instead of taking the easy way out and letting someone else handle all our food (and ultimately, health):
1. Less Sodium
The daily maximum recommended amount for sodium is 2500 milligrams, which is still a fairly large number. Excess sodium (especially from processed foods and refined salt) isn’t just known to bloat you up and make you thirsty- it also contributes to heart disease, hypertension and can even lead to headaches and weight gain. Your body needs some sodium, but what it doesn’t need are dishes that often include well over 2500 milligrams in just a serving. Many of the most common sources of sodium aren’t processed foods either, but restaurant foods. If you’ve ever been out to eat and came home with a headache and didn’t know why, you can thank the high sodium that likely caused the issue. It can restrict blood vessels and weaken blood flow, which ends up making you feel pretty awful as a result!
Sodium from restaurant foods is added to everything from the dressing to the entree, and even on the vegetables. Soups are also major culprits, despite many being low in calories. These delicious soup recipes would be a much better option that are easy enough for anyone to make. All processed foods are usually a source of sodium too, but cooking at home takes care of this problem since it allows you to limit how much salt goes in your food. Herbs and spices can flavor your foods just fine; they’ll even actually contribute to your health, not hurt it.
2. Less Bacteria
I don’t know about you, but the idea of someone else’s hands all over my food that I don’t know well enough to allow them the green light to touch my food just doesn’t sound so appetizing. Working in restaurants, you learn that not all restaurant kitchens are as tidy as the actual dining room is. In fact, many are downright gross. Despite the fact that many chefs are talented, you just never know what’s been on someone’s hands before they touch what you’re going to put in your mouth. You can pick up some serious bacteria from restaurants and not even know it. Cooking at home takes care of that, and you get the peace of mind nothing funky is in your food!
3. No Unnecessary Oils
Restaurants tend to add three things to make food taste better: oil, salt, and sugar. Now, many restaurants are incredible and prepare healthy meals, but they’re the exception, not the rule. For the most part, most everything is either soaked in oil or drenched in it afterwards to give your food that fatty flavor that makes food taste so addicting. Oil doesn’t have to be a bad thing all the time, but we shouldn’t make it a regular part of our diets, especially when we drench our food in it. We should also only use extra-virgin olive oil or coconut oil, if we use any at all. Optimally our bodies like it best when we opt for whole foods to get in our healthy fats. Nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut and olives are all better options than their oils and are also packed with more nutrients and even texture and taste. Also keep in mind that many restaurants and fast food restaurants use refined vegetable oils while others use corn or canola oil, which isn’t as healthy as its made out to be, and often genetically modified. Here are some oil-free, dairy-free salad dressings anyone can put together, that don’t just taste amazing, but are incredibly good for you too.
4. Teaches You What Your Body Needs
When you learn to cook for yourself or even attempt, your body starts to almost navigate towards what it knows it needs after some time. For instance, if you’re craving nourishment and warmth, you might go for a soup with some root vegetables and some whole grains and veggies. If you’re not feeling so well and need a light meal, you might make something easy to digest like some brown or wild rice, or maybe some simple porridge. Or maybe you’re really celebrating something special and want to feed your body a healthy indulgent meal. You’ll reach for some healthy protein, some complex carbs, and even make a full-on dessert. Even if you use rich ingredients, making these foods from ingredients in your kitchen versus having someone else prepare them for you, will completely change how you view food and your connection with it. You learn to feed your body what it needs, when it needs it instead of just opting for something boxed or that you got last minute at the drive-thru.
5. Less Sugar!
You know that sugar isn’t a health hero, but what you don’t probably realize is just how many food items on the shelf, even organic processed foods, that sugar is added to in order to make you buy more of them. It’s also in almost every single salad dressing you get at restaurants or fast food restaurants, and it’s a regular attendee in restaurant meals, even those that sound simple. Preparing your food at home from whole foods eliminates excess sugar that increases your risk for Type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and can even lead to depression and poor gut health over time due to how sugar decreases the healthy bacteria in our body.
The good news is, plenty of healthy whole foods can create rich, decadent raw desserts that will blow your mind at how fantastic they are. Refined sugar will never taste good again once you’ve had the real sweet stuff you made at home yourself!
To stock your kitchen as healthy as possible, be sure you fill it with whole foods, not the stuff with lots of ingredients. Greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and other healthy fats, whole grains, beans, legumes, organic tofu or tempeh, fermented foods, superfoods and raw plant-based protein powders are all some of the best options. Herbs spices, simple condiments, and non-dairy milks can also help add variety and flavor to your meals and are good staples to keep on hand too. Use these to create healthy meals that will change not your just the makeup of your pantry, but also your mind and body too.
You can also see some ideas for Meatless Monday Tips for Beginner Cooks and How to Make a Real Food Dinner in 30 minutes or Less if you need some extra help. And don’t worry if you make a mess or make a few mistakes; that’s part of the learning process that makes cooking so special.
For recipe ideas, we’ve got plenty. Now, head to your kitchen and let’s get cookin’, shall we?
Lead Image Source: Iryna Yeroshka/Flickr