As we enter our 7th month of the COVID-19 lifestyle, life operating solely from the household has become more of the norm than any of us thought possible; not only is it our living space and family sanctuary, our homes have now become synonymous to the office and classroom to many. Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we all take care of ourselves the best way we know how in the safest and most controlled ways. That can easily start within the kitchen. One of the best ways to ensure that we are keeping ourselves healthy is by eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet. While it has been coined as quicker, more convenient, and easier, eating fast food, as opposed to cooking at home, is linked to higher risks of heart disease, obesity and being overweight, low food variety, and mortality due to the low nutritional density of and high amounts of additives in the food. Not a sure about what the benefits of switching over to a meal planned diet Don’t fret! I have compiled the benefits to menu planning, for you and your household, to make the information on it easier to digest.
Why meal plan?
In a cross-sectional study reported by the Journal of Behavioral Nutritional and Physical Activity, researchers compared some data and the self-reported health status of participants that did some sort of meal preparation or menu planning and those that did not. Of the group of people that they collected data from, 57% of the total participants reported that they currently are engaging in some form of meal preparation strategy at least occasionally. Of that 57%, the researchers gathered some further information on how their, even if just occasionally, implementation of meal planning impacted their health. For the women in the study, they were found to exhibit lower odds of being overweight in comparison with the group of individuals not meal planning. On the same token, the men in the meal planning group were found to have lower rates of obesity compared to their non-meal planning counterparts; both being risk factors for many chronic, degenerative diseases. Moreover, the meal planning group as a whole was reported to have both higher food variety and better diet quality than those that do not meal plan.
Thus, from the data, the benefits of meal planning can be exhibit real results the most apparent being the lower risks of being overweight and developing obesity, respective to gender. As was mentioned, being obese or overweight puts a person at higher risk for developing conditions like cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes, to mention just a few. But the latter two benefits – high food variety and diet quality – are less discussed benefits, so let’s dive in.
Benefits of High Food Variety and Diet Quality
Having a high food variety within your diet means that you are choosing a mixture of foods across the wide variety of food types – fruits, vegetables, dairy, etc. – and a mixture within those food types. For example, if we highlighted vegetables, variety within that food type would be exemplified as eating leafy greens, red and orange vegetables, starchy vegetables, and/or beans and peas. Increasing your food variety not only promotes a well-rounded healthier diet and diet quality, because you are able to get the nutrients needed from the different types of food types that are as close to the recommended amounts as possible, but variety increases your likelihood of sticking to your healthier eating habits due to the fact that variety decreases redundancy; eating a diet that consists of a variety of foods with differing flavors and textures keeps the diet interesting.
Moreover, in direct contrast to the health risks that diets high in fast food present, eating a diet that is high in variety protects against chronic diseases. For example, if you look at the leading causes of heart disease in the United States, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol top that list. The risk factors of high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol can develop as a result of poor dietary variety; in specific, diets that are too high in sodium are known to cause an increase in blood pressure, with more than 70% of that sodium coming from “…packaged, processed, store-bought, and restaurant foods” (CDC, 2020). Thus, meal planning presents an adequate and healthy strategy to promote food variety, and thus high diet quality, that has benefits linked to the reduction of chronic diseases.
Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention. (2020, August 24). Poor Nutrition. Retrieved October 18, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/nutrition.htm
Department of Health & Human Services. (2015, January 26). Food variety and a healthy diet. Retrieved October 18, 2020, from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/healthy-eating
Ducrot, P., Méjean, C., Aroumougame, V., Ibanez, G., Allès, B., Kesse-Guyot, E., Hercberg, S., & Péneau, S. (2017). Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 14(1), 12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-017-0461-7
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2015, February 01). Health Risks of Being Overweight. Retrieved October 18, 2020, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/health-risks-overweight
One World Education. (2020, August 31). Fast Food: The Fast Road to Bad Health. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://www.oneworldeducation.org/our-students-writing/fast-food-the-fast-road-to-bad-health/