Are you in control?

Photo By Rakratchada Torsap/

Research suggests that diet plays a significant role in cancer risk. Some studies link specific foods to certain forms of cancer, while others suggest that reducing overall caloric intake and consumption of high fat and processed foods decreases risk in a general sense. The bottom line remains the same, what we put into our bodies affects our health.

Cooking at home allows you to maintain maximum control over what goes into your body. You determine ingredient quality, portion size, and cooking method.

Ingredient Quality

Does your meat contain nitrates? Is it grass fed? corn fed? free-range? Is your meat treated with antibiotics or hormones? How is your produce farmed, conventionally or organically? These questions can be answered by reading the ingredients label on packaged meats or talking to your butcher and looking for the organic sticker on produce.

By purchasing ingredients yourself, you are able to make informed decisions about the food you eat. However, when you dine out the quality of meat and produce cannot be determined unless the restaurant specifically advertises its self as organic, nitrate-free, antibiotic-free, grass fed, or free range.

Portion Size

For reference, here is the suggested standard serving size as determined by the Department of Agriculture:

Standard Serving Sizes

Chopped Vegetables 1⁄2 cup 1⁄2 baseball
Raw Leafy Vegetables (such as lettuce) 1 cup 1 baseball or fist for average adult
Fresh Fruit 1 medium piece 1 baseball
1⁄2 cup chopped 1⁄2 baseball
Dried Fruit 1/4 cup 1 golf ball
Pasta, Rice, Cooked Cereal 1⁄2 cup 1⁄2 baseball
Ready-to-Eat Cereal 1 oz. varies from 1⁄4 cup to 1¼ cups
Red Meat, Poultry, Seafood 3 oz. (boneless cooked weight from 4 oz. raw) Deck of cards
Dried Beans 1⁄2 cup cooked 1⁄2 baseball
Nuts 1⁄3 cup Level handful for average adult
Cheese 1½ oz. 4 dice or 2 9-volt batteries

While our typical dinner plate may exceed the portion suggestions above, we still have control of how much we choose to put on our plate. When we eat out, the portion sizes are predetermined, and often they are even larger than what we would serve ourselves at home. Although it is possible to choose not to eat a full restaurant portion and perhaps take the extra to-go, we tend to eat what is set out in front of us.

When cooking at home, we first have the choice of how much food to initially cook. Our second choice is how much we put on our plate. Discipline is better managed when we maintain control of the things that tempt our appetites and desires.

Cooking Methods

The way food is prepared and cooked may alter its chemical structure and reduce the amount of nutrients.

For example, when oil is heated to its smoke point, the oil oxidizes and beneficial compounds break apart and are formed into new compounds- some of which may be harmful. Check out this list of oils and their smoke point.

Another example is when vegetables are cooked in liquid. Whether you use water, broth, oil, or butter some of the vegetables’ nutrients are absorbed into the liquid, and unless the liquid is used, those nutrients flow down the drain. The best way to maintain vegetable nutrients is to steam, stir-fry, grill, or broil your vegetables.

There are a plethora of ways cooking method can influence the nutritional value of your food. There is no way of knowing exactly how your food was prepared or cooked (baked, fried, boiled, steamed, poached, grilled, microwaved, sauteed, etc.) when dining out short of asking the chef. The only way to for sure know how your food is cooked is to do so yourself.

Perhaps you purchase ingredients that vary in quality. Perhaps you eat larger portions every now and then. Perhaps you do not know the best way to cook every ingredient so that you retain the most nutrients. That is okay. Cooking at home allows you to be more conscious of what is going into your body, and that can significantly influence your overall health.

So, what’s for dinner?

By Jocelyn Robancho

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