Study links home-cooked meals to higher diet quality

Americans who cook meals at home frequently are more likely to have an overall better quality diet, but the association between cooking at home and diet quality differs between high- and low-income populations, according to a study posted on the website of the University of Michigan (UM) on Monday.

The study looked at 8,668 adults aged 20 years or older with complete and reliable data from two 24-hour dietary recalls. The Healthy Eating Index (HEI) score ranged from 0 to 100, with 100 being the best and high scores indicating better diet quality. The score is based on 13 component parts measuring both adequacy and moderation food groups.

Of the participants, 13 percent lived in households where someone cooked dinner 0 to 2 times per week, 21 percent lived in households where someone cooked dinner 3 to 4 times per week, 31 percent lived in households where someone cooked dinner 5 to 6 times per week, and 36 percent lived in households where someone cooked dinner more than 7 times per week.

The study found that greater cooking frequency, more than three times per week, was associated with higher total HEI score compared with cooking 0 to 2 times per week. Compared with cooking 0 to 2 times per week, cooking dinner more than seven times per week resulted in a 2.96 point increase in HEI overall.

To be more specific, the increase was 2.68 points among lower-income individuals and 5.08 points among higher-income individuals.

While additional research is needed to further understand the potential systematic differences between high- and low-income populations for healthy home cooking, increasing access to affordable healthier food options may be a solution to decreasing the disparity between the two populations, the researchers said.

The study has been published in the latest issue of Public Health Nutrition.