Researchers have long believed that an important factor in the obesity epidemic is the home food environment. A recent study published in the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior found startling evidence to support those beliefs. The study, which focused primarily on obese, low-income African-American women in southwestern Georgia, identified factors of obesity, such as what kinds of food are available in the home, where those foods are kept, how food is prepared, how food (both home-prepared and outside-sourced) is served, whether or not television is watched while eating, and the level of healthy-eating support available from other family members.
Although a majority of the participants in this study reported a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in the home, they also had access to a substantial amount of high-fat snacks, frequently watched television while eating, ate outside the home (typically, fast food) almost three days per week and regularly participated in unhealthy food preparation methods, such as frying.
What does this mean for you? It’s important to take stock of unhealthy eating behaviors in your home. While having access to fresh fruit and vegetables is important, it is obviously not enough to dissuade people from making the kinds of unhealthy food choices that encourage obesity.
Here are a few easy ways you can increase the health of your home food environment.
1. Turn off the television while eating.
Research suggests that this is difficult, especially for people who spend a large amount of time in the home. Try utilizing the season’s warmer weather by enjoying your meals outside, using nature as your focal point instead of your television set. Make a firm rule that whenever your family eats, even snacks, the television must be turned off. Music can also be a great replacement, and it encourages a positive eating environment.
2. Clear out the high-fat snack foods in your house.
While fat is not necessarily the culprit, eating easily-accessible, processed snack foods that are high in fat can be detrimental to weight loss. Replace the processed fats with natural ones, such as avocados, nuts and eggs. Incorporate lighter, healthier foods, like fresh fruit and vegetables, to encourage weight loss and improved overall health.
3. Limit fast food.
This is a difficult task for many folks, especially those who are too busy to cook during the day. If you must order fast food, take stock of healthier menu options, and avoid sodas and other sweetened beverages. If possible, use your weekend to prepare a week’s worth of meals. It’s easy to make light stir-fries, roasts, soups and sauces, like marinara or pesto, and then store them for easy weeknight cooking.
4. Cut sugary beverages.
Of the many factors mentioned in an unhealthy home food environment, drinking sweetened beverages was fairly common for a majority of obese study participants. Sugar can be extremely harmful to the body, and known to increase your risk of heart disease, obesity, hypertension and even cancer. Reducing your consumption of this potentially dangerous and addictive substance is important for your overall health. Get in the habit of drinking water with meals and limiting juice to one eight-ounce glass per day. By cutting just one soda a day, you can save yourself a whopping 87,600 calories per year, which translates into roughly 25 pounds. Water adds zero calories and helps your body eliminate toxins.
5. Learn healthy food preparation methods.
Frying food is a surefire way to add unnecessary, extra fat and calories to your meals. A majority of people who participated in the home food environment study relied on unhealthy food preparation methods. Avoid recipes that require you to fry food or drench it in high-fat/high-calorie sauces. Also, avoid using processed carbohydrates as the main source of food on your plate. If you utilize lighter preparations—such as baking and light sautéing—while also reducing your processed carbohydrate intake and limiting portion sizes, you will encourage healthier eating for everyone in your home.
Creating a healthy home food environment isn’t as challenging as it may seem. With a little effort, attention to negative food behaviors and dedication to making meaningful dietary changes, your home can be an oasis of health, not a crash pad for extra calories.