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There remains an intense debate among lovers of food over whether dining out or cooking at home leads to better meals. But better is a loaded statement. Better can mean better tasting. Better can mean more satisfying.
Or, perhaps, better means better for you.
While many food critics will definitively state that, yes, dining out is less healthy than cooking at home, the truth is that the reality is far less clear-cut or defined. When one looks at the evidence on both sides, it is clear that there are health benefits to both eating out and cooking at home, and it is important that one comes to their own conclusion after examining the situation as to what is the best course of action.
Cooking at Home: Healthier Ingredients
When you cook at home, you control what you put into your food. There is that old adage that "You are what you eat," but, for many people, your food is what you put into it. When you get food from a restaurant, you have no idea what sort of junk they put into it. How much oil is in there? How much sugar? How much heavy cream?
Whereas if you're cooking at home, you have options. You can avoid high amounts of butter. You can avoid drowning your potatoes in oil. You can make healthy food that is also appetizing—I know, a shocker!
Eating Out: Experienced Cooks Preparing Food
Maybe you aren't certain how to cook good food. Maybe you clumsily add in too much oil, thus ruining your food by drowning it in fats. Maybe you aren't sure how to properly cook your meats, and you end up giving yourself E. coli by accident. The simple matter is that you don't know how to cook properly.
While many restaurants can be fairly unhealthy, not all of them are. You can judge where to eat, what places are healthy, and expect cooks that know how to make the food for you. By eliminating your inexperience, you can have food that is both appetizing, healthy, and consumable.
Cooking at Home: Appropriate Portions
This goes both ways. Sometimes, you go to a restaurant that serves you so much food that you literally can feel your body rupture with your overstuffed belly. Other times, you spend $30 on a meal that is essentially a cube of fish and two leaves of spinach. Portions are a big deal, both for your financial and physical health.
Cooking at home eliminates any of the issues associated with that. You can manage how much you eat by design. You don't have to eat portions according to someone else's standards.
Eating Out: Higher-Quality Ingredients
Restaurants are held to a higher standard than the average American kitchen. When you go to dine out, you know you are going to a place that had to pass health and safety exams. And that includes what sort of ingredients they use for their food.
This means that you know the ingredients you are getting will be good (assuming you aren't going to, say, McDonald's) and better for you. Not to mention that the cooks will be required to prepare the food properly. Again, assuming you aren't ordering your burgers rare and uncooked, you should be safe from food poisoning.
Cooking at Home: Food Allergies
This is a big one. Food allergies are a huge deal. If a cook prepares food in the same pan as food you are sensitive to, you can suffer a slew of health issues. Even death. While many restaurants are good with accommodating allergies, those with sensitive food issues may be too at risk to hope the chefs accommodate their needs.
Cooking at home puts you in control. You know for sure what you're eating, and know for sure it's all good for your body and gut.
Eating Out: Healthy Options
There is an obvious stigma against eating out in terms of healthy dining options. Many have already pointed out that eating out can be less healthy, that dining options may not be best suited for the health conscious eater.
But the simple fact remains that many restaurants understand these complaints, and are fighting against it in their own way by including healthier options. While some of these options are in partnerships with problematic dieting food industries (Jenny Craig may help you lose weight, but that doesn't mean its food is healthy), others make an independent effort to offer healthy dining options.
Only problem is that, often, these options are pricier. Pricier, even, than it would be to just make the healthy food options yourself.
Cooking at Home: Options
Going out to eat takes you out of your locus of control. You have fewer options as to what you can eat. Even a big restaurant can limit your selection of food by its very nature of having a menu. Which is bad when you're trying to eat healthy, and all the options at your local restaurant is pretty... not healthy.
At home, you have the option to make whatever you want. Whatever you can conceive, you can make. And this can lead to healthy habit forming behavior that will grant you the freedom to pursue a healthy lifestyle on your own terms, and not on the terms of someone else's menu.
Verdict: Cooking is Healthier
No matter which way you slice it, it is clear that cooking at home is the better option. Home cooking can be unhealthy. It can be dangerous. But, if you are health conscious and make the effort, it can also benefit your body by putting the right nutritious food inside it.
But, at the same time, don't fear dining out. There will always be junk food places that give you yummy but unhealthy meals, but there are always going to be healthier options as well. Dining out is not a sentence to fat pants and clogged arteries, as many health nuts may imply. It can be, but that is only based on your own choices.
At the end of the day, your health is in your hands. Consider all your options. Choose wisely.