Home is where you can find the best food

Dining out has long been a fad—obviously a welcome relief to homemakers. Families can sit around a table in a cafeteria chomping down burger over pleasant small talks. For all its bonhomie, dining out is unhealthy, says a study. Blame the high level of chemicals that reach your body each time you dine at a restaurant.

Dining out upticks levels of harmful chemicals called phthalates in the body. They come from food packaging and processing materials; these chemicals disrupt hormones, leading to problems including infertility and pregnancy complications, among others.

Compared to dining out, home-cooked foods are a world apart. Because, meals at eateries have phthalate levels 35 per cent higher than foods cooked at home. That means the food prepared at home is less likely to contain high levels of phthalates, says Ami Zota,  an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH), Washington University.

Some 10, 253 participants in the study answered queries including where they ate in the previous 24 hours. Their urine samples helped analyze the levels of phthalate. Shockingly, the link between phthalate exposure and dining out was significant for all age groups. It was highest among teenagers, who washed down all kinds of fast foods. Remember, foods eaten outside have 55 percent higher levels of phthalates than the stuff you eat at home.

Beware of certain foods including cheeseburgers and sandwiches. The study found that sandwiches from fast food outlets, restaurants or cafeterias led to 30 percent higher phthalate levels in all age groups. It is the same with burgers and fries. You had better cook these foods at home. It seems phthalates are omnipresent at eateries: you can find them in everything from take-home boxes to gloves to food process equipment.

Previous research suggests that these chemicals can leach into food from plastic containers and wrapping. "Pregnant women, children and teens are more vulnerable to the toxic effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals, so it's important to find ways to limit their exposures," says researcher Varshavsky.

About two-thirds of the population in the US eat at least some food outside the home daily. Home-cooked meals can help limit exposure to these harmful chemicals. It also reduces sugar, unhealthy fats and salt. The foods at restaurants pass through so many hands before you eat them. You are ignorant of what it is, how it was prepared and by whatever means it reached the restaurant. It is quite unlike the food you eat home. At least you know who cooked it, where the ingredients came from, and how it was seasoned or whether it was fully cooked.

The root of most mystery illnesses might be in the kitchen of a restaurant. You can’t change everything about the food system. But when you cook from scratch, at least you know what you are eating. Eat more at home.