Lovingly cooked meals at home are more than soul food – they’re a recipe for good health and well-being.

Obesity rates have increased threefold in the last 20 years. Other risk factors for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as high blood glucose, hypertension and hypercholesterolaemia have also risen significantly and are affecting large segments of the population.

Such statistics from the various Malaysian National Health and Morbidity Surveys (NHMS) paint a grim picture of the health of Malaysians. One of the biggest contributors to this situation is the consumption of unhealthy foods.

Unfortunately, many outside foods tend to be high in fat and/or salt. One of the reasons for this is that it makes the food more flavourful, which would of course increase the likelihood of you returning for more.

Let’s not forget that most Malaysians also have a penchant for sweet foods, and most, if not all local delicacies and desserts contain a lot of sugar.

If nasi lemak, nasi kandar, roti canai or char kuay teow are on your list of must-eat foods you consume every day, then your diet is not very healthy. Regular consumption of such diets will certainly increase your likelihood of getting one or more of the risk factors of NCDs.

However, all is not lost. You can always opt to have home cooked meals more frequently. It is certainly not impossible but it will take some getting used to. You need to make a serious effort to do this.

When it comes to providing your body with healthy nutrition, nothing beats home cooked meals. Let’s see the top five reasons homemade meals are the better alternative:

cooking

When it comes to providing your body with healthy nutrition, nothing beats home cooked meals.

1. Cheaper than eating out

Pre-packed meals (and of course eating at restaurants) will always cost more than a similar homemade option. Best of all, if you cook extra portions and eat them for lunch, you will save even more. You can also boost your savings by buying your food in bulk or when food items are on sale.

Freezing is the simplest method to keep foods for longer periods of time, but you can also process certain foods to make them last longer, for instance pickling fresh produce. Just get creative and you can extend their shelf life.

2. Spend more family time at home

Eating at home means less time wasted in traffic, waiting for your order at the restaurant, and then getting back into traffic to drive home. Let’s not forget the money you have to spend on petrol and parking. All that time could have gone into making a delicious multi-course meal from scratch.

If you have a busy schedule on weekdays, you can always prepare the week’s meals during the weekends, apportion them out and freeze them. This means you only need to heat up the necessary portions when you get home after a busy day at work.

3. More healthy seasoning

Cooking your own meals you get to choose the ingredients that make up the dishes, for example leaner meat and more vegetables. You can certainly control the amount of fat, salt, and sugar that goes into every meal.

For the more adventurous, you can make fantastic tasting dishes by using local herbs and spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, parsley, serai, daun purut, ketumbar and such.

4. Easier to plan balanced and nutritious meals

Being able to plan your weekly menu means you can create meals that are properly balanced. Having a balanced weekly menu will ensure your body’s nutrition needs are fulfilled, leading to fewer cravings for unhealthy options.

Such investments in a healthy diet are the way to healthier you and your family members.

5. Be kind to your gut

Home cooking also means you get to determine the level of hygiene yourself – no more worries about plates not being cleaned properly, dirty food preparation areas or ingredients not being fresh anymore.

You have full control over what goes into your body. By minimising the risk of pathogenic bacteria growing in your food, you also place a lower burden on your gut.

Border control

The gut is your body’s first line of defence against disease-causing bacteria (pathogens). It is also home to a large collection of microorganisms, which are collectively called gut microbiota. A healthy gut microbiota should maintain a ratio of 85% good vs 15% bad bacteria.

You can help keep this balance by regularly consuming foods that will help to replenish the supply of good bacteria in your gut and drinking cultured milk drinks, which contain the probiotics cultures, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus paracasei.

Lastly, remember that when it comes to meal preparation, the cooking method will influence how healthy a meal is. Healthier methods of cooking include stir-frying, grilling, roasting, braising, stews/soups, baking or steaming. Avoid deep-frying as much as possible.

There are many methods and recipes for delicious healthy meals, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Remember, healthy eating does not have to be boring or bland. It can be just as tasty as outside food without being harmful to your health.

Of course, don’t neglect the importance of leading an active lifestyle either.

This article is contributed by Digestive Health Malaysia Society council member and Nutrition Society Malaysia president Dr Tee E Siong, courtesy of Digestive Health Malaysia (DHM) society and Vitagen Healthy Digestion Programme (VHDP), in conjunction with the World Digestive Health Day 2019 awareness campaign. Dr Tee E Siong is not associated with and does not endorse any brand or product. For more details, contact 03-5632 3301.