“We all eat. It would be a sad waste of opportunity to eat badly” — Anna Thomas
My wife forwarded me a newsletter sent to her by her new school the other day. It was filled with lots of useful information regarding our new life in Egypt, including our upcoming apartment search, safety concerns, dress codes and transportation options.
But, there was one statement regarding food costs that made me cringe:
“In fact, it is so cheap here to eat out that many of us never cook!”
This statement was made to sound as though the possibility of never cooking were some sort of “perk” of living in Egypt, but as a dietitian its difficult to for me to see this as anything but a negative.
It may not be as cheap as in Egypt, but we still eat out a lot. In the United States 47% of all food dollars are spent consuming foods at restaurants. I have no doubt that numbers would be similar in Canada. Eating out has become so commonplace (and culinary skills so eroded) that there was a recent column in the New York Times by mom/blogger KJ Dell’Antonia discussing the “challenge” of preparing a whole week’s worth of meals at home.
And the evidence is mounting – all of this eating out is killing us.
A recent review concluded (perhaps not surprisingly) that eating out was associated with increased caloric and fat intakes, as well as lower intakes of micronutrients, especially vitamin C, calcium and iron (Lachat et al., 2012). Also, not surprisingly, another review suggested a positive relationship between the consumption of food away from home and weight gain (Bezerra et al., 2012). Basically people who eat out frequently are more likely to be obese and have poorer diet quality, which can lead to shorter life expectancies.
Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity doc in Ottawa, states that the average patient he sees at his clinic eat 3-4 meals a week outside the home. In my experience this may be a conservative estimate. But even if we use Yoni’s figures, that means people are eating out 208 meals/year. That’s 208 meals that are generally higher calorie, higher fat and lower nutritional quality than something made at home. You can’t tell me that doesn’t have some impact on our long-term health. By no means am I suggesting that eating out is the sole contributor to the recent rise in various health issues (obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease), however, I do think its fair to say that our increased reliance on getting meals from outside the home has played an important role in this regard.
Now, its not like I’ll be swearing off eating out in Egypt altogether. In fact I’m sure I’ll eat my fair share of restaurant meals over there – one of the best things about travelling to a new country is experiencing the local food.
But that doesn’t mean I’ll be foregoing cooking either. Just because something is cheap, doesn’t mean its worth it.
Lachat C, Nago E, Verstaeten R, Roberfroid D, Van Camp J and Kolsteren P. (2012). Eating out of home and its association with dietary intake: a systematic review of the evidence. Obesity Reviews. 12: 329-346.
Bezerra IN, Curioni C and Sichieri R. (2012). Association between eating out of home and body weight. Nutrition Reviews. 70(2): 65-79