Why eating at home inspires healthier food choices

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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Eating healthy is easier at home and now researchers say they understand why. A study from McGill researchers suggests a cozy dining table and time with family can help people make better food choices.

It may be that feeling content at home reduces the need for high fat, high calorie foods. The finding suggests positive emotions can make a difference between reaching for French fries versus broccoli.

Setting the mood for a meal, interacting with family, a cozy dining room table and perhaps some music seems to prompt better nutrition.

Food choices linked to reward pathways

The researchers explain humans are biologically programmed to seek reward from high calorie foods. The authors suggest a home cooked nutritious meal can replace the biological urge to seek fattening foods.

According to study authors Prof. Ji Lu of Nova Scotia Agricultural College, Catherine Huet, and Prof. Laurette Dubé of McGill University's Desautels Faculty of Management,

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"The home is a privileged environment that nurtures healthy eating and in which healthier food choices trigger and are triggered by more positive emotions."

For the study, published July 2011 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers surveyed emotional states of 160 non-obese women before and after eating.

The found more positive emotions before and after meals from eating at home, compared to meals away from home.

It seems just feeling good inspires us to consume fewer calories. People who are in a good mood also prepare healthier meals.

The authors say, "Interpersonal communications, home design and atmospheric cues" such as "music, dining landscape, and kitchen equipment, which have all been found to induce positive emotions in both everyday and laboratory contexts”, seem to play an important role in healthy eating behaviors.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: doi: 10.3945/​ajcn.110.00636
"Emotional reinforcement as a protective factor for healthy eating in home settings"
Ji Lu et al.; July, 2011

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