Amidst this global pandemic of covid19, social media is flooded with posts and messages regarding how to make changes in life style measures to enhance the immune system.
These mostly include tips on regular exercise, importance of exposure to sunlight, good ventilation, relaxation and nutritious food. One tip, which I often find missing is, importance of freshly cooked food.
Due to hectic schedules, commuting long distances, work pressure among other factors in urban areas, cooking and eating freshly cooked foods has become rare. Studies show more than 50% people in the affluent world eat out and that too is mostly fast food. If food is cooked at home, it is only done once during the week end.
Now this is taken out at meal times, heated in microwave and then consumed. In short, it can be said that freshly cooked food is hardly eaten. Same is the case in big cities anywhere. Some people rely on ready to cook fast food or use processed fast foods, to satiate their appetite and save time on cooking.
Freshly cooked and consumed food has multiple health benefits. Microbes present in raw food items are killed while cooking. But over time, they can grow again in cooked food.
Hence it is always better to eat food as soon as it is cooked. It is easy to be digested. Freshly cooked food is more nutritious as compared to refrigerated and reheated food. It provides more proteins and vitamins.
If one cooks in a healthy way, for example without deep frying, it is low in calories. Some people tend to take protein bars and vitamin supplements as substitute for fresh food. But they should know that fresh food contains micronutrients, which cannot be obtained from supplements. Use of microwave for heating and reusing cooked food is also not very healthy. I have come across several studies, both in favour of and against microwave use. But one thing is certain. Reheated food and that too on more than one occasion, loses its nutrients. Food heated many times, is a risk factor for cancer of the stomach and colon.
Another issue is of ready to eat fast foods or processed foods. These lack essential nutrients and are high in calories. Thus they increased risk of obesity and resultant diseases. Chemicals present in these foods, can aggravate allergy related problems like asthma, skin rashes, e.t.c. Research has shown that several chemicals present in these ready to eat foods, are cancer producing.
Body’s Immunity is enhanced by fresh food. It has been proved by various studies, that individuals who eat freshly cooked food are more healthy and happy. Families that eat freshly cooked home meals together, have more bonding. Individual members stay more happy and cheerful. Thus it is beneficial for mental health as well. If the financial aspect is regarded, a fresh meal is always cheaper than ready to eat food or fast food.
There are benefits for the environment as well. By cooking and consuming fresh food, carbon foot print is reduced. Fast food packing contributes to 40% of litter around, among which substances like Styrofoam are very harmful for the environment.
Considering the benefits of freshly cooked food, let people be determined that they should try to take freshly cooked meals only, as far as possible. When at home, all family members can contribute to cooking, serving food and cleaning afterwards. At work place, team mates can contribute and have a fresh lunch prepared. It would be healthier than munching sandwiches or burgers or drinking mugs of coffee throughout the day.
Dr Rachna Pande is a specialist in internal medicine