Whether you get amped up about cooking or only know how to make a few basics, building a cooking habit is the most surefire way to take control of your eating habits. In fact, new health research shows that frequently cooking at home can actually help you eat healthier and consume fewer calories on a daily basis.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed data from the 2007-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which asked over 9,000 adults detailed questions about participants’ eating behaviors. They found that adults who cooked dinner once a week or less consumed, on an average day, 2,301 total calories, 84 grams of fat and 135 grams of sugar. In comparison, those who cooked dinner at home six to seven days per week consumed 2,164 calories, 81 grams of fat and 119 grams of sugar.

The data also suggests that home-diners even consumed fewer calories when they did go out to eat — showing that healthy eating habits at home stick with us when we go out into the world. Those who cook at home also consumed less frozen foods and fast food, both of which could be what helped bring down that calorie count.Interestingly, only eight percent of adults in the study cooked one day or less; 48 percent of adults claimed to cook dinner at least six days a week.

Obesity is an escalating public health problem that contributes to other serious health issues, including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease,” said Julia A. Wolfson, MPP, a CLF-Lerner Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and lead author of the study. “Moving forward, it’s important to educate the public about the benefits of cooking at home, identify strategies that encourage and enable more cooking at home, and help everyone, regardless of how much they cook, make healthier choices when eating out.”

Wolfson also notes that cooking might be a larger challenge for some, due to financial and time constraints. She suggests cooking classes, menu preparation, coaching and even lessons for navigating the grocery store aisles and reading calorie counts on menus if they’re available.

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