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woman-cookingFast food commercials make dinner seem quick and easy—but is it worth the impact to your health and your waistline? Recent studies have found that although portion sizes have stopped growing in the last decade or two, the amount of calories, saturated fat and sodium served at the drive-thru is still far too high, contributing to a nationwide increase in obesity and chronic disease. In 2015, make it your goal to curb the fast food and cook more meals at home.

A new study out of Johns Hopkins University examined the eating habits of roughly 9,000 U.S. adults and found that those who prepare and eat the majority of their meals at home consume fewer calories, unhealthy fats and carbohydrates—not to mention less sugar—than those who opt for fast food.

The study, published this month in the journal Public Health Nutrition, was led by Julia Wolfson, a trained chef and fellow at the university’s Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for a Livable Future. While many people think cooking at home is too expensive or time consuming, says Wolfson, she stresses it is often easier than one might think. Here are a few simple tips to help you get started:

  • Plan ahead! Choose recipes, make a list and shop over the weekend to make weeknight meal prep faster and simpler. You can also chop veggies in advance, or prepare and freeze meals and individual portions.
  • Choose fewer processed foods, more real foods. Learn to shop the perimeter of the grocery store, where you will find fresh produce and healthy protein sources. Avoid the center aisles that contain pre-packaged, processed foods loaded with added sugar and carbs.
  • Take a beginner cooking class or go online. Classes are often offered through local schools and community centers, but the Internet is also a valuable resource for recipes, ideas and instruction. Just one video can transform dinner!
  • Get kids involved. Even the pickiest kids and teens will usually try something new if they are included in the process. Let them choose recipes, help with shopping and preparation, and even offer their own suggestions.

With better nutrition comes better health and weight management, and cooking at home allows us to make smarter choices about the foods we eat and the meals we prepare for our families. The more you cook at home, the simpler it will get, and the healthier you will feel in 2015!

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coffee-handsYour heart does a lot for you. Why not make it your goal to return the favor in 2015? According to a recent joint study conducted by researchers from the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute and Harvard University, you may want to start by cutting back on sugary sodas to reduce the risk of stroke. The good news? You can still enjoy your morning cup of joe.

After analyzing data from two long-term studies involving more than 43,000 men and 84,000 women, scientists discovered that while regular intake of sugary soft drinks—as well as low-calorie sodas made with artificial sweetener—was associated with a higher risk of stroke, drinking coffee (either regular or decaf) had the opposite effect: just a cup a day was linked to a 10% lower risk of stroke.

While overconsumption of sugary beverages has been linked previously to obesity and chronic disease, this may be among the first studies to look at its effects on stroke risk. Study author Dr. Adam Bernstein points out that soda is the largest source of added sugar for most Americans, and over time all that sugar can trigger changes in the body (including inflammation) that can ultimately increase your chance of having a stroke. In contrast, a cup of black coffee contains beneficial antioxidant compounds shown to reduce stroke risk and support heart health.

As you tackle your 2015 resolutions for a healthier you, remember to swap those sugary sodas (and diet soft drinks) for a healthier option such as carbonated water with a spritz of lemon, and opt for black coffee with no added sweetener or creamer. If you need a little something in your java, try adding a splash of unsweetened almond milk for flavor.

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