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Nearly 30 million Americans, or 9% of the population, have diabetes. The vast majority of these cases involve Type 2, which develops when the body can no longer handle excess sugar in the diet.

Being overweight or obese is an important trigger for Type 2 diabetes, and researchers at the American Heart Association meeting in Orlando report that one way to combat obesity and diabetes is to cook more meals at home.

“We know that eating out is associated with lower diet quality and higher obesity in young adolescents, as well as insulin resistance and high triglyceride levels,” Geng Zong, from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said at a news conference discussing the results. He and his colleagues wanted to see if the same effect occurred among adults.

Cooking meals at home, says Zong, avoids many of the processed ingredients and unhealthy fats that restaurants and fast-food chains rely on so heavily. The research involved data from the Nurses Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study that asked 99,000 men and women about their lunch- and dinner-eating habits over more than three decades. Those who reported eating about two of the meals at home each day on average had a 13% lower risk of getting diabetes compared with those who had fewer than six homemade meals each week.

Part of the reason for the lower risk, says Zong, is that those eating at home gained less weight during the study period than those dining out more. It’s also possible that people eating at home drank fewer sugar-sweetened sodas with their meals, also contributing to their lower rates of insulin resistance and diabetes.

The findings suggest that preparing more meals at home may be a first step in lowering the risk of diabetes, and if home cooking isn’t always possible, “try not to choose fast food,” says Zong. To make that possible, he admits that commercial food establishments must also contribute to make meals not just convenient but healthier as well.

He says, however, that the benefits of eating at home may have a limit. “If your mom is really good at cooking like mine, you need to be careful to balance your energy intake,” he says.

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