ICMR Explains How Homemade Food Can Be Unhealthy Too
Image Credit: Freepik

In the comparison between home-cooked meals and restaurant food, home-cooked meals have always won the fight for being healthy. But this fight takes a turn when the new guidelines by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) state that home-cooked food can also be unhealthy.  

The ICMR guidelines explain that foods high in fats, sugars or salt (HFSS) are often calorie-dense while being low in beneficial micronutrients and fibre. This combination makes them unhealthy, regardless of their origins. Even lovingly home-cooked dishes like rich curries, sweet desserts or salty snacks may be laden with extra fats, sugars and sodium that can negatively impact health over time. The guidelines encourage home cooks to be mindful of overusing ingredients like butter, sugar and table salt, which can add hidden HFSS content.   

Image Credit: Freepik

Instead, the ICMR recommends focusing on nutritious whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains when cooking at home. Choosing lean proteins, using healthy oils sparingly, and limiting processed ingredients will result in wholesome home-cooked meals. With some simple modifications, home cooks can still create delicious food that meets the panel's health criteria. While home cooking does provide control over ingredients, the ICMR makes clear that healthy outcomes require more than just home preparation. By being aware of nutrition, Indian home cooks can continue cherished culinary traditions while optimising the health of every meal.  

Image Credit: Freepik

What Makes HFSS Foods Unhealthy?  

High-fat, high-sugar foods, also known as HFSS foods, are unhealthy for several reasons. First, they are very high in calories, which can lead to weight gain and obesity if consumed in excess. Additionally, these foods often lack essential nutrients like protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. A diet high in HFSS foods and low in nutritious whole foods can lead to nutrient deficiencies over time. 

HFSS foods also cause inflammation in the body and disrupt healthy gut bacteria, both of which are linked to increased risk for chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Lastly, HFSS foods are often high in salt, which can contribute to high blood pressure. For optimal health, it is important to limit the intake of HFSS foods and focus on a balanced diet rich in lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and low-fat dairy.  

Image Credit: Freepik

How Does A Home-Cooked Meal Become Unhealthy?  

Even if food cooked at home contains high levels of salt, sugar, or fat, it can still be nutritionally deficient and high in calories. The Indian Council of Medical Research warns that foods with excessive saturated fat from ghee, coconut oil, or vanaspati can increase obesity risk. They advise limiting saturated fat intake to less than 10 grams per day. Salt intake should also stay under 5 grams per day to avoid high blood pressure and heart disease. 

Packaged foods and homemade snacks often contain alarming amounts of salt. Lastly, sugar intake should remain under 25 grams per day. Empty calories from sugar can lead to weight gain and diabetes. For a healthy, balanced diet, focus on nutrient-dense foods high in vitamins, minerals, and fibre instead of foods packed with salt, sugar, and fat. Moderation is key.