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Research Project: Metabolic and Epigenetic Regulation of Nutritional Metabolism

Location: Children's Nutrition Research Center

Title: The Healthy Cooking Index does not predict the carotenoid content of home-cooked meals

item RABER, MARGARET - University Of Texas Medical Branch
item BASEN-ENGQUIST, KAREN - University Of Texas Medical Branch
item MORAN, NANCY - Children'S Nutrition Research Center (CNRC)
item CHANDRA, JOYA - University Of Texas Medical Branch

Submitted to: Nutrients
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/13/2020
Publication Date: 2/19/2020
Citation: Raber, M., Basen-Engquist, K., Moran, N.E., Chandra, J. 2020. The Healthy Cooking Index does not predict the carotenoid content of home-cooked meals. Nutrients. 12(2): 524.

Interpretive Summary: Home cooking programs offer a means of teaching families with pediatric cancer survivors how to provide balanced nutritious meals that can help to keep the whole family healthy. Previously a grading system called the Healthy Cooking Index was developed as a means to assess the likelihood that a set of home cooking practices would result in a healthy meal. A class of phytochemicals, called carotenoids, may be particularly beneficial to pediatric cancer survivors, but are often most concentrated in processed vegetable products. Because the grading scheme emphasizes using fresh vegetables instead of canned or frozen, the association of the Healthy Cooking Index score with the carotenoid content of the meal was unknown. This study found that the Healthy Cooking Index score for home-cooked meals prepared by 40 families were not associated with carotenoid content of the meals. This signifies an opportunity to educate families on strategies to incorporate carotenoid-rich foods into otherwise "high scoring" meals.

Technical Abstract: Home cooking programs are an increasingly popular approach to nutrition education and have the potential to promote diet quality among pediatric cancer survivors. A cornerstone of many programs is the use of fresh fruits and vegetables, which may support increased intake of many food components, including carotenoids, to improve survivor health. However, most dietary carotenoids in the United States currently come from processed vegetables, and it is unclear if the emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables common in cooking education programs is associated with the total carotenoid content of meals. The objective of this analysis is to examine the relationship between fresh produce usage, practices commonly taught in healthy home cooking classes, and the carotenoid content of prepared meals among 40 parents with school-aged children. This is a secondary analysis of an observational study examining the quality of home cooking practices using an evidence-based index of behaviors, the Healthy Cooking Index (HCI). Nutrition-optimizing cooking practices, as quantified by the HCI, were not associated with the carotenoid content of meals (r = -0.24, p = 0.13). Further, total fruit and vegetable content of meals was not associated with total carotenoids (r = 0.14; p = 0.38), indicating heterogeneity in the carotenoid profiles of foods used by this population. High-carotenoid meals tended to use more canned and/or frozen tomato and vegetable products, and carotenoid content was associated with meals with sugar (r = 0.32; p = 0.04), and servings of refined grains (r = 0.49; p < 0.01). Our findings indicate an opportunity to educate pediatric cancer survivors and families on the incorporation of high-carotenoid food products while reducing refined grain and sweetener intake through a tailored home cooking intervention.