How Online Food Delivery Services Make It Easier For You To Eat Healthy

You can't exactly grab a box of chocolate chip cookies on a whim online, like you do at the grocery store.
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The term "food delivery" conjures images of styrofoam takeout containers filled with French fries, little paper boxes piled high with General Tso's chicken or big cardboard boxes of pizza. It's not exactly what most of us would define as "healthy," but it's time to adjust our perspective. Food delivery is becoming a whole new beast.

Over the past several years, convenience-based food services have become more and more prevalent -- and they're predominantly focused on healthy foods.

There are online meal kits like Blue Apron, Plated and Chef'd that provide you with all the groceries necessary to cook the meals that've been selected for you. Then there are grocery delivery services like FreshDirect, Instacart and Peapod that let you do the work of choosing, without having to go to the grocery store. And now there are services like PlateJoy that help you select the best menu and recipes for your lifestyle, provide you with a grocery list, and let you do the shopping and cooking yourself.

All of these services have changed the ways many Americans treat dinnertime. In a world where time is scarce and convenience is key, these methods of putting food on the table are majorly tempting for a lot of harried professionals.

But while these services certainly cut down on time, you might not expect that they also trim your waistline, as a growing body of research suggests. That's because previous research has suggested that takeout is anathema to good health.

However, as Shape recently reported, it's the portion-control aspect of gourmet meal services that makes them so diet-friendly. By only preparing a serving or two at a time without leftover, excess ingredients, there's no worrying about the temptation to overeat.

Earlier this year, a study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that women who spend more time fixing their own meals from scratch are more likely to struggle with high blood pressure and increased blood sugar and triglyceride levels.

“We assumed cooking at home would be healthier,” lead study author Brad Appelhans told Shape. “That’s not necessarily the case, however. When you’re making fabulous gourmet dishes from scratch, you may be tempted to eat more.”

Grocery delivery is healthier, too. Placing an online order for a shopping list prevents those impulse buys that occur when you're roaming the supermarket aisles after work, starving and craving every sweet and savory treat in sight. Unlike in-person shopping, for which grocery chains have perfected the environmental psychology jiu jitsu that keeps people over-buying, there is no instant gratification in ordering a box of chocolate chip cookies via a website. So unless you know you really want them and are willing to wait for them, you're less likely to add them to your virtual shopping cart.

A small study from the University of Connecticut monitored 28 women who bought groceries online from Peapod's service for eight weeks, and found that they were much more likely to stick to their shopping list and lose weight in the process.

"We found by using the online service people were really able to cut back on the amount of high fat foods they had in their home, reduced it by up to 40 percent," lead study author Amy Gorin told NBC Connecticut. "We also found the more times people used the ordering service the better their weight losses were, so there was an association there."

There's something to be said for not having the option of buying food in bulk, either. In analyzing geographic body mass index data between 1990 and 2010, the National Bureau of Economic Research found a strong correlation between the number of box stores and warehouse-style food retailers and obesity rates in the surrounding area. Typically when people shop bargains, they buy more, and such stores are known for large quantities of processed food that contribute to weight gain.

Delivery services, on the other hand, are particularly appealing to urban dwellers who lack time and easy access to these massive grocery stores, not to mention spacious kitchens. While such services can get rather pricey -- they're not the most economical choice for families -- and result in additional food packaging waste that is surely no benefit to the environment, they do offer a real mealtime solution for those who want food that also keeps their health intact.

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