But a recent study from Australia’s Queensland University of Technology revealed a major downside to solo life: People who live alone tend to have worse diets compared to those who share a space.
The research, published in the journal Nutrition Reviews, analyzed 41 previous studies to uncover the link between living alone and food and nutrient intake. Those who live alone are more likely to have a lower diversity of food and nutrients and eat fewer fruits and vegetables, which are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants that can help protect against certain diseases.
Some of the reasons solo-dwellers were found to be worse off included poor cooking skills, no partner to help with grocery shopping, the high cost of food for one, and a lack of motivation to cook. Solo men were more likely to have an unhealthy diet than women.
“Our results found that people who live alone have a lower diversity of food intake and a lower consumption of some core food groups like fruits and vegetables and fish,” said Katherine Hanna, one of the study’s authors and a lecturer at the university. “The research suggests living alone may represent a barrier to healthy eating that is related to the cultural and social roles of food and cooking.”
Hanna and her colleagues found that people who lived alone not only often lacked the motivation to cook, but they didn’t enjoy eating or cooking alone, and were more likely to prepare simple or ready-made meals lacking important nutrients. At times, it seems, it can be helpful to have a nagging caring partner around.
“The absence of support or encouragement to comply with healthy eating guidelines and difficulty in managing portion control were also factors influencing diet,” Hanna said.
Money also played a role in the diets of single-person households: Healthy foods like fish and fresh fruits and vegetables require more trips to the grocery store and a speedier rate of consumption (if you don’t eat it, it’ll spoil).
Previous research has highlighted that eating home-cooked meals is associated with a lower risk for obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, but the number of people living on their own in developed countries is increasing. As Hanna noted, in 2010, 23 percent of Australian households included only one person. The trend is similar in the U.S., where 27 percent of the population is living alone.
Cooking for one is not impossible, of course, nor does it have to be time-consuming and expensive.