Cooking is more than just preparing food. It is not just about making delicious meals, but also about feeling better mentally — suggesting a link between cooking confidence, satisfaction around cooking, and mental health benefits.
New research from Edith Cowan University (ECU) has found being confident in the kitchen is not only good for your taste buds: but it’s also good for your mental health.
The study followed ECU’s productive collaboration with The Good Foundation and Jamie’s Ministry of Food initiative, which ran from 2016 to 2018 and involved a mobile food kitchen that taught cooking classes both in the neighbourhood and on the university’s Perth and SW campuses.
657 people signed up for the seven-week course on healthy cookery.
Researchers from the ECU Institute for Nutrition Research assessed participants’ overall satisfaction with cooking and diet-related habits as well as the program’s impact on their self-perceived mental health and cooking confidence at the same time.
Importance of diet for mental health
When compared to the study’s control group, researchers discovered that those who took part in the program saw significant improvements in their general health, mental health, and subjective vitality immediately following the program. These advantages persisted for six months after the course was over.
The ability to readily shift eating habits and get beyond lifestyle obstacles to healthy eating, as well as improvements in cooking confidence, were also reported.
The study, according to lead researcher Dr. Joanna Rees, demonstrated the significance of food for mental health.
“Improving people’s diet quality can be a preventive strategy to halt or slow the rise in poor mental health, obesity, and other metabolic health disorders,” she said.
“Future health programs should continue to prioritize the barriers to healthy eating such as poor food environments and time restrictions, whilst placing greater emphasis on the value of healthy eating via quick and easy home-cooked meals, rich in fruit and vegetables and avoiding ultra-processed convenience foods.”
Mental Health improved despite the diet being the same
The individuals in the current study may have felt better because of an improved diet, as the Institute has previously discovered a correlation between eating more fruits and vegetables and improved longer-term mental health in a larger study gathering more sophisticated nutritional data.
However, the study discovered that even while individuals’ reported diets did not alter after finishing the program, their mental health really improved.
Additionally, both participants in a healthy weight range and those who were overweight or obese had the same benefits for their mental health.
“This suggests a link between cooking confidence and satisfaction around cooking, and mental health benefits,” Dr Rees said.
Who benefits most?
The study also showed that cooking is still a very gender-specific activity.
At the beginning of the program, 77 percent of participants who identified as female and just 23 percent of participants who identified as male claimed to feel confident in their ability to cook.
However, at the program’s conclusion, both counterparts had comparable levels of cooking expertise and confidence.
“This change in confidence could see change to the household food environment by reducing the gender bias and leading to a gender balance in home cooking,” Dr Rees said.
“This in turn may help to overcome some of the barriers presented by not knowing how to cook, such as easing the time constraints which can lead to readymade meals which are high in energy but low in nutritional value.”
Materials provided by Edith Cowan University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Joanna Rees, Shih Ching Fu, Johnny Lo, Ros Sambell, Joshua R. Lewis, Claus T. Christophersen, Matthew F. Byrne, Robert U. Newton, Siobhan Boyle, Amanda Devine. How a 7-Week Food Literacy Cooking Program Affects Cooking Confidence and Mental Health: Findings of a Quasi-Experimental Controlled Intervention Trial. Frontiers in Nutrition, 2022; 9 DOI: 10.3389/fnut.2022.802940
Edith Cowan University. “Chef’s kiss: Research shows healthy home cooking equals a healthy mind.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 March 2022. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/03/220321091919.htm>.
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