Cooking Has Hidden Benefit

At this point, we all know the significant benefits of cooking our own meals. When you cook, you control the quality of your ingredients. You know precisely what is in your meal and how much salt and fat is in what you are eating. It can cost you much less money. And it can be a relaxing hobby for people who like spending time in the kitchen. We also know the drawbacks: time and effort. Prepared foods are just easier. If it’s from the store or a restaurant it’s immediately ready.

But, a new study for Edith Cowan Univ. has found another benefit to cooking that was previously unknown and could get you into the kitchen. If you don’t like cooking, it might be time to look into some 10-minute recipes because the pay-off could be enormous. Researchers found that making a habit of cooking makes you both happier and feel healthier.

Often studies are skewed because they are observational, so they will say “people who behave in X way are healthier” without looking for other factors. For instance, a study might say habitual exercisers are healthier without considering that people who exercise regularly might also avoid smoking or stick to a healthy diet. This study cut out that problem by having people change their behavior.

The study had 657 people commit to a seven-week healthy cooking class. They then examined the participants’ mental health, cooking confidence, general health and subjective vitality — their feeling of being alert and alive. People’s moods improved, and their confidence in cooking increased. They also felt they could overcome barriers that had stopped them from eating healthily in the past. Having more confidence and more practice can make cooking easier and faster. That can make it more convenient and a more sustainable habit.  

Lead researcher Dr. Joanna Rees 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.”

But, while many participants ate more healthy foods, others cooked less healthy things and still saw improvements in their mental health. The cooking class taught them about healthy cooking. Some people applied the cooking skills to less healthy foods and stuck to eating essentially the same diet they had before, but now they were cooking it themselves. The mood and mental outlook benefits were the same in healthy and unhealthy eaters. It was the act of cooking for themselves that was beneficial.

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,” said Dr. Rees. “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.”

Banner image: Jason Briscoe via Unsplash

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