by Diane Alavie, B.Sc.Phm.

Research has shown that our physical and mental health is strongly influenced, not only by what we eat, but by the preparation of our food. Culinary preparation may enhance positive moods, increase self-esteem through productivity, and encourage socialization.

As microbes in the gut manage our emotions, healthy cooking is often associated with lowering the risks of depression and anxiety. The Mediterranean Diet is an example of healthy eating, which entails low consumption of red meat, moderate consumption of poultry, eggs, and dairy, and high consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts. Alternatively, emotional or comfort eating may lead to unhealthy dietary patterns, causing a negative impact on gut health and mental wellness through obesity, diabetes, or low moods.

Cooking requires the use of cognitive and motor skills, and is therefore an effective tool exercised amongst individuals who have experienced traumatic brain injuries, strokes, and cardiovascular or pulmonary obstructive disease. The application of planning and problem-solving skills during culinary preparation may become a rewarding act of self-care, enhancing self-efficiency and self-esteem as a result.

The art of cooking promotes opportunities to connect with the self, as well as others. Cooking cultivates community through socialization. Accomplished chef, Jamie Oliver, launched the Ministry of Food campaign in 2008, as a means to encourage individuals to explore the culinary arts through community-based cooking. Researchers found that this program had a positive impact on dietary behaviour and self-confidence (Hutchinson, 2016). Whether you are learning or teaching culinary skills, cooking encourages individuals to work together and uplift one another.

The benefits of exercising proficient culinary skills are more than nutritional, as cooking may also enhance positive moods, self-efficiency, socialization, and self-confidence. Exploring the preparation of our food in meaningful ways is significant in supporting and enriching mental wellness.