The Science-Backed Reason Why Cooking Is Good For Mental Health

Bake your way to bliss with culinary therapy!

Be it a cake, lasagne or loaf of oven-baked bread, there’s something nurturing and homely about the smell and process of baking that brings the same sense of comfort as a hug from your mum.
We know cooking feels good, but there’s never been concrete evidence to back why it brings such a sense of calm… until now, with research confirming the benefits of ‘culinary therapy.’
According to a new study from the National Institute of Health, cooking is found to be a positive intervention for helping the psychosocial symptoms of anxiety and depression by boosting self-esteem, social isolation and general wellbeing.

Image: iStock

And, it hasn’t taken long for ‘culinary therapy’ to become the ‘treatment de jour’ in the US, with it not only becoming a commonplace prescription for patients with a variety of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders according to psychologist Linda Andrews of Psychology Today—but cooking classes are now considered claimable by most US health care funds, according to the Wall Street Journal.
So, how does cooking boost our wellbeing exactly? Well, according to psychologists, cooking or baking meet the criteria for a type of therapy known as ‘behavioural activation,’ which includes any activities that alleviate depression by increasing goal-oriented behaviour and reducing procrastination.

“If a person finds the activity personally rewarding, feels a sense of accomplishment or pleasure, or even sees that pumpkin bread with chocolate chips bringing someone else happiness, then it can improve a sense of wellbeing,” says researcher Jacqueline Gollan of Northwestern University of Feinberg School Of Medicine.
Image: iStock

And, of course, aside from the wholesomeness the taste, smell and accomplishment brings, there’s also the strong science evidence connecting the role of gut health to mental wellbeing.
With 95 per cent of serotonin produced in the gut, according to Harvard Medical School, it makes sense that when we eat well it helps to balance our emotions… with studies also backing that a diet high in vegetables, fruit, unprocessed grains and fish is proven to lower levels of depression compared to those who eat a ‘Western’ processed diet.
So, in a nutshell, what can we take from all of this? Next time a sense of glum hits, roll up those sleeves, find an inspiring recipe from your favourite wellness guru and hit the kitchen to bake up a serious storm. After all, is there anything better than licking the bowl? Hello happiness!

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