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Happiness Is Really Cooking

Kitchen Confidence Serves Up Mental Health

Happy family in the kitchen.

John Salak –

Good food may not only be a way to a person’s heart. Quite possibly, it is a gateway to happiness and better mental health. The idea isn’t to dive into a tub of Ring Dings and ice cream. Rather, developing confidence in the kitchen builds more than the ability to deliver tasty and healthy meals. Also, it provides a boost in self-perceived mental health.

At least, this is what researchers from Edith Cowen University in Australia discovered after examining the impact of a seven-week healthy cooking class on almost 700 budding chefs.

The university’s Institute for Nutrition Research specifically measured the program’s effect on participants’ cooking confidence, self-perceived mental health, and satisfaction with cooking and diet-related behaviors. The class served several benefits to participants, including significant improvements in general health, mental health and subjective vitality. There were ancillary benefits, such as increases in cooking confidence, adaptability to new eating habits and the ability to overcome lifestyle barriers to healthy eating.

The bottom line is a strong connection between diet and mental health, according to lead researcher Dr. Joanna Rees.

“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 explained. “Future health programs should continue to prioritize the barriers to healthy eating such as poor food environments and time restrictions while 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.”

Cooking remains a highly gendered task, as more than 75 percent of the participants were female. The mental health benefits that resulted from confident cooking were equal in men and women, as well as those who were overweight, obese, or in a healthy weight range.

“This suggests a link between cooking confidence and satisfaction around cooking and mental health benefits,” Rees suggested.

The link between happy (or confident) and healthy isn’t limited to the kitchen. Previous research demonstrated that a positive outlook could have a specific beneficial impact on a person’s physical/mental wellbeing.

Georgetown University reported that smiles and laughter provide sizeable welfare boosts to people.

“Though prior studies have shown that happier people tend to have better cardiovascular health and immune-system responses than their less happy counterparts, our research is one of the first randomized controlled trials to suggest that increasing the psychological well-being even of generally healthy adults can have benefits to their physical health,” reported Kostadin Kushlev, a Georgetown professor, and one of the paper’s authors.

Researchers at Georgetown, in partnership with the University of Virginia and the University of British Columbia, came to their conclusions after examining how improving the subjective well-being of people affected their physical health.

The effort focused on 155 adults between 25 and 75 and ran through three different courses of happiness intervention over 12 weeks. These included the “Core Self,” the “Experiential Self” and the “Social Self.” None of these courses focused on promoting physical health or health behaviors, such as sleep, exercise, or diet.

Three months after the program’s conclusion, researchers followed up with participants to evaluate their well-being and health.

Participants reported increasing levels of subjective well-being during and after the program. They also were healthier and more physically fit. In addition, they took fewer sick days during and after the program than before.

“These results speak to the potential of such interventions to be scaled in ways that reach more people in environments such as college campuses to help increase happiness.”

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