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Healthy cooking linked to improved mental health

In a new study from Edith Cowan University (ECU), researchers have found that people who are confident in the kitchen don’t just eat healthier – they also enjoy better mental health. The research was focused on 657 individuals who took a healthy cooking course for seven weeks.  

In a partnership between ECU, The Good Foundation, and Jamie’s Ministry of Food initiative, a mobile food kitchen provided cooking classes in the community and on college campuses from 2016 to 2018.

During this same time period, experts at the ECU Institute for Nutrition Research measured the program’s effect on participants’ cooking confidence and self-perceived mental health.

The study results revealed that individuals who took part in the healthy cooking course experienced significant improvements in general health, mental health and subjective vitality. These benefits were perceivable immediately after the program, and persisted for six months after the course.

Furthermore, the participants exhibited substantial improvements in cooking confidence. These individuals also gained the ability to easily change eating habits and overcome lifestyle barriers to healthy eating, according to the study authors. Lead researcher Dr. Joanna Rees said the study showed the importance of diet 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,” said Dr. Rees. 

“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.”  

Prior to this study, experts at the ECU Institute for Nutrition Research had identified a link between eating more fruits and vegetables and improved mental health in the long term. This indicates that the healthy cooking students were not just feeling better because they became more confident in the kitchen, but also because they were eating so much healthier. 

On the other hand, individuals who had not changed their diet after completing the program had still reported improved mental health. “This suggests a link between cooking confidence and satisfaction around cooking, and mental health benefits,” said Dr. Rees. 

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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