It’s no secret that cooking healthy food provides benefits to our bodies, but there’s also evidence that the act of preparing meals can benefit our minds as well.
Mental health experts credit cooking with helping to relieve depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other conditions. As various forms of meditation have become in vogue as ways to relax in our busy world, cooking is joining that genre, according to health professionals, working adults and people who cook for a living.
“Cooking at its core is comprehensive meditation with the assurance of a good, healthy meal as the reward,” says Zipora Einav (www.chefzipora.com), a chef to celebrities and author of Recipe for a Delicious Life. “Cooking can lift you to a meditative place you often don’t get in the outside world. It starts with the environment you create in your kitchen. Mine is filled with music. Combining cooking with music provides the optimal environment to experience the many benefits of meditation.
“However you cook, do it with real peace and genuine happiness for yourself in mind. You’re giving to others; now give some of this to yourself.”
Chef Zipora lists five mental health benefits that cooking brings:
- Relieves stress. Cooking can clear the head and relax the body. Family therapist Lisa Bahar told Psychology Today that a mindfulness on the moment – kitchen tasks such as chopping and stirring – makes the act of cooking meditative. “You are present in the task, doing something physical, and not distracted by the stresses of the day,” Zipora says. “It’s a nourishing, centering act that gets you to slow down.”
- Gives joy. It’s easy to dismiss cooking as just another household chore, but you may derive joy from cooking that you don’t get from mundane tasks. “Cooking is an innately rewarding experience,” says Zipora. “You can enhance it however you like. Music happens to be the seasoning of my life. Classical puts me in a zone when I’m cooking. When you’re enjoying working in the kitchen and listening to your favorite music, all of a sudden you’re not just cooking, it’s like you’re flying with your feet on the ground. Cooking has all the ingredients of good vibrations.”
- Provides better brain health. The clearest link between cooking and mental health is good nutrition; numerous studies have found compounds like antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins and minerals found naturally in food can help protect your brain. “It’s easier to control the quality of your diet when you prepare much of the food yourself,” Zipora says.
- Makes you more creative. Part of the fun of cooking is thinking outside the box. “Cooking should be considered an art, and with new ingredients, you can explore new areas of cooking and surprise your family with a meal that they will have never seen coming,” Zipora says. “Perfect recipes, come up with new ones, and let your creative juices flow.”
- Boosts self-confidence. “You feel a strong sense of accomplishment when you’ve prepared something satisfying,” Zipora says. “When you’ve prepared a nice meal for several people that confidence will surge, and it can spread into other areas of your life. It will inspire you to try new things.”
“Cooking without a doubt nourishes your psychological well-being,” Zipora says. “At the end of a long work day, it soothes the soul and the mind.”