Cooking at home not only helps you eat better, but it also helps your mental health, according to a new study at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia.
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, serving 657 individuals over seven weeks.
Researchers at the ECU Institute for Nutrition Research measured the program’s effect on participants’ cooking confidence and self-perceived mental health.
The study results, published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, 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.
The participants exhibited substantial improvements in cooking confidence and gained the ability to easily change eating habits and overcome lifestyle barriers to healthy eating, according to the study authors.
The 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,” Rees said in a news release.
“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.”
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 healthier.
Individuals who had not changed their diet after completing the program had still reported improved mental health, suggesting a link between cooking confidence, satisfaction around cooking and mental health benefits.
Q: How can I get more antioxidants in my diet? I’ve heard they are good for you.
A: Antioxidants are substances that can help prevent or slow oxidative stress to your cells. They are the antidote to free radicals from the environment that can cause damage to cells and accelerate the aging process, which in turn can raise the risk of cardiovascular and eye diseases and some cancers.
The simplest way to get plenty of antioxidants is to eat lots of different fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant-based foods. Brightly colored foods and foods with strong flavors (garlic, onions) are foods that are high in antioxidants.
Eat at least 4½ cups of produce daily, having a serving with every meal and snack.
Sheet-Pan Eggs with Spinach and Ham
I often grab a sheet pan to roast vegetables, add a fillet of fish or chicken, drizzle it all with olive oil and garlic, cook it in a hot oven and have dinner ready in 20 to 30 minutes. You can use that same recipe idea for breakfast.
Here’s a recipe for sheet-pan eggs with spinach and ham from Cooking Light. It’s a great brunch idea or a way to meal-prep a week of healthy breakfasts.
» Cooking spray
» 18 large eggs
» ¼ cup 2% reduced-fat milk
» ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
» 1 teaspoon salt
» 1 teaspoon black pepper
» 1 teaspoon onion powder
» 1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
» 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
» ½ cup diced ham
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Generously coat a large, rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Whisk eggs, milk, paprika, salt, pepper and onion powder together in a bowl. Pour onto prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with spinach, cheddar and ham.
Bake at 300 degrees until just set, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pan from back to front halfway through baking to ensure even cooking.
Cut into 12 squares.
Serves 12 (serving size: 1 square)
Per serving: 164 calories; 14 grams protein; 3 grams carbohydrate; 11 grams fat (5 grams saturated); 1 gram fiber; 1 gram sugar (0 grams added); 455 milligrams sodium
— Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd, or click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.