Most of us know that home cooked meals are far superior to store-bought frozen dinners and fast food…. for various reasons. But research shows that the act of cooking itself also offers numerous benefits.
Cooking isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. In fact, according to researcher Eddie Yoon, only 10 percent of adults in North America love to cook. That’s a significantly tiny number.
But fortunately, the benefits of cooking are just as significant. They might not be enough to transform 90% of people into culinary connoisseurs, but hopefully they’ll help change a few minds.
It goes without saying that preparing homemade meals offers numerous physical benefits. It reduces the amount of sodium that you consume, gives your body more bioavailable nutrients and lends to a more balanced diet overall. But, believe it or not, cooking also improves your mental, social and emotional health.
1. Social benefits of cooking
You might not notice it, but the act of cooking sets the tone for your familial relationships. Not only does it bring family together, but it mimics the exchange of love that occurs indiscernibly on a constant basis. By preparing and consuming food together in a healthy, unhurried manner, you’re strengthening your body and your social bonds at the same time – cultivating a deep, nourishing energy. “Cooking isn’t just about preparing the fuel for your body,” says Michael Pollan, author of the New York Times bestseller Cooked. “Cooking is a social act and it has been since we started.”
Take a moment to look back on your childhood. Chances are, you can remember cooking with your parents or grandparents. This tradition – of passing along recipes and culinary skills from one generation to the next – is extremely meaningful, and it’s something that we’re losing in today’s society. “Forty-six percent of meals in America are now eaten alone,” adds Pollan. “We have this centrifugal force that’s driving us away from the table.” By cooking meals, no matter how simple, and by teaching our children to do the same, we’re not only positively impacting the health of our bodies, but the health of our souls.
2. Mental benefits of cooking
Your mental health is very closely related to how much value you attach to our life. In other words, if you don’t constantly contribute to your own betterment, it’s easy to start experiencing feelings of inadequacy.
Can cooking really help with that? Sure it can – as long as you recognize that cooking for yourself is drastically improving your wellbeing. If you’re having a difficult time believing this (after all, you could just as easily head to the nearest McDonald’s to grab dinner), start narrowing in on the facts. Ask yourself, specifically, how cooking is contributing to you becoming the best version of yourself. Do this, and I guarantee your mental health will improve. After all, cooking gives you control over every single thing you put into your body. It also benefits the environment, saves you money – a huge stress factor – and encourages you to spend your time in a productive way, rather than sitting in front of the television eating processed takeout. How’s that for valuable?
If you suffer from any form of mental illness, you understand that sometimes cooking seems impossible. It’s hard enough to get out of bed, let alone prepare an entire meal. But the truth is, cooking can help you break those destructive patterns that lead to all-consuming depression. It’s a healthy activity that isn’t too strenuous – and it doesn’t require you to leave the safety and comfort of your home. “My contention is that as a way to spend a half-hour or an hour of your leisure time, cooking is a really good way to do it,” says Pollan. “It has all these benefits, but it’s actually intellectually very engaging. It’s sensually very pleasurable. It’s a great way to reset.”
3. Emotional benefits of cooking
Like all arts, cooking is an outlet for our emotions. Even when it seems like everything is spinning out of control, cooking recaptures your focus and becomes a meditative activity that provides relief from stress.
But it’s rarely viewed that way. More often than not, people consider cooking to be an obligation – not a therapeutic experience. It’s not something enjoyable, but yet another act of survival that adds to the emotional turmoil of daily life. “I’ve come to think of cooking as being similar to sewing,” Yoon writes. “As recently as the early 20th century, many people sewed their own clothing. Today the vast majority of Americans buy clothing made by someone else; the tiny minority who still buy fabric and raw materials do it mainly as a hobby.”
But like sewing and any other activity, cooking is what you make it. If you dread cooking, start shifting your mindset. When you think about preparing your next meal, try to feel excited, not anxious. If you thrive on competition, treat it as a challenge – what can I make using only chickpeas, pumpkin and kale? Alternatively, use it as an alternative to seated meditation. Remain mindful and present throughout the entire process. Pay attention to the smells and sounds that transpire. Empty your mind, enjoy the act, and see if your outlook on cooking changes.