At Mobility Plus we believe cooking & baking are important pieces of the wellness puzzle, but in the age of convenience these skills are sometimes side-lined, especially as we age. However, making magic in the kitchen can have benefits beyond what just appears on your plate.
As well as developing our cooking skills, studies into cooking interventions have been shown to improve health and manage our weight control. Research has also shown cooking at home can improve outcomes in type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer.
Here are some other amazing benefits of baking and cooking to inspire you to bring out your spatula!
Stress is a common problem and not just for the elderly! Unfortunately, we now know chronic stress is harmful to health and can be particularly hazardous for older adults. There are many benefits of baking for stress reduction. Baking takes time, requires your attention and uses repetitive techniques such as stirring or chopping, which can be extremely meditative. Movements such as kneading bread have been shown to reduce levels of anxiety. Furthermore, research shows starting then finishing a project (or bake) increases happiness.
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Food is extremely emotive and for many people triggers positive memories of celebration or familiarity of family. Whether it’s memories of cooking with a grandparent or baking treats for your own loved ones, the smell of fresh bread or a traditional favourite dinner is a powerful trigger. This can help to stimulate memory centres, which is particularly supportive for those suffering with or aiming to prevent neurodegenerative diseases of the brain such as dementia.
Control your ingredients
Possibly one of the clearest benefits of cooking your own food is that you can choose exactly what is going into your body. When we buy fast, convenient, or pre-packaged foods we are often subject to higher levels of sodium, sugar, preservatives and artificial flavourings – all proven to be damaging to our health. However, the benefit of cooking for ourselves allows us to include more nutrient dense foods and control ingredients we need to be mindful of.
Many people lose their appetites as they grow older, and although the need for more calories decreases, it is still extremely important to continue to nourish the body to avoid disease, depression and dementia. When we cook our food, it starts a biochemical reaction inside us, to prepare our body to take on nutrients. By doing this; smelling the ingredients, thinking about the provenance of food and looking forward to it – we increase our appetite and ready ourselves for nourishment.
Incorporating mindfulness in our lives can bring wonderful benefits to both our mental and physical health. Cooking mindfully can help you practice mindfulness techniques by focusing on the present, rather than allowing your thoughts to ruminate. Cooking mindfully involves really bringing awareness to the ingredients you are using – from choosing them in the shop to preparing them in the kitchen. Then, as you peel, chop and cook the food, you can appreciate the colours, the aromas, the sensations on your fingers, the sounds and the changing textures. Although it isn’t practical to do this every time you make a meal, by occasionally choosing mindful cooking, it can make it a more satisfying and healthful experience.
Studies have shown a link between creative expression and wellbeing. One benefit of baking is the freedom to express yourself in the kitchen. Whether it’s decorating cakes or styling a meal on a plate – you can bring colour and fun to your cooking and baking and speak to that creative part of you.
When you become more confident around ingredients and cooking skills, it no longer has to be a “follow step-by-step” activity with a strict recipe. Starting to explore cooking on your own and creating dishes really gets your creative juices going. With enough practice you can make dishes with specific tastes that you or your loved ones look forward to eating, giving you satisfaction and joy.
Variety is the spice of life
Nutritionists often recommend having a varied diet as this results in eating a greater range of the nutrients that your body needs, leading to overall better health. One study showed the benefits of cooking at home with French adults who ate a greater variety of foods than those who primarily ate out.
A great way to implement this is to get into the habit of buying ingredients (especially vegetables or wholefoods) that you have never bought or don’t usually buy. With the wonders of the internet, it has become easy to search for a recipe based around your new ingredient. This allows you to cook up a dish that you’ve never made before and have a fun time in doing so.
Eating out, takeaways and even pre-packaged food is expensive! A benefit of baking or cooking is that it allows you to keep eating low-cost by purchasing your own ingredients. Focusing on fresh wholefoods such as vegetables, fruit, legumes, beans and grains, as well as frozen whole food and store cupboard essentials like dried foods, herbs and spices is a way to keep costs down. This money-saving strategy will improve your finances and cut down on your stress levels.
Food as medicine
As we get older, health issues often start to mount up. However, science is now showing the powerful benefits of food and nutrition in preventing and supporting the body back to health. The benefit of cooking at home is how it increases your knowledge of food. Food is so much more than just something that fills you up until your next meal.
What you eat can either cause sickness or heal the body and learning this is one of the most important aspects of home cooking. We live in the age of information and cooking your own meals can teach you which foods are high or low in certain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Combining different foods into a balanced meal is a skill that can benefit our bodies with each mouthful.
It’s an act of self-love
Self-care is extremely important to long term health. We often see acts of self-care as pampering ourselves in a candlelit bath or hot shower. However, when you take time to prepare something nourishing for yourself, it’s saying that you’re important and you are prioritising yourself in that moment.
When you’re good to yourself, you might think you’re being selfish. However, self-care gives you the resources you need to be compassionate and generous to others as well. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup.