If you’re lazy like us, cooking may be a dreadful chore. But there are so many who aren’t really like us. Cooking for the rest of them is satisfying, a creative outlet and helps provide sustenance. Apart from the glowing reviews, cooking can also have benefits of providing sensory pleasure. According to research, digging into those old family recopies is a great way to connect with one’s past. This is commonly dubbed as ‘culinary therapy.’ TV shows have segments where they had therapists coach people as they chopped vegetables and fry their fish. But does research support this claim?
The real test of culinary therapy would involve controlled studies in which matched groups of patients are randomly assigned to treatment vs. either delayed treatment or some other type of therapy such as the conventional cognitive-behavioral approach. No such studies exist in the literature, however. Instead, in a 2018 study, NIH’s Nicole Farmer and colleagues examined the side benefits to the mental health of cooking-based interventions as a means of improving nutritional status for people with various chronic conditions.
At the same time, the authors point out that “a successful food system that relies on cooking would benefit from an activity that promotes positive mood, self-concept, and self-esteem in order to promote an exchange of food and ideas.” Additionally, cooking groups incorporated into community kitchens “may help foster socialization and improve social isolation” . Studies that examine psychological benefits as an offshoot of treatment that is supposed to train in important life skills are a far cry from the claims that culinary therapy can replace traditional cognitive-behavioral therapy in the treatment of such disorders as depression and anxiety.
To sum up, food-related activities involving shopping, cooking, planning, and, of course, eating, can serve as useful tools for helping individuals feel better about themselves, enjoy shared experiences with others, and adopt desirable health habits. However, with unproven efficacy, it would be wise to wait until the data are in before you and your therapist put on your aprons.