Can cooking actually help your mental wellbeing?

By now, chances are you have heard about the impact nutrition can have on your mental wellbeing. If you’re not too sure why that is, quick overview is:

  • Our gut is directly linked to our brain through the vagus nerve and we now know that this allows communication in BOTH DIRECTIONS!
  • Our gut microbiome sends messages to our brain about what is going on down there and can impact the release of certain hormones and trigger our stress response (1)
  • Around 90% of serotonin (our happy hormones) are created in the gut
  • The foods we eat can impact our gut bacteria and can determine whether it is mostly the good guys/ bad guys that rule the roost.

So yes, what we eat and ultimately our gut health and nutrient intake can really affect how we’re feeling (2). Generally, the foods that we want to make up the majority of our diet are foods that we prepare ourselves so we know exactly what goes into them. Cooking from ‘fresh’ can be an amazing habit that can really support our overall health and happiness.

Cooking as a new form of therapy!

The most obvious link between cooking meals from fresh is that we can avoid additives, hidden sugars and preservatives that might impact the overall health of our gut. The less obvious link is the actual process of cooking can actually contribute to mental wellbeing on it’s own.

Now culinary therapy is the treatment that is growing in a number of mental health clinics and is being used as part of a treatment for a wide range of mental and behavioural health conditions, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD and addiction.

Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

The recipe for mental wellbeing

  1. A spoonful of mindfulness

Especially when following new recipes, cooking can be an opportunity to be totally present within the process. Whether it is chopping vegetables, measuring out ingredients or even just making sure your timings are on point, the process of cooking can actually be classed as a form of mindfulness if you allow your mind to be focussed on the activity before you.

The calming and mind clearing effects of mindfulness can be further increased if you use the opportunity to really use all of your senses to improve the cooking experience. This could be through doing things like noticing the vibrant colours of the vegetables that you are cooking, recognising the different smells as you heat the food, hearing the sizzling as the ingredients begin to warm over the hob or even noticing the texture of the flour and butter as your rub them together in the cake baking process.

The benefits of mindfulness don’t just need to be limited to structured meditations, you can fit them into your daily routine and cooking is a perfect place to start!

  • A sprinkle of creativity

Cooking doesn’t always need to be following a recipe perfectly. Sometimes the best kind of creations come from straying away from structure and using your own taste preferences to create something unique and perfect for you. This way of cooking can also mean that rather than buying a basket full of new ingredients, you are able to use things that you have already tried and tested and know you enjoy.

Finally, doing things your own way when cooking can be great for your self-esteem when you do create something super tasty!

  • A dash of appreciation

Is it just me of is the process of cooking things from scratch really make you appreciate the final product more? I feel that by investing that little extra time in preparation means you are much more likely to take your time and be mindful about the flavours that you have put together. This habit of ‘mindful eating’ can have huge benefits of wellbeing like reducing the chances of over-eating and even making sure your enjoyment of the food is maximised.

  • A handful of socialising

Like many things, the experience of cooking can be much more pleasurable when it’s shared with others. It could be that you get the kids to help with the process or even get your partner involved to create an opportunity for you to work together and communicate effectively. The process of helping with the cooking can help to encourage more exploration from fussy eaters and add to the appreciation of what effort goes into the meals.

For added bonus points, try to encourage meals to be eaten together at a table without distractions from things like the TV. This environment can encourage better communication between families, more mindful eating techniques and has even been associated with families eating more fruit and vegetables! (3).

So whether you are a seasoned ‘chef’ an experimental cake baker or even just trying to cook more foods from scratch, you might just be serving up some extra portions of health benefits too!

For more ideas on recipes to cook to maximise your wellbeing, I am now offering personalised recipe books on some of my nutrition programmes. Check out the link for more information and how I can help inspire your future meals!


Tetel, M J et al. (2018) “Steroids, stress and the gut microbiome-brain axis.” Journal of neuroendocrinology vol. 30,2 (2018): 10.1111/jne.12548. doi:10.1111/jne.12548

Jacka, F., O’Neil, A., Opie, R., Itsiopoulos, C., Cotton, S., Mohebbi, M., Castle, D., Dash, S., Mihalopoulos, C., Chatterton, M., Brazionis, L., Dean, O., Hodge, A. and Berk, M. (2018). Correction to: A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Medicine, 16(1).

Shira et al., (2007) Associations between Watching TV during Family Meals and Dietary Intake Among Adolescents. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 39, Issue 5, 257 – 263