So what is Culinary Therapy..?
Culinary therapy is about using the process of food preparation to feed both the mind and soul.. feeling the textures, seeing the colours and smelling the aromas of food helps to stimulate our appetite and act as an aid to digestion.
The digestive process consists of three phases (cephalic, gastric and intestinal) and it is in the cephalic phase that the thought or smell of food kickstarts the digestive process, releasing gastric juices in preparation for food entering the stomach. Being aware of the power of our senses can make the difference between digestion and indigestion...
Studies from the University of Alberta suggest that cooking has therapeutic benefits which include physical, cognitive, social and interpersonal. Physically it requires good dexterity and co-ordination, while socially the art of preparing and sharing food benefits the immune and digestive process (See previous blog on the benefits of Social Eating: Earning your Christmas halo). Cooking has also been proven to lower stress, improve sensory awareness and in Alzheimer's patients has helped to reduce aggression, depression and frustration associated with the disease. **
Making dishes from scratch means we benefit from knowing what's inside, can alter the flavours to suit our preferences, and for those of us who need to be aware of certain ingredients, its empowering to decide for yourself what goes onto your plate.
How to get therapy without going into overtime...
1. Be prepared! Set aside some time over the weekend to cook a dish you really enjoy. Shop for the fresh ingredients and take your time to rhythmically chop, grate or peel your food, smelling and tasting as you go. (eating can be educational...)
2. Keep your cool - Make extra portions which you can freeze.. which means you'll enjoy the benefits of healthy food when you're stressed and need something quick and healthy!
3. Develop your senses... Learn to use herbs or spices you've never cooked with before... Take inspiration from a cuisine which you already enjoy and make it your own. It's a form of exotic exploration.
4. Make stir fries your new best friend. Add Chilli, Ginger, Pak Choi and fresh lime juice to your stir fry mix. The smells and intense flavours will stimulate the senses and will take less time than warming a microwave meal.
(** add mushrooms, broccoli, red cabbage and onion for added colour and texture).
5. Use shortcuts. Tinned tomatoes, chickpeas, frozen veg or stock are ready to use, have loads of flavour and can add nutritional value without taking extra time.
Read more about the benefits of Therapeutic cooking:
** Woods, B et al, 2012; Cognitive stimulation to improve cognitive functionhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22336813