Can cooking more make you healthier? It’s not that simple: the Cook & Health Conference explores the connection

Friday, September 27, 2019 - 12:53

The constant evolution of society motivates change on how people relate to food. If in the past, the focus was to understand the changes on what people eat, nowadays it is essential to understand the changes in how people are eating. The 3rd Cook and Health Conference proposes to address the interconnection of the what and the how with a psychosocial perspective.

This conference is organized under the coordination of Doctor Ana Isabel Costa, FCT Principal Research Associate at CATÓLICA-LISBON, co-organized by Doctor Cláudia Simão,  FCT Senior Research Associateat CATÓLICA-LISBON, both studying consumer behavior applied to food and cooking behavior. The organization counts also with the support of Doctor Xavier Allirot, Scientific Consultant in Nutrition and Eating Behaviors, and one of the founders of the Cook and Health Network in 2015. 

The 3rd Cook and Health Conference takes place on the 17-18th of October at CATÓLICA-LISBON. You can find out more information about the program, speakers and registration here

The organizing team of the 3rd Cook and Health Conference answered some questions considering the increasing need for a multidisciplinary approach when it comes to topics that share borders with several scientific fields. Thus, because of this focus on multidisciplinarity, the 3rd Cook and Health Conference is an excellent opportunity for starting or expanding collaborative networks and to expand knowledge concerning the impact of home cooking behaviors.

Cooking and health overlap in several domains. What attracted you to focus on this field in your research? 

During the last decades, involvement in food preparation and time spent cooking decreased in many western countries. At the same time, the prevalence of overweight and obesity increased both in children and adults. If the effects of the consumption of different food categories on weight gain have largely been studied, the impact of the involvement in food preparation is still not well understood.

When deepening the home cooking involvement, it becomes crucial to comprehend which are exactly the self-regulatory processes that motivate individuals to adopt and maintain healthier meal preparation and consumption habits. More than informing about dietary patterns (e.g., what people eat), this type of analysis taps into how people eat (motivational antecedents, socio-demographic and economic correlates, and effects on diet quality and health status). Uncovering such patterns will be extremely useful to promote positive change applied to healthy or sustainable eating behaviors.

The promotion of social eating, of mindful eating and of cooking involvement should be a priority for future nutritional guidelines.

Why should people be interested in this scientific area of knowledge?

Worldwide, overweight and obesity grew from 857 million in 1980 to 1.9 billion in 2016. In Portugal alone, over half of adults and a third of teenaged children are currently overweight, with women, the elderly, the poorer and the less educated being at high risk of obesity. To address this global epidemic, EU public health policy is shifting focus from what people eat to how they eat it. 

Sound policy design and implementation in this area are crucially dependent on the availability and reliability of information on contextualized food consumption behavior. Yet, there is a dearth of accurate, comprehensive, systematic and up-to-date information about at- and away-from-home meal consumption. Investment in this area of knowledge is crucial and it will increase the probability of promoting a more accurate consumer-oriented framework concerning healthy meal consumption patterns with specific societal implications.

Many strategies are being developed for obesity prevention in children and in adulthood. The majority of those strategies are based on guiding people towards what they should eat for good health. As quantitative nutritional recommendations are quite difficult to follow for most people, we should prioritize qualitative recommendations, easier to understand and to follow. In this way, the promotion of social eating, of mindful eating and cooking involvement should be a priority for future nutritional guidelines.

What is special about the Cook & Health Conference compared to others on similar topics?

The Cook & Health conference is a unique congress in the food and nutrition area focusing on such a specific topic. Scientific congresses in Nutrition often deal with a big number of topics, or, when they are more specific, they focus on a unique pathology (such as obesity) or a specific population (such as children). The Cook & Health conference is a unique opportunity to meet the best experts in this area, coming from a wide range of countries and various disciplines. Among the questions that will be discussed, we can highlight the following:

  • Definition of cooking / cooking skills
  • Trends in cooking
  • Cooking skills transition
  • How effective are cooking skills interventions in changing behaviours?
  • Cooking policies
  • Experimental research in cooking interventions
  • The role of cooking in the meal preparation process
  • Cooking methods and effects on nutritional properties / human health

What do you personally expect from this conference?

By gathering the top-tier Researchers and Professors from all over the globe, we personally expect to learn about the latest research and public health interventions on the topic of home cooking and its consequences for health-related issues. The multidisciplinary environment of the 3rd Cook and Health Conference will provide an excellent opportunity for students and junior researchers to expand their collaborative networks and to gain new knowledge from the different disciplinary approaches when it comes to understand and explore the impact of home cooking behaviors. Ultimately, this professional meeting aims to raise awareness of both public audience and the academic sector about how to develop more and better health literacy policies in Portugal.

Culinary therapy is being currently used as a part of the treatment for a variety of mental and behavioral health conditions, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD and addiction.

What aspect would you highlight from recent discoveries in the bonds between cooking and health that surprised you?

One of the most interesting effects of cooking involvement can be seen in children. Recent studies demonstrated that involving children in one or in various steps of food preparation, such as choosing a recipe, purchasing food or cooking, can have beneficial effects on eating behaviors. Important behavioral aspects of eating such as food choices, food neophobia or eating enjoyment are enhanced when cooking involvement increases. This result is important because it suggests that a simple strategy, such as involving children in meal preparation, may have beneficial health effects in the long run.

Another interesting aspect is that over the years, many cooking interventions have shown that healthy eating can be easily promoted with simple techniques (such as online culinary classes or handouts). A recently published meta-analysis of field experiments, conducted by Cadario and Chandon, surprisingly showed a slightly contradictory effect by suggesting that interventions are actually more effective at reducing unhealthy eating than increasing healthy eating or reducing total eating.

As a third interesting finding we would like to highlight the link between cooking and mental health. Culinary therapy is being currently used as a part of the treatment for a variety of mental and behavioral health conditions, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD and addiction. The process of cooking is believed to nourish psychological well-being, to inspire creative expressions, or to increase communication and cooperation within partners. Finally, initiatives like the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative - a network of thought leading organizations using teaching kitchen facilities as catalysts of enhanced personal and public health across medical, corporate, school and community settings -, are being launched worldwide to explore the potential of home cooking in both preventive and curative health care services.

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