Friday, 30 August 2013

Food Therapy: Bake Yourself Happy

Baking, formerly the preserve of the traditional domestic housewife, is currently enjoying a revival. Polka-dotted cupcake cases, retro cakes and striped aprons are everywhere in the craze for cake-making, and the fad is showing no signs of slowing down yet. The popularity of programs like the Great British Bake Off is a testament to the kitchen-craze sweeping the nation. However, did you know there are also myriad health benefits associated with this sweet past time?

Heading to the kitchen to whip up some scones or muffins is one way in which you can take control of your own well-being, without simply waiting for disaster to strike first. Baking’s proven mood benefits mean that investing in essential equipment like a whisk, scales, rolling pin and mixing bowl should be top of your list of things to do. Let’s start with the actual physical satisfaction of eating something you’ve made yourself- it’s warm and delicious to munch straight from the oven, though be careful not burn yourself!

Also, humans generally really like eating sugary carbohydrate-based foods - which of course must be limited to occasional treats – because they release a rush of endorphins into the bloodstream. You don’t even need to eat the cakes to feel the benefits. Next time you feel a bit down, take a walk past the local bakery and just try not to feel instantly better when those delicious smells waft over you.

Physical activity is a proven stress-reliever – remember how people always tell you to go for a walk, or do some exercise when things are getting a bit much? The repetitive physical actions of baking, the concentration required for accurate measurement and strength needed to mix the batter properly all contribute to the same effect.

Cookies, cupcakes, roulade and brownies – there seems no end of the number of things you can whip up from the recipe books using flour and eggs as your staple ingredients. Creativity is well-known to contribute to overall well-being and baking offers this possibility in abundance – through careful adherence to the recipes combined with the possibilities of food colouring, icing and other decorations you can end up with some fantastic results. Butterflies, houses, cats, stars – anything!

One way to make sure you only eat baked goods in moderation is sharing your results with family and friends. They’ll be overjoyed when you tell them you’ve been getting busy with the mixing bowl, and you’ll feel good that you managed to make other people happy, providing an instant mood-booster.

Finally, having a tangible sense of achievement also provides a feeling of happiness. So much of our days are spent in front of computers, on the phone or texting that we often don’t see the fruits of our labours. Baking is different – for a while, anyway, before the “tangible results” have been devoured! Feeling proud of your achievements is another natural way to release those endorphins and help you feel connected to the world. When people compliment you on how tasty your baking is, you’ll find your warm glow of pride increases even more.

The Mini Cooking Club promotes educational nutrition and cooking classes to improve the overall health of society, and we run our own Baking Club for kids at Lansdowne Youth Centre in Stockwell. Email Enterprise Un-Ltd (who we work in partnership with to provide this free after-school club) to book your child’s place now.

So, next time you feel down, instead of giving in to stress or turning to unproductive activities, try baking a batch of delicious chocolate muffins and handing them out to friends, and see if you don’t feel better. You can take a look at this website for some healthy baking ideas to get you started, but once you’ve mastered the basics, the baking world is your oyster!

By Catherine Heath

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