The Nuance

Cooking Is the Ultimate Antidote

Research suggests preparing your own meals is a habit that can lead to meaningful mind and body benefits

Markham Heid
Elemental
Published in
5 min readNov 21, 2019

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Credit: Pastry and Food Photography/Getty Images

InIn his 2013 bestseller Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Moss describes a concept food scientists refer to as the “bliss point.” The bliss point is the concentration or ratio of pleasurable flavors that produces optimal levels of eater enjoyment and, ultimately, craving.

Salty, sugary, fatty flavors are ones the human brain is genetically hardwired to like most, and the ones that tend to induce a state of gotta-have-more bliss. In nature, the presence of these flavors usually indicates that a food is nutritious and safe to eat. But in nature, foods that contain an abundance of these flavors are either scarce or possess other qualities that put the brakes on overconsumption. The same is not true when it comes to the packaged or prepared foods that fill the shelves and menus of today’s food retailers.

Research from the National Institutes of Health has found that, when a person eats something sweet or salty or fatty, this experience triggers many of the same reward systems and corresponding neurochemical swings that are set off by opioids and other highly addictive substances. And food scientists have learned that, by combining these tastes, they can maximize a product’s reward-center-stoking yuminess. Whether it’s a jar of pasta sauce from the supermarket or a burrito bowl from a “fast-casual” restaurant, a lot of today’s ready-to-eat foods are engineered to keep people coming back for more.

The consequences for the average American’s health have been catastrophic. “I think people have a general understanding that these foods are not designed with health in mind, but they do more damage than that; they’re confusing our fundamental biology,” says Kristi Artz, MD, a lifestyle medicine specialist at Michigan’s Spectrum Health.

The antidote to this confusion, Artz says, is to eat more home-cooked foods made from unprocessed ingredients.

AArtz helps run Spectrum Health’s culinary medicine program, which she says combines “the art of cooking with the science of medicine.” The…

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Markham Heid
Elemental

I’m a frequent contributor at TIME, the New York Times, and other media orgs. I write mostly about health and science. I like long walks and the Grateful Dead.