Back-to-basics cooking courses can significantly improve our diets, according to a study.
The University of Leeds researchers found that men and women who attended one of the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s eight-week Ministry of Food courses showed significant improvements in their eating habits.
The participants greatly increased their intake of fruit and vegetables, halved the amount of snacks they ate and became much more confident about their cooking skills, the nutritionists found.
“These positive changes emerged immediately following the course and had increased further by six months after the course,” said researcher Janet Cade, adding: “This suggests that the MoF programme may encourage short-term changes in dietary behaviour which can be maintained and improve over longer periods of time.”
Cade noted, “When we analysed the results by sex we found that men – who previous studies have shown tend to have less confidence in cooking than women – actually reported a greater growth in confidence than the women who took part.”
For the study, the researchers surveyed almost 800 people who took part in MoF courses held in Leeds, West Yorkshire, between 2010 and 2014.
They found that the number of fruit and vegetable portions eaten by the participants increased from 2.7 before the programme to 3.4 immediately afterwards.
When 500 of the participants were surveyed six months later, the average number of fruit and vegetable portions eaten daily had increased even further, to 4.1.
The amount of snacks eaten per day dropped from two before the course to 1.7 immediately afterwards. Six months later this had dropped to 1.1.
The participants also reported significant gains in their levels of cooking confidence, rising from a score of 2.7 on the scale (where 0 was marked as not at all confident and 5 very confident) before the course, to 4.1 immediately afterwards and 4.4 six months later.
Oliver said: “Ministry of Food, for me, has always been about empowering people and giving them the knowledge and the confidence to feed themselves and their families better. The beauty of it is that it’s all about local people helping other local people to create delicious, fresh, nutritious food that doesn’t cost a fortune.”
“This important study shows that teaching people to cook really works and really does make a huge difference. If only more towns and cities had Ministry of Food Centres,” he added.
The study is published in the Public Health Nutrition journal.