Fats are your friends. There’s compelling evidence that omega3s can help with low mood. These are the ‘healthy’ fats found in oily fish like salmon and tuna, but also in walnuts and hempseed as well as green leafy vegetables. Omega3s nourish our brain which is made up of 60 per cent fat, and most of us don’t eat nearly enough of them.
Eat mostly plants. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate a large variety of whole, unrefined plants. Huge changes to the human diet over the past 200 years may have run ahead of our ability to adapt. There are plenty of studies showing that a plant based diet can help with heart disease and some cancer. Now there’s evidence it can help our psychological health too.
Use herbs and spices to make eating vegetables more palatable, in particular turmeric and saffron – though it’s expensive you only need a small amount of it to transform a dish. There are good nutritional studies showing that both can help to relive anxiety and low mood. Saffron in particular has been used for thousands of years: the ancient Greeks were big believers.
Eat for your gut, your ‘second brain.’ A nice calm digestive system in which lots of healthy bacteria are flourishing in your microbiome in turn can lead to feeling nice and calm too. A healthy system also can reduce levels of inflammation. One new theory of mental illness is that it flourishes when we suffer from inflammation. Plenty of dark green leafy vegetables are key for a happy gut, and don’t over do alcohol, fatty cuts of meat, gluten, burnt food and processed foods.
Watch your sugar levels. Of course from time to time we all need a treat. But sugar encourages less healthy bacteria to grow in your gut. It’s fuel for the pathogenic or ‘bad’ bacteria. Foods high in sugar – not just the granulated stuff but carbohydrates like white bread and pasta – make any damaged flora in our stomachs much worse.
There’s research too on sugar and emotion. Some studies comparing diets in the US, Canada and Japan suggested that those who ate less sugar had lower levels of depression
A lack of calming magnesium is thought to make depression worse. You can find it in brown rice, nuts, green vegetables and hooray! Dark chocolate.
Relax and enjoy. If you eat calmly, and mindfully, your digestive system will function more effectively, and you will absorb more of the nutrients in what you are eating.
Vary your diet. Most of us eat the same things over and over again. Adding new ingredients is mentally and physically beneficial.
Foods work better combined than in isolation, so be wary of the hype about so called ‘super foods’. Much of it is misleading. Adopt a Good Mood Food diet instead!
The Happy Kitchen: Good Food Mood by Rachel Kelly and Alice Mackintosh is published by Short Books, £14.99 paperback