The pace of life has changed dramatically over the years and the increase of mental health conditions has skyrocketed. Research shows that on average it can take a sufferer 10 years to admit to a problem. This can mean that what can start as a fairly low level issue can become more serious and require much greater intervention.
By understanding more about the power of food as medicine, it may be possible to take greater responsibility for our own mental health. By understanding the impact of what we eat on the body and mind can be hugely enlightening and help people navigate their route to recovery and happiness. Rachel Kelly and Alice Mackintosh have recently co-authored ‘the happy kitchen’, a book about the links between food and mood, which provides scientifically proven advice and equips every individual.
Rachel Kelly began her career as a journalist on The Times and during this time experienced two episodes of depression. She has written several books sharing her story of recovery including the best selling book, ‘Black Rainbow’. During Rachel’s last depressive episode in 2004 she was keen to find ways to stay calm and began to research lifestyle interventions. Her GP also recommended she could focus on foods that may help her feel happier and this was how she met Alice a degree qualified nutritional therapist. Working together to help Rachel they found ways that would help her to stay calm, feel well and happy and this work has now culminated in ‘the happy kitchen’.
When changing her diet Rachel noticed changes in her mood straight away, especially when removing sugar. Taking out sugar reduced her mood swings and anxiety. She also found that by introducing mindfulness into her cooking and eating it encouraged her to slow down, stay calm, chew slowly and remain more focused in the kitchen.
- Focus on plant based foods, which are great for mental health. Increase your daily intake and variety of vegetables and include spices & herbs such as turmeric and saffron, which may improve low mood & anxiety.
- Balance sugar levels by not reaching for those quick fixes. Substitute sugar/sweet foods with other options and replace high sugar fruits such as bananas, pineapples and mangoes with lower levelled ones such as berries and apples.
- Don’t be scared of fats! The dry weight of our brain is 70% fat. The book explains which fats and foods are beneficial for us and how to cook them to get the best out of them.
- Eat to support your digestive system. Digestion and mood are intrinsically linked with our digestive system even being called our second brain. People with anxiety, depression or stress often suffer from IBS and changes to our digestive system can have a massive effect on how we feel mentally.
- Eat more nuts. They are so nutritious and easy to add to any meal/snack.
- Relax, enjoy and celebrate life.
Alice and Rachel both advocate eating a range of foods across all food groups, so it’s not an approach that’s about denying yourself or restrictive eating. By following ‘the happy kitchen’, 90% of the time individuals should feel improved mood, energy, better sleep and improved digestive health. The book also includes treats but they are just that, treats to have occasionally.
Along with delicious recipes and meal planners the book also contains a toolkit of Fab Mood Foods as well as ‘Nutrition Notes’ scattered throughout the text in which Alice explains the biology and chemistry of nutrition. The book is also divided into a wide range of chapters for a more personalised approach. Chapters include Balanced Energy, Beating the Blues, Hormonal Peace and Mental Clarity. In Beating the Blues Rachel and Alice emphasise the importance of healthy fats especially omega-3 fats, which can boost mood. Omega 3 fats can be found in oily fish, flax, hemp, seeds and walnuts. These fats help to build brain structure and neurons. They also help to make the chemicals messengers in the brain, which make communication quicker. It’s also valuable reducing omega-6 fats, which can increase inflammation and also affect mood. Foods rich in omega-6 fats include processed/junk food and plant based oils.
Alice and Rachel also reflect on the famous Hippocrates quote, ‘All disease begins in the gut’. They explain that our digestive system can become inflamed and not work properly, which will impact on our mood. There is a nerve from our brain down to our digestive system connecting the two which is how they communicate so an unhappy gut = an unhappy brain. Signs that your digestion system isn’t working optimally include a feeling of a tight knot in stomach, feeling sick with nerves, bloated, pain, feeling full, reflux, changes in bowel movement and burping a lot.
Hormones can also play a huge part in influencing moods. Fluctuations in oestrogen levels can lead to changes in mood and anxiety so it’s vital for woman to try to manage their stress levels. Focusing on keeping hydrated, eating magnesium rich foods and iodine can be beneficial as this supports the liver detoxification pathways. This can be particularly helpful for teenagers, menopausal women and pregnant women.
Rachel and Alice advocate plenty of fab mood foods in your diet such as fish, nuts, seeds, wholegrains such as oats and quinoa, spices, eggs, avocado, a variety of seasonal vegetables and some fermented foods such as olives or sauerkraut. Most importantly the message of ‘the happy kitchen’ is simply experiment with your food and enjoy.
To listen to this interview in full visit The Food Teacher on UK Health Radio
Please do take a look at Recipes to find 2 fantastic guest recipes from Alice and Rachel.
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If you’d like additional support around mental health nutrition please do consider a consultation with Alice Mackintosh or myself, The Food Teacher. Please contact The Food Teacher Clinic for a free telephone chat.