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The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food. Tuesday January 24, 2017

January can be the cruellest month, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot. Many of us embark on diets, only to feel failures when we ditch them a few weeks later. Food is something to be feared.

I've been there and done that. For the last few years, however, I've embraced a different attitude to food. It can be my friend – and one that boosts my mood as well as a chat with a supportive friend or the comfort I derive from reading a Moodscope blog.

For the past four years I've been working with the nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh to let food be my medicine, developing recipes to tackle the symptoms of my own low mood and anxiety. The good news is that relatively simple changes to your diet can heal not just your body but your mind too. It's time to wind back the harms of too much medicine and prescribe a little more food.

It's a topic I've been interested ever since my GP introduced me to the concept of 'Happy foods' when I went to see her for a routine chat about managing my anxiety. Alongside recommending some tenets of cognitive behavioural therapy, which helps us rethink habitual negative interpretations of the world, and mentioning mindfulness, she listed three 'Happy Foods': dark green leafy vegetables, oily fish, and yippee – dark chocolate.

Nutrition is now a key implement in my own mental health toolbox, alongside the aforementioned mindfulness, taking regular exercise and the healing power of poetry which has helped me find a gentler narrative in my head. What I like about a nutritional approach to mental health is that there's plenty of research suggesting what we eat really does affect how we feel.

Alice and I built up a range of delicious recipes which reflect more than 140 scientific studies: Alice has a degree in nutritional therapy and biomedical science. The 70 recipes in our book The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food are designed to boost energy, relieve low mood, comfort a troubled mind, support hormone balance and help you sleep soundly – in other words, to tackle all the symptoms that can affect me.

Good psychiatrists are already stressing the importance of 'lifestyle' interventions for those who suffer depression. I would never say diet alone is the answer, and it shouldn't be a substitution for either medication or other strategies. Antidepressants can be a crucial recourse for those suffering from mood disorders as they were for me for many years. But ideally our use of them should be short term, as they can have adverse side-effects including, ironically, feeling suicidal and weight gain.

Over the last few years, I've tried to find other approaches to staying calm and well. Changing my diet has been a lovely new arrow in my quiver. I hope it might be one in yours too.

A Moodscope member

The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food is available on Amazon:

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment below.

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Derek Tue, Jan 24th 2017 @ 5:58am

A couple of more resources for diet-mood connections

Pablo Tue, Jan 24th 2017 @ 7:03am

Good blog Rachel. Agreed Derek, the book by Julia Ross, 'The mood cure' is an excellent book.

Mary Wednesday Tue, Jan 24th 2017 @ 7:13am

I have just one-clicked and look forward to happy cooking. I am all for anything that helps! The only issue which I see is that when I am actually *in* a depression I cannot bring myself to eat healthily. My taste buds actively reject oily fish and leafy greens and I just want - yes, you know because I've blogged about it - toast. But.... if eating this way can help one not to go down into the mire in the first place, then, yes, count me in!Thank you, Rachel.

Mary Wednesday Tue, Jan 24th 2017 @ 7:14am

Oh, Derek, I'll look up that Ted talk

Eva Tue, Jan 24th 2017 @ 8:10am

I believe wholeheartedly in good nutrition for a good mood, thanks so much for doing all the research and putting this together and making it easier to find options. Looking forward to some cooking!

LP Tue, Jan 24th 2017 @ 8:33am

Hi Rachel. I love the concept of happy food, so will have a look into it. From a different angle, I've noticed that when I'm in a good place, I love cooking and when I havent been feeling good, I've barely managed to scrape something together. It's refreshing to look at food not just as physically good for you but getting away from the guily and focussing on happiness. Thanks Rachel. Happy munching everyone! :) LP xx

Orangeblossom Tue, Jan 24th 2017 @ 8:35am

Thanks for the wonderful new perspective Rachel.Generally I don't enjoy eating leafy green vegetables or oily fish but I do make myself eat it. My daughter is a great advocate of leafy green vegetables and to a lesser extent, oily fish.

Maria Tue, Jan 24th 2017 @ 4:07pm

Hi Orangeblossom. A good way to eat more leafy green vegetables is to make smoothies. I regularly blend kale and/or spinach, bananas and berries together for a delicious concoction. You can vary the ingredients to suit your personal tastes.

Lex Tue, Jan 24th 2017 @ 8:56am

I remember working on a mantra with someone I was coaching, "Fruit is my friend!" It still makes me smile...

Jul Tue, Jan 24th 2017 @ 8:57am

Well done Rachel for writing this blog (and the book) which is advocating eating sensibly and certain foods to lift our mood. I don't like cooking one bit but do eat healthily most of the time. Sometimes like Mary I just like toast and I particularly like McVities digestive biscuits with butter, Marmite and cheshire cheese. You present a very balanced picture of what helps lift moods and thankfully it's not just cooking delicious nutritional recipes. But for those who love cooking, your book looks good! Julxx

Jane Tue, Jan 24th 2017 @ 10:11pm

Jul, I now want to climb out of bed to fetch digestives, marmite and cheese......! X

Jul Wed, Jan 25th 2017 @ 8:48am

Ha ha! Go for it Jane. It's nice you like Marmite too! Julxx

Adrien Tue, Jan 24th 2017 @ 9:34am

Thank you Rachel. I don't know what to say, except that I have found resources on nutrition and chronic disease that totally underline the point of your blog. Potatoes not Prozac is why I have (or try to have) a sweet potato and some green veg as my last meal of the day - to help me sleep as I understand it naturally boosting Serotonin. Very comforting with butter and pepper. Anti-cancer written by a doctor who got two bouts of brain cancer in 2 years in his 30s. He then used nutrition and his powers as a doctor to research nutrition to minimise chance of a third bout - and is still good 17 years later underlines your point that for chronic conditions we have to "treat the terrain" in which our chronic conditions develop. Treating the terrain is what Moodscope and your blog is all about. So merci encore une fois. Merci bien. Adrien.

Frank by the Quayside Tue, Jan 24th 2017 @ 10:22am

Thanks Rachel for posting this and two years ago I was diagnosed with Hiatus Hernia and a couple of stomach ulcers. After dramatic diet change and Omeprazoles I have got rid of the ulcers but the hernia remains in place but under control. I love the focus on food and will look into this more as I am finding new ways to eat and still enjoy. Not having the things I loved before is not so much a problem anymore and creating new ways to cook Curly Kale is fun. Try Kale with Chestnut Mushrooms and soy sauce. Yummy.

Wyvern Tue, Jan 24th 2017 @ 10:26am

I've a friend who some years ago proposed the notion of 'becoming addicted to foods that are good for me'.
Some yummy things for me include almonds, raspberries, pears, yoghourt. I can even eat them all together!

The Gardener Tue, Jan 24th 2017 @ 12:13pm

Mary, I agree with you about the acute problem of eating well if depressed - if it goes on too long then you have the self-punishment of wishing you hadn't, and the extreme discipline of dealing with the results. I agree with the nutrition advice on 'good eating' above. On 'happy foods' I can only say that last week, when I felt down and out, no appetite, jacket potatoes were my salvation. For a 'feel good factor' when catering for a major dinner party it is always a huge range of crudites, many colours and tastes. This has proved good 'training' for fussy youngsters - who regard the whole lot with extreme suspicion (it might be good for you!) and then tentatively try something new. The adults fall on it - yet never served in restaurants here - think wastage is the problem. I have rebelled against 'puds' (move over, Mary Berry) since being stuffed with stodge and custard in the UK. Here, you get issued with a huge wedge of tart - usually very good, but you don't want it. I do the same as first course - huge, beautiful plates - small individual fruits in season, delicate biscuits, chocs for the addicts, perhaps some small delicate tarts, 'fairy' cakes of my own. It is super, socially. People sit around the table (young included) some drink a lot more, but they just 'pick' and the conversation seems to flow more (or, perhaps, I have had another restorative in the kitchen). For me, happy food has to BE good, and LOOK good.

Jane Tue, Jan 24th 2017 @ 10:16pm

Thanks Rachel. I struggle with things I know I should eat more of, like fruit. Trying small pieces each day. Shame that the foods that really make me feel good are probably 'naughty.' I try to keep everything in moderation!

Lacey Wed, Jan 25th 2017 @ 9:16pm

Hi Rachel
I've checked out the book and will be carrying on with my own answers to eating to be happy.Thanks for your thoughts though and I'm glad it's working for you.
Even when I'm on a downer I eat very well although I don't tend to cook. As we all know our love of usual pastimes goes out of the window. Now I'm back in control food has taken on a new meaning!
I was at a retreat in Norfolk last weekend and all the food was vegan and really tasty it all was,mmm. I have just got a Nutribullet in an effort to make veg/fruity smoothies and next Monday I start a countdown to giving up sugar with the aid of Viridian complex
Still going to have my two squares of 80% plain chocolate though.
A little of what you fancy does you good I believe!!
Take care;one day I WILL write a blog instead of just talking about it.....
Have a virus now so beditating,it's so cosy just me and Lacey,my Dachshund!!!

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