What we put in our mouths affects our state of mind. Rachel Kelly, author of The Happiness Diet, shares her tips for happy, healthy eating.
Talk therapy, medication and exercise have traditionally been the go-to recommendations for people struggling with anxiety or depression. But increasingly strong evidence suggests that food plays a huge role in mental health—from boosting energy and encouraging sleep to managing hormones and clearing the mind. In her new book, The Happiness Diet: Good Mood Food, writer Rachel Kelly shares the advice she gleaned from doctors, scientific studies, her nutritional therapist, Alice Macintosh, and her own experience using food to minimize anxiety and depression. The result is a cookbook and guide to eating with your mood in mind—because what you put in your mouth can help or harm the way you feel. Here are her tips for making a few quick changes.
1. Cut the CRAP. Decrease your intake of Carbonated drinks, Refined sugar, Artificial sweeteners or additives and Processed meals. These foods are low in nutritional value and cause spikes in blood sugar, which affect the adrenal glands and can trigger anxiety. "When I started avoiding these foods, I began to feel better in days," says Kelly. But if you really need a bit of a treat, try a small piece of 70 percent dark chocolate. It has antioxidants, which reduce environmental damage to the body, and calming magnesium.
2. Eat fermented foods. The gut produces neurotransmitters, including high percentages of the body's serotonin, dopamine, melatonin and oxytocin—brain chemicals that affect happiness levels and the ability to sleep. Promoting good gut bacteria is central to gut health and, because of the gut's links to the brain, may be integral to improving mood. Good bacteria also help our bodies to digest the nutrients in the food we eat. By filling your day with plenty of prebiotic foods like fermented vegetables and Jerusalem artichokes and probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, miso and kombucha, you can help healthy gut bacteria to flourish.
3. Add Omega-3s. "The absolutely fundamental, non-negotiable ingredients in my diet are Omega-3s," says Kelly. The brain-friendly fatty acids are found in walnuts, hemp seeds and oily fish like tuna, mackerel and herring and recent studies have shown that these particular healthy fats may improve the symptoms of adults with mild to moderate depression. One study even suggested that EPA and DHA (two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil supplements) can delay onset of depression in patients with inflammatory illnesses such as Hepatitis C, and EPA can even lower the risk of onset altogether.
4. Eat mindfully. This tip doesn't involve a specific type of food, but instead the way it's consumed. Kelly suggests taking the time to appreciate each bite you eat instead of mindlessly stuffing snacks in your mouth straight out of the fridge. "Once you create an attitude of being grateful for food and all the ways it nourishes you, then a lot of things follow," she says. You slow down to experience the colours and flavours and actually take time to chew. This mindful eating will get the digestive juices flowing so you can actually reap the benefits of the healthy meals you prepare. "Forty chews is thought to be about the right number for tough meats and vegetables," she says.
Want to learn more and discover some good mood recipes, too? Check out The Happiness Diet: Good Mood Food, $27, at indigo.ca.