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Three Key Happy Foods: Rachel Kelly on eating for better mental health
Added: 13th Jan 2017

SANE ambassador Rachel Kelly has just launched her new book The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food, a collection of recipes and insights into how to eat for better mental health, created in collaboration with nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh. Here she shares some of her thoughts on the science behind food and mental health.

Three Key Happy Foods by Rachel Kelly

Nearly a decade ago, I began to notice how much food affected my mood. I started noting which foods made me feel calm, which helped me sleep, and which cheered me up. Some ideas were thanks to my GP. At a routine check up to see how I was dealing with my anxiety, she told me there was compelling evidence about the links between mood and food. She wrote down a list of three top ‘happy foods’: green leafy vegetables, dark chocolate and oily fish.

I wanted to know more, so I got in touch with the nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh. For the last five years we’ve worked together. The result of our conversations is “The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food”, which synthesises more than 150 pieces of research about how what we can eat can make us happy. Here are my top three Good Mood Foods.

1. Green leafy vegetables – Kale, spinach and broccoli are great sources of vitamins and minerals especially magnesium, and important for a well-functioning gut as they are rich in fibre. A calm gut has been linked to a calm mind.

Magnesium is involved in the normal function of our delicate nervous system and its deficiency has been linked to irritability, nervousness and depression.

These vibrant greens also provide folate, a B vitamin that supports normal function of the liver, a hub of hormone activity. Ever so versatile, green leafy vegetables don’t have to be a side dish. I’ve learnt to make them delicious.

2. Dark chocolate – Raw cacao powder has some antioxidant properties, contains magnesium for calm, and iron which is essential for normal function of our red blood cells. It is comforting to know that I can enjoy a square, as long as I ensure I get a good quality chocolate, the higher the cocoa solids percentage, the lower the added sugar the better. Great paired with almonds for extra magnesium and a quick pick-me-up, but to be eaten in moderation!

3. Oily fish – A fantastic source of omega-3s, those essential fats that our body can’t make on their own. There is such a variety of oily fish we can explore to boost our happiness: anchovies, mackerel, salmon, sardines and tuna are a few that I like to have up to four times a week. Stuffed with protein and good fat, oily fish are a wonderful way to make you feel great. I like to think of food as a way to nourish every part of my body, including my brain, which is such a hungry powerhouse. There are a number of studies that show that a diet rich in omega-3s is effective in reducing anxiety and depression. It works for me, and I hope will work for you.

Rachel Kelly's book The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food is published by Short Books this January 2017. You can buy it from Amazon here

Rachel has very generously donated 20 copies of her inspirational book to SANE, which we will be giving away every weekday for the next two weeks. Check our Twitter page regulalrly to find out how you can win a free copy. For more on Rachel and her work as a mental health campaigner, visit her website here or follow Rachel @RachelKellyNet.

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