Sometimes we just feel a bit meh and need something, anything, to help boost our mood. You know when you’re not unwell but you just don’t feel like your usual happy, vibrant you? It’s often no coincidence that we can feel pretty low when work or our social life has gone into overdrive; it’s hard to keep going at 100% in this always-on environment we live in. It’s also hard to keep any semblance of a healthy diet on track—stress eating is real, people! Which got us thinking… If we could keep our diets on track, or at least eat the right mood-boosting foods when we’re feeling stressed, that could be half the battle, right?
That’s why we called on nutritionist Alice Mackintosh, since she has co-written new book The Happy Kitchen (£11) with author Rachel Kelly. Mackintosh started training to be a medical doctor but soon realised that food impacts health in such a vital way that she decided to train for a degree in nutritional therapy instead. We called on Mackintosh to reveal six mood-boosting foods below and why she swears by them. Keep scrolling to find out why you should too.
Seaweed for Thyroid
Seaweed is a great addition to your diet, as it’s rich in iodine, iron and many other essential nutrients that the brain loves such as B vitamins, folic acid and magnesium. Many of these nutrients are required for our hormone health, with iodine in particular being indispensable for thyroid function, which can impact on mood, female hormones and energy.
Though we don’t know exactly how prolific deficiency is, many of the clients I test are low in iodine, especially those that cut out dairy. I encourage these people to sprinkle it onto salads, soups and casseroles (many supermarkets sell seaweed sprinkle) or buy Itsu seaweed snacks. Seaweed spaghetti is also great added into soup or stir-fry, and levels should boost quite quickly if you eat it two to three times per week.
Hempseed for Good Mood
We always hear about salmon and other oily fish being important for the brain, and they really are, but you can also get omega-3 fats from nuts and seeds.
Hempseeds are an especially good source, as are flaxseeds and walnuts. I have many vegan and fish-free clients who prefer to use these instead, however, I do also ensure they eat plenty of foods containing zinc, magnesium and B vitamins since these help us process the omega-3 fats better and make use of them.
Hempseeds contain almost all of these, making them a real brain superfood, but don’t overheat them, as the omega-3s can be destroyed. You’re better off sprinkling onto salads and breakfasts, or whizzing them up with papaya, avocado and almond milk like we do in our Happy Smoothie.
Saffron for Anxiety
Taken from crocus stigma, saffron is a spice with a history as rich as its flavour and colour. Some saffron can cost more per gram than gold, but the good news is that you may not need much of this incredible spice to help support the mind. Some research has even found saffron has similar effects to Prozac for those suffering with anxiety, though more research is always needed to confirm exactly what role it might play.
Cooking with it is great, but seeing as it’s so expensive, it’s good to know that even the scent of this spice can be calming for the mind! To get the very most from its smell and flavour, we combine it in our Uplifting Spiced Saffron Tea, alongside turmeric and cinnamon, two other good mood foods, which we find boosts our mood instantaneously!
Sauerkraut for Stress
We are learning more and more about the links between the digestive system and the brain, so much so that this is now being referred to as our second brain. Good bacteria is key for healthy digestion, and some research has even shown boosting its levels in the large intestine may support our mood, reduce anxiety and even reduce cortisol levels (our stress hormone).
Sauerkraut and kimchi are a great way to boost good-bacteria levels, and though the flavour takes some getting used to, combined into salads with yoghurt-based dressings, it’s a wonderful way to nourish the digestive system. It can take around one to two months to really start colonising the gut with good gut flora, so be patient if you don’t notice results quickly. Also, beware that those with IBS may struggle with these types of foods and should speak to a nutritionist first about a more personalised approach.
Prawns for Concentration and Memory
There are a few reasons why prawns might help improve our memory and focus: First, they contain zinc, which might explain research showing elderly people who ate seafood with regularity seem to have better memory.
Another lesser-known benefit may be due to the presence of a powerful antioxidant called astaxanthan. This is responsible for the pink colour of seafood such as salmon, prawns, trout and brown crabmeat, which seems to help improve memory by supporting and protecting delicate brain structures. Try to eat good quality salmon three times per week, and go for prawns a further two times per week in your stir-fries, curries or salads.
Edamame for Concentration
Soybeans are a fantastic source of goodness, especially for vegans who often miss out on protein and other brain-supporting nutrients found in meat and fish. Edamame (which you can buy shelled in the frozen food aisle, to be easily added to salads, snacks and dips) is a particularly good source of choline, which helps to form a protective sheath over some of our nerves, helping the brain to communicate more quickly. It also helps to form our concentration and memory neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Though you may not notice changes overnight, it’s worthwhile eating more of these foods. I tell my clients to eat them three times a week, alongside egg yolks, pecans and sesame seeds, which are also great choline sources.
Opening Image: Alice Mackintosh