As the old saying goes, “you are what you eat”. But there may be more truth to that than you realize. According to nutritional therapist, Christine Bailey, there are direct links between your diet, brain function, and mood. Watching what you eat isn’t only about preventing a larger waistline, but it might also prevent depression, too.
If you’ve ever experienced feelings of depression, you know it can be a struggle just to get out of bed in the morning. To make matters worse, studies show that depressed people often make poor food choices that can actually make them feel worse.
Bailey is the author of The Brain Boost Diet, a new book that explains how our diet and lifestyle can affect our mood. She outlines how to change your diet to get you feeling your best in no time, and without any of the nasty side effects that prescription drugs can cause.
Depression is a complicated illness and should be taken seriously. Possible underlying factors include hormone imbalances, insulin resistance, oxidative stress, and inflammation. Bailey believes that by tackling these problems through diet, your brain health and mood can be improved.
Before you try out Christine Bailey’s three-day “happiness” diet, try out these quick and easy tips to boost your mood that you can apply to any meal:
- Eat fat to lose fat.
The right kind of fat, that is! Stick to healthy fats such as those found in oily fish or avocados. Mackerel and salmon are an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids, which studies have shown can reduce depression. Vegetarian? Don’t worry. Walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds contain omega 3 fats, as well.
Even just swapping our your regular cooking oil for extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil can help you to reduce inflammation and improve brain function. Your brain is made up of 60 percent fat, not the kind on your hips of course, and depriving your body of healthy fats can cause your focus, mood, and ability to concentrate to take a nose dive!
- Give magnesium a try.
We deplete our body’s level of magnesium just by being stressed out. We can also lose it by getting sweaty at the gym, drinking too much at the bar, or eating way more sugar than we should. Magnesium is a powerful relaxant and is perfect for combating stress and anxiety. It’s also great as a sleep aid, too.
Magnesium rich foods include dark leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds and almonds. You can also take a supplement, but beware. Too much magnesium can act as a laxative. Simply pair it with a calcium supplement to offset the effects.
- Say no to processed foods.
Processed foods often contain high levels of sugar and can cause blood sugar levels to spike. Balancing these out is one of the quickest ways to feel great fast. At the supermarket, try shopping around the perimeter of the store. That’s where you’ll find unprocessed meat, healthy vegetables, and your complex carbohydrates.
- Supplement with vitamin D in the winter.
Our main source of vitamin D comes from the sun, but in winter we may not be getting enough. This can lead to a form of depression called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD for short. This vitamin is also found is egg yolk, mushrooms, and liver, but taking a supplement guarantees you’ll get a large enough dose to notice an improvement.
- Take a few tips from Asia.
Fermented foods are popular in countries such as Japan and Korea, and play a role in promoting healthy gut flora. Beneficial levels of gut bacteria have been shown to aid the body in reducing anxiety and coping with stress.
Try a bowl of Japanese miso soup with a few slices of tempeh, or some South Korean Kimchi. Ethnic food not your thing? Add a yogurt cup to your breakfast or grab a glass of kefir or kombucha.
Bonus: Drink like the Japanese and swap your black tea for green. It contains plenty of antioxidants, improves concentration, and lowers your body’s stress response.
Now that you’ve got some hot and healthy tips for every day eating and feeling great, let’s get to the “happiness” diet! Regardless of your age, weight, or current mental health, Bailey’s simple three-day plan will get you eating your way to a happier life in no time.
Breakfast: chocolate overnight peanut bowl
The night before, blend one small banana with a scoop of vanilla or chocolate protein powder, 1tbsp raw cacao powder, 1tsp peanut or almond nut butter with around 125ml almond milk. Place in a bowl and spoon in 40g gluten free oats. Soak in the fridge overnight. Serve with plain yogurt and berries.
Lunch: chicken burrito bowl
4 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp chopped parsley leaves
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp cayenne pepper or taco seasoning
200g/7oz cooked chicken, shredded
½ cucumber, cut in half and thinly sliced
½ red pepper/bell pepper, deseeded and diced
30g/1oz/1/3 cup pitted black olives, cut in half
½ avocado, pitted, skinned and diced
Put the garlic cloves in a non-stick frying pan and toast for 1 minute or until the garlic has turned golden. Leave to cool, then crush the garlic. Put in a screw-top jar and add the mustard, parsley, vinegar and oil, then shake to mix thoroughly.
Put the broccoli in a food processor, or electric chopper, and pulse gently to form rice-like grains. Leave to one side.
Heat half the coconut oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook gently for 2 minutes or until softened. Tip in the broccoli and spices, and stir to coat in the oil. Cover and steam-fry for 2 minutes to soften the broccoli slightly. Add the cooked chicken and mix well.
Put the cucumber in a bowl and add the red pepper/bell pepper, olives and avocado. Mix well. Divide the broccoli rice between two bowls. Divide the cucumber mixture between the bowls. Drizzle over a little of the dressing and serve.
Snack: Smashed Avocado on gluten free oat cakes or rice cakes.
Supper: Fish pie made with mixed fish including salmon and prawns and top with a sweet potato mash. Serve with steamed vegetables or salad.
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with shittake mushrooms and spinach
Lunch: Lemon tahini wilted kale salad with chickpeas
Place 150g chopped kale in a bowl. Mix together 1tbsp tahini, 1tbsp lemon juice, sea salt, black pepper and 1/4 tsp each of cumin powder and tamari soy sauce. Pour over the kale and using your hands massage the dressing into the kale so that it wilts. Toss in 1/2 can chickpeas, halved cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices and toasted seeds.
Snack: Kefir protein smoothie.
Blend up kefir with a scoop of protein powder and add a cup of fresh or frozen berries of your choice.
Supper: Turkey chili with wholegrain rice and broccoli
Use 100g lean turkey mince, 1/2 can chopped tomatoes, chili paste and 1/2 can kidney beans. Serve with 50g cooked wholegrain rice, steamed broccoli, green beans and salad.
(Optional) Bedtime Snack: Golden milk turmeric smoothie
400ml/14fl oz/1¾ cups full-fat coconut milk
½ tsp ground turmeric or 5mm/1/4in piece root turmeric, peeled and grated
½ tsp ground cinnamon
a pinch of ground black pepper
1 tbsp xylitol or erythritol, or to taste (or pinch of stevia)
a slice of peeled root ginger
1 tsp coconut oil
Pour the milk into a blender or food processor and add the turmeric, cinnamon, pepper and erythritol, then blend until smooth.
Pour the mixture into a saucepan and add the ginger and oil. Simmer for 5 minutes to allow the flavour to develop. Strain and serve warm.
Breakfast: Bullet-proof mocha mushroom smoothie
Blend together 150ml cold brewed coffee, 150ml almond milk, 1tsp coconut oil, 1 scoop chocolate protein powder, 1tsp almond nut butter, 1tsp medicinal mushroom powder and a little xylitol or stevia to sweeten.
Lunch: smoked mackerel salad with raw sauerkraut or kimchi
Snack: handful of nuts and two squares of dark chocolate
Supper: grilled lamb with aubergine & minty chimichurri with mixed salad
2 lean lamb fillet steaks, 120g/4¼oz each
1 small aubergine/eggplant, cut into chunks
1 tbsp olive oil1/2 tsp ground cumin (remove if needed for space)
1 handful of salad leaves/greens
6 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 spring onion/scallion, cut into thin matchsticks
1 handful of fresh mint leaves
a small bunch of parsley leaves
1 garlic clove, crushed
¼ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp lemon juice
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp sherry vinegar, or red wine vinegar
sea salt and ground black pepper
To make the dressing, put all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and whiz to form a chunky sauce. Put the lamb fillets in a shallow container. Spoon half the dressing over and coat the lamb thoroughly. Cover and put in the refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight, if possible.
Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5, Gas mark 7. Put the aubergine/eggplant in a roasting pan. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes or until the aubergine is soft and lightly golden, stirring occasionally. Remove from the oven and leave to one side.
Meanwhile, heat a griddle/grill pan until hot. Season the lamb with pepper, then pan-fry for 4–5 minutes on each side or until cooked to your liking. Remove from the pan and allow the lamb to rest for 5 minutes. Slice thinly.
Serve the lamb with the salad leaves/greens, the aubergine and tomatoes, sprinkled with spring onion/scallion, and drizzled with a little of the dressing.
And that’s it! All of the dishes listed above contain mood boosting minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Compounds found in the ingredients used in this diet will help to reduce inflammation, regulate blood sugar levels, and allegedly reduce depression and anxiety.
A few of the ingredients to note include the lion’s mane mushrooms, which appear to improve cognitive function and nerve regeneration, and Turmeric, which contains a compound capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier. It may even be effective in treating and preventing neurodegenerative diseases like alzheimer’s.
Even the regular old turkey used in the chilli contains tryptophan, which is important in creating the feel-good chemical serotonin in the brain. You’ll be wanting to make the switch from beef chilli to turkey chilli more often.
So give this easy three-day diet a try. All you’ve got to lose is your bad mood!