How to eat yourself happy: a nutritional therapist’s guide

By Rachel Kelly and Alice Mackintosh |

How to eat yourself happy: a nutritional therapist's guide

For author Rachel Kelly, food is more than just physical fuel. It has the power to nourish our minds and support our emotional wellbeing.

In this edited extract from Rachel’s new book The Happy Kitchen, she and nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh nut out the 10 Golden Rules for eating yourself happy.


1. Eat mostly plants.

One reason a plant-based diet is so important is that our brains and digestive systems are still adapting to our changing environment.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate a variety of whole, unrefined plants. Huge changes to the human diet over the past 200 years have run ahead of our ability to adapt.

Our modern diet of processed and refined foods is different from the one that, for most of our evolutionary history, we have thrived on…=

A second reason that plants are so important is down to an enzyme – called MAO – which is thoughts to break down hormones such as serotonin. Fruit and vegetables may help stop this enzyme working.

A final theory is that plants may contribute to our mood because they contain antioxidants which ‘mop up’ supposedly dangerous free radicals… they may play an important role in the development of depression, potentially causing the death of nerve cells in certain emotional areas of the brain…

2. Use herbs and spices.

As well as being tasty, some herbs and spices might trigger digestive processes that can help our body benefit from our meals…

Scientists have recently concluded that saffron might be an option in the treatment of low mood; when compared to Prozac, it was found to have a similar effect on symptoms.

3. Go nuts.

Seeds are the eggs of the plant world. They contain all the genetic instructions and nutrients to produce life…

Some seeds are also a source of tryptophan, the amino acid that is the building block of serotonin. We cannot make tryptophan ourselves, so we have to get it from our diets.

4. Eat for your gut, ‘the second brain’.

Michael Gershon, a professor of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia University has referred to this extraordinary system as ‘the second brain’. No wonder we talk about ‘gut feelings’!

Not only is the gut home to 90 per cent of our serotonin, it is also one of the first lines of defence against bacteria and viruses.

If we are stressed, our digestive system may work ineffectively and even become inflamed. This in turn may affect our mood.

5. Fats are my friends.

The main fats to remember are the omegas… with omega-3s being the most important to a happy diet.

Combined evidence from a number of recent studies found that, in general, omega-3s were effective in improving digestive symptoms in patients diagnosed with depression…

6. Get the right balance of protein – and fish should be the top of your list.

Ideally, oily fish. It is a source of our friends the omega-3s as well as many other nutrients…

A study in Finland in 2001 found that a higher fish consumption was associated with a lower incidence of depressive symptoms (however, this study reflected correlation rather than causation).

A second study from NZ in 2002 found that fish consumption was associated with “higher self-reported mental health status” – an individual’s personal perception of their mood, outlook and depression scores.

7. Avoid sweeteners and additives.

There is some evidence that aspartame, an artificial sweetener often found in soft drinks and ‘diet’ foods, has a negative effect of mood [and increase signs of depression, irritability and poor cognitive performance]…

8. Keep an eye on your blood sugar levels.

The steadier your blood sugar levels, the more stable and balanced you will feel. Cutting out added sugar, combining protein with unrefined carbohydrates and not snacking are all useful habits…

9.Vary your diet.

Adding new ingredients not only introduces a new element to your cooking, but is both physically and mentally beneficial. Foods work better combined than in isolation…

10. Relax and enjoy.

Be kind to yourself. While I’d like to stick to my Golden Rules all the time, sometimes it is difficult. Most of the time I eat nutritiously, but i allow myself a few treats here and there, and they are treats that I eat consciously and with enjoyment rather than guilt.

Adopting a more mindful approach means I now enjoy the pleasures of the table.

Rachel Kelly and Alice Mackintosh
Since suffering her last serious bout of depression in 2011, Rachel Kelly has evolved a broad holistic approach to staying well, but at the heart of her recovery has been changing the way she eats. Over the past five years, she has worked with nutritionist and food doctor Alice Mackintosh. Together, they have built up a repertoire of recipes that target particular symptoms, from insomnia and mood swings to stress and exhaustion.

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