Eat your way to happiness with these 'good mood foods'
Feeling down? Claire O'Mahony on how to eat your way to happiness
Sometimes it seems that everything we think about food is wrong, with the emergence of new scientific evidence that turns our deeply beliefs about food on their head.
The latest bout of myth-busting comes from the University of Minnesota, where researchers found that the mood-boosting effects of comfort food are overrated. This means that we may be just looking for an excuse to reach for the ice-cream, and not because it actually makes us feel better.
So if it's not massive servings of mashed potato and sticky toffee pudding, what should we eat to feel happier? The following science-backed foods will boost your mood and thankfully, it's no chore to eat any of them.
Whether you make it from scratch or you have your local Indian takeaway on speed dial, as long as your curry contains turmeric - most of them do - you're winning.
Turmeric, the spice which gives curry its yellow colour, contains a polyphenol called curcumin, which has an impressive number of benefits for brain health. One is that it boosts the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, almost working in the same way as antidepressants do. Add black pepper to your curry, as is common in India, for optimum absorption.
When you're trying to cut down on caffeine and you don't want to indulge in dessert yet you still crave a little pick-me-up after your dinner, what to do?
The answer is a cup of soothing and slightly sweet cardamom tea. It's great for digestion and has purported detoxifying qualities and it's been used for centuries as a mood enhancer. It's easy to make at home - just infuse cardamom seeds with black tea in a pot and experiment.
According to a new study at Kings College London, the Omega-3 fatty acids found in sardines can help fight depression. They're also rich in iron, potassium and B vitamins- all important in regulating mood.
If you find sardines too fishy, you can also get your Omega-3 fatty acids from other oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, trout and herring. Or you can disguise the taste by whizzing up a tin of sardines in a food processor with Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese and lemon juice, then sprinkle with paprika for the most delicious pâté.
Kale has become the vegetable de jour, so much so that there were rumours of a worldwide shortage last year. But there are other leafy greens you should also look to that have similar benefits.
Swiss chard is a good source of folate, low levels of which have been linked to depression. It's also rich in magnesium, another mineral that can improve mood and memory, and can even reduce symptoms of the dreaded PMT.
Grass-fed red meat
We're very lucky in this country that the climate lends itself to the vast majority of lamb and beef being grass-fed. This means the meat has higher levels of heme iron, a deficiency of which leads to mood changes as well as other problems including a weakened immune system and tiredness. Grass-fed meat also has higher levels of a fat called linoleic acid, which can help with weight loss, particularly reducing belly fat, and is associated with better moods.
While they have a long-standing reputation of helping you get in the mood, oysters also increase your feel-good factor mentally because of their high concentration of zinc, which is vital for brain health.
Oysters have tyrosine, too, an amino acid also found in turkey which helps regulate mood and stress levels. If they make you feel like having more sex, all the better.
Yes, it's the most expensive spice in the world, with 20g costing in the region of €85, but it's a mood improver as well as a luxury item.
Historically used in Persian traditional medicine as a cure for depression, the most recent studies from Iran back this up, with researchers finding saffron to be as effective as Prozac. Add saffron strands to paellas, risottos and bouillabaisse -but a more cost-effective way is to pick up a jar of saffron extract tablets, which are available from health-food stores for under €20.
It mightn't appear to be the most exciting of vegetables and is usually seen as the dieter's go-to snack, but celery has other benefits apart from being low in calories. It contains a chemical called 3-n-butylphthalide, which lowers the concentration of stress hormones in the blood.
And foods that aren't quite as healthy as you think...
It seems like a more sensible nutritional choice than chocolate or jellies but dried fruit has a lot of added sugar in order to preserve it - this can lead to a sugar slump, followed by a mood slump. In general, it's best to eat fresh fruit instead.
Salads always sound healthy but they're not created equal. If you're opting for a bowl of healthy greens in a homemade vinaigrette, all well and good. If however, you've loaded on a commercial salad dressing, full of sugar and preservatives, and your garnish of choice is bacon, cheese and croutons, not so good. Skip any mayo-drenched concoctions at salad bars; always ask for the dressing on the side and just be clever about what you eat because otherwise your 'healthy' salad could contain as many calories as a burger and chips.
One that contains lean protein, and lots of mood boosting ingredients such as tomatoes, peppers and olives, will leave you feeling more positive. Happy eating!