Thursday 19 September 2019

Eating your way to better mental health with Patrick Holford

As the old saying goes, ‘You are what you eat’. But have you ever stopped to think about how the food you consume can affect your mental health?

Patrick Holford is a leading spokesperson on nutrition and health and has been a pioneer in the development of nutritional therapy. This year, Patrick will be speaking at Vitality, Ireland’s largest festival of natural health and wellbeing which takes place on September 28 and 29 in the RDS Simmonscourt.

One of his hotly anticipated talks is entitled ‘Reclaim Your Brain.’ We caught up with Patrick to find out more about the link between nutrition and our mental health.

A change over time

According to Patrick, human brain function has changed over the last 10,000 years. Humans are now facing higher levels of poor mental health than ever before.

“Our intelligence is decreasing, measures of IQ are going down and mental illness is going up,” explains Patrick. “We have more depression today than ever before... More people are stressed, anxious and reporting insomnia. I think it’s got a lot to do with diet.”

What should we eat more of?

According to Patrick, there are certain foods that can help boost our brain function and indeed our mental health.

Vitamin D

Our bodies need vitamin D in order to absorb calcium and promote bone growth. Studies have also shown that low levels of vitamin D are linked to higher levels of depression and anxiety.

“As we come into winter obviously we need more vitamin D,” explains Patrick. “We cannot get enough from food. One of the richest sources of vitamin D is mackerel. Eating kippers, mackerel, salmon, trout, all those foods are excellent.”

Omega 3

Thousands of years ago, the human diet included a lot of marine food as communities were built next to lakes, rivers and oceans. 

“Humanity evolved along the waters’ edge,” explains Patrick. “We started to swim, dive and eat a diet rich in marine foods such as seafood, seaweeds etc. We now know, a particular kind of omega 3 fat called DHA (which is not in plant foods) built the brain. It’s terribly important for mental health.”

Patrick recommends taking omega 3 supplements, especially if following a vegetarian or vegan diet.


Fruit is very important in any diet. However, you need to make sure that you aren’t always reaching for fruits that are high in sugar.

“Berries are exceptionally high in a number of mood-boosting nutrients. Berries and apples are great but not bananas and raisins which are far too high in sugar.”

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are great mood boosters for many reasons. They’re packed with antioxidants which assist in repairing cells as well as combating inflammation. Research has also found that a blueberry-enriched diet can increase levels of serotonin in the brain.

Vitality berries.jpg

Always eat protein with carbs

“The basic way that we should be eating is what we call a low GL diet or a slow carb diet where you generally eat less carbs but you’re always choosing the kinder carbohydrate that releases its energy slowly,” explains Patrick.

“You always have to eat carbohydrates with some protein. The reason for that is that it further slows down the release of sugars in the food.”

For example, if you’re having oats and berries for breakfast, add in some nuts and almond milk for a boost of protein. This helps to stabilise your blood sugar levels and regulate your mood throughout the day.

“Low blood sugar can trigger anxiety or very low mood or aggression. Keeping your blood sugar even is absolutely vital for having an even mood. ”


Cherries are packed full of important minerals and vitamins such as manganese, potassium, magnesium, copper and Vitamin C. Patrick recommends taking a cherry supplement in order to boost your intake.

“There’s a cherry called the Montmorency cherry. You can buy a concentrate of it in health food shops. It’s called Cherry Active. That provides some melatonin. People have reported having better sleep if they have a glass of cherry juice before they go to bed.”

Avoid processed grains

Try to buy, whole-wheat flour and brown rice where possible. Not only do they release energy slower, they also contain an important mineral called chromium.

“Chromium is refined out of white flour, white rice and white sugar. 99pc of the chromium is gone by the time you get white sugar,” explains Patrick. “What we now know is that chromium is very effective in improving people’s mood. We don’t know how but it seems to effect serotonin.”

To find out more come along to Patrick’s talks at Vitality. Get your tickets today and start living a happier, healthier more sustainable life. For schedule announcements, competitions and updates stay tuned to @vitalityexpo on Instagram.


Sponsored by Vitality

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