A mental health and food collaboration: part two.

19th November 2018

Last week @toddlerandtoast and I unveiled a fun + informative collaboration all on mental health and food, and here is a roundup of week two. We’ve talked more about generalised mental health (as opposed to specific disorders) and we’ve had some great feedback from people who have found it really helpful. Next up for the coming week is organic vs. non-organic, and why considering the source of your food is so important! Keep your eyes peeled for daily posts on the ‘gram, and a weekly round up here.

mental health and food


Mounting evidence shows how significant a connection there is between our mental health and what we put into our bodies. It’s fairly common knowledge that what we eat impacts how we feel in the short-term, but what more and more people are starting to realize is that it also has a dynamic effect on the brain’s ability to function optimally in the long run. We thought we would start out the first week of our collaborative series on nutrition and mental health (or nutritional psychiatry for those interested in further reading) by sharing some of the fundamentals about the right kind of fuel, and a couple of reasons why you should care.

Glucose (sugar) is the most important nutrient for the brain and it needs an even supply to function healthily. Imbalances in these levels can result in irritability, insomnia, poor concentration, depression and aggression (among other things). There is also research evidencing differences in children’s IQ levels based upon the amount of refined carbohydrates which they consume. It’s likely that you are already aware that choosing brown bread and whole grains over their bleached and processed counterparts is best, but this is easier said than done – especially as a parent! Some tips for ensuring that you are getting the most from your food are to limit or reduce sugar intake slowly while choosing naturally occurring sugars (like fresh fruit), eat fast-releasing fruits (like bananas) with slow-releasing carbohydrates (like porridge oats), and combining protein with your carbohydrates (like chicken with your pasta or seeds/nuts with fruit) to help moderate the slow-release.

RECIPE: Spaghetti Carbonara 

1 minced garlic

50g butter

Mushrooms (this recipe used 3 large portobellos, chopped)

Cup of peas

Head of broccoli, cut into florets

3 rashers of bacon, finely chopped

300ml single cream

Fry garlic in butter, add bacon and cook for a few minutes. Add mushrooms and coat well in butter until cooked. Add cream and warm through. Serve over spaghetti with broccoli and peas.

mental health and food


All sugar is not equal. We chatted yesterday about the importance of choosing complex carbohydrates (good sugars) over their refined counterparts (bad sugars), but today we wanted to spend some time on artificial sugar substitutes; in particular, aspartame. Aspartame, while technically classified as safe for human consumption, has evidence pointing to it being seriously bad news for those with mood disorders. It has been shown to lead to oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain as well as the lowering of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine (all are specifically linked to depression), and a general exacerbation and treatment resistance to all mood disorders.

What are the real-world, practical implications? Basically, you have to read the label on the back of the packet, and seeing “no sugar added” or “reduced sugar” should be a warning sign that artificial sweeteners have been substituted. Unfortunately, there are some items which have very limited options when it comes to avoiding artificial sweeteners, like squash – the best solution? Make your own fruity drink! Finding alternatives for sweet treats is a good trick to keep everyone’s sugar craving satisfied while considering nutritional intake, because this isn’t about restricting ourselves completely or making ourselves miserable.

RECIPE: Nice cream

This one is super easy! Throw frozen bananas into a blender and add a splash of coconut milk. Add whatever toppings you’d like – chocolate chips, other fruits…

mental health and food


Protein and neurotransmitters. Now, who has heard of neurotransmitters? Neurotransmitters are how the body communicates, and these messages are built from amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and of the twenty amino acids that the body needs, nine must be consumed through diet – the rest can be made within our bodies.

Since almost all neurotransmitters are made from protein, by choosing the ideal quality and quantity you are able to support and improve your brain’s talking. Did you know that serotonin is made from the amino acid Tryptophan? So eating tryptophan–rich foods will contribute towards improving your mood. Antidepressants also directly impact neurotransmitters, however they also carry (sometimes serious) side effects. The amino acid GABA is also considered to be highly effective against anxiety.

The amount of protein that you need to consume varies from person to person, and as a general rule, the higher the quality of the protein in which you are consuming, the less protein you actually need. A good trick for a vegetarian is to eat seed (if planted they would grow, such as nuts, beans, lentils) or flower foods (broccoli, cauliflower), and dairy is also an excellent source of quality protein. Lean meat is recommended for carnivores. Chicken is a great source of quality protein, as is fish (tuna, salmon, cod, sardines). Some sources also suggest supplementing amino acids if you have a mental health problem, however we need to stress that this should be done with caution and the proper advice.

RECIPE: Homemade fish and chips

This is a recipe from @bbcgoodfood and is enough for four cod fillets.

1 cup gluten free flour

Extra plate of gluten free flour for coating

½ cup sparkling water

Mix the water and flour until you have a batter, you may need a little more or less water to get the consistency you’d like. Coat your fish in flour from the separate plate, and then fully coat in batter. Pan fry in hot oil for about two minutes and then flip. Keep them warm in the oven on greaseproof paper until serving.

mental health and food


Good fats vs. bad fats – you’re likely aware of how fats can influence heart health (and your waistline) but do you know that fats also play an important role in your mental health? The human brain is nearly 60 percent fat, and fatty acids play a crucial role in determining optimal brain performance and integrity – and we now know that the amount and type of fats which we consume, from the outset in foetal development through into old age, profoundly influences how we think and feel.

Essential fatty acids, omega 3 and omega 6, are essential to bodily functioning but cannot be made within the body. Optimal and well-balanced levels contribute to maximizing intelligence, while deficiency has been linked to depression, schizophrenia, fatigue, attention deficit disorder, and dyslexia. So if your body cannot make these essential acids, where do they come from? Your diet, of course! Leafy green veggies, flaxseed, canola oils, kiwi fruit, walnuts or cold-water fish are all excellent sources, and because maintaining balanced levels of these fats is important, limiting processed and fried food, and saturated fats (from meat and dairy) is recommended.

RECIPE: Sweet potato waffles

1 cup wholewheat flour

1 cup milk

3 eggs

1 large cooked sweet potato, grated

¼ cup melted coconut oil

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Add all the ingredients together in a bowl and mix well. Cook according to your waffle maker.


mental health and food


Vitamins and minerals. These little powerhouses perform hundreds of roles within the body. They are responsible for helping to convert the food you eat, bolster your immune system, heal your body from wounds or broken bones, build and rebuild the brain and nervous systems, and keep everything in your body running smoothly. There are so many vitamins and minerals, all of which play important and complex roles regarding mental health, however we are going to focus on two: zinc and magnesium. These two minerals are the two most commonly deficient minerals, and both have been shown to play important – if not critical roles- within mental health.

Magnesium has been shown to be effective in relieving depression, anxiety, postpartum depression, suicidal ideation, and anxiety, while zinc deficiency has been associated with a wide and varied range of mental health problems. Something interesting to note about zinc, is that there are many circumstances which increase a person’s nutritional requirement, such as PMS or other hormonal imabalances, stress, infections and excessive ejaculation – which means that if you are parenting a teenager of either sex than you should pay careful attention to their vitamin and mineral intake!

In short: eat your five a day, and ensure that your children do too – and look into supplementing with a multivitamin and mineral.

Good sources of magnesium are green vegetables, nuts and seeds, while good sources of zinc are oysters (an exceptionally good source), nuts, seeds and fish.

Recipe: Couscous and veggies 

This is a @jamieoliver recipe.

Couscous made with stock following packet instructions

3 peppers, chopped

1 red onion, chopped

1 tin of cream of mushroom soup

Cook peppers and onions in oil, stir through the soup and heat. Serve over couscous and alongside homemade sweet potato fries.


I hope you have all enjoyed the past two weeks, and have learned as much as @toddlerandtoast and I both have. Enjoy next week’s theme on organic vs. non-organic!


*Photo by @cherish.us

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