Whether you choose to eat a meat, pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan, or perhaps some other type of diet, I wonder, how much have you considered the impact food is having on your mental health?

As many of you will know from previous posts, or perhaps from instagram (yes I’m one of those annoying people that take photos of their food!), you’ll know I love food! I was brought up with the understanding that you simply don’t waste food and as a farmers daughter I have grown up with an appreciation for the hard work and passion that goes into producing the food on our plates.

That aside, I also love to cook and over the last few years I have become a lot more interested in the link between a healthy mind and what we eat!

Seeing someone you love suffer with a mental health condition is so hard. So hard, it’s really difficult to put into words, but looking back I realise how ill prepared and a tad naive I was. Over the past 10+ years my understanding of mental health conditions has improved hugely, which has had a positive impact on how I recognise signs and manage my own. This has led me to question some of the support and advice given to those suffering with mental health conditions, as well as people’s preconceptions and perhaps slightly misguided beliefs.

For example, did you know that although many people are prescribed anti-depressants, they can actually take up to 4-6 weeks to take affect? So after someone has picked up the courage to make that leap and speak to their GP, they still have to wait weeks to feel any benefit. Seems crazy, doesn’t it? What if you broke your arm and you were told to come back in a few weeks!

With anything between 6 weeks ,to a potential of 6 month NHS waiting list for CBT or other talking therapies, why aren’t other options at the forefront of advice/discussion? I’m talking about support solutions that would give more agency to the person suffering, something that they had personal control over; for example what they eat and how they move?

We are always being told, exercise and diet are key to staying healthy, but how many of us really understand how the food we eat effects our mood?

I recently listened to a podcast with Rachel Kelly, a keynote speaker, bestselling writer and mental health campaigner, who I’ve been following, since I bought her book, The Happy Kitchen a few years ago.

The Happy Kitchen kick started my journey on improving my knowledge on the link between food and mood. As a women I experience the roller coaster of moods associated with hormones each cycle, but it’s only in recent years that I have made a real connection with how the food I eat varies the enormity of how those hormones take a hold.

What I’m really curious to understand, is why don’t he NHS subscribe ‘mood food’ to support those suffering with mental health conditions? As I was researching for this post, I came across Dr Rupy Auja, on the Power Hour pod cast series (which you’ve probably heard me talking about before). On the surface you may be thinking, so another celebrity chef, another cook book, but what really caught my attention was Dr Rupy’s work on Culinary Medicine. His aim for culinary Medicine is to change the model of healthcare to appreciate the medicinal effects of eating well. Sounds like common sense doesn’t it, surely all doctors know this? Well apparently not. According to the pod cast I listened to GP’s receive no nutritional training during their medical training whatsoever. Which I find totally mind blowing! I love the concept of Culinary medicine, and I really hope there are more initiatives like this, with the hope that the NHS takes on board some of these keys principles to help support our general health.

But what could be the other blockers, does it really come down to money?

Food poverty is clearly a huge issue in the UK. During the first six months of the pandemic the Trussell Trust network distributed a record 1.2 million emergency food parcels.  It’s unbelievable to think in 2021 that there are so many people suffering like this, in a developed country, and having to rely on these organisations for essentials.

A few years ago I volunteered at a food bank in London for a few months. An experience which was totally eye opening, rewarding and challenged any preconceptions I may have had. I realise I come from a privileged position, because I have a stable job and a roof over my head, but one observation I had during that experience was the lack of fresh nutritious food that many visiting the food bank may have been consuming. Don’t get me wrong, the food bank did receive some donations of fresh vegetables, but mainly it was tins and a lot of carbs. Some of the people I talked to didn’t know how to cook some of the vegetables and many of them didn’t have the skills or resources at home, so how can they be expected to understand the importance of diet to their overall health, wellbeing and their mental state?

The free school meals campaign, that Marcus Rashford has been backing with such passion, brings home the message to all of us that there are so many that simply don’t have the basics. So if they don’t have the basics how can we ensure that they’re also getting the most nutritious food and don’t live off off processed food, that has very little nutritional value?

I could write about food all day, but I just wanted to end with something that struck a cord, when I was listening to Rachel Kelly’s pod casts, from her ‘Singing in the Rain’ series. She talks about her experience with food and her mental health and says the biggest takeaway is, basically to cut the CRAP! So, CRAP actually means — Carbonated drinks, Refined sugars, Aspartame and additives and Processed meats and foods — while taking Omega 3 supplements and increasing your intake of probiotics and prebiotics to improve your digestive health. Don’t take my word for it, read Rachel journey’s.

The key thing when talking about food and it’s direct impact on your mood, compared with the effects of anti-depressants is that you get to feel the effects from day one!

I agree with Rachel that I think nutrition is going to be big news in the future of supporting our mental health. So perhaps next time you sit down to eat, take a look at what’s on your plate, and ask yourself how is it keeping your mind healthy, as well as your body!

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