Mood food

We’ve known for a long time that processed foods high in fat and sugar make it harder for children to concentrate at school. When children with attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity or simply behavioural problems are put on a vegetable-rich diet, they calm down.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the same rules apply when it comes to depression and anxiety. At the simplest level, it’s to do with blood sugar. Eating cakes, puddings and sweets causes a surge in blood sugar, which triggers the release of insulin and other hormones to mop it all up. This in turn leads to a low, which means you crave more sugar, and adrenalin kicks in to keep you going. In the long term there’s a risk of diabetes, but in the short term you’re likely to feel more anxious and irritable than you should be, and your concentration may suffer.

So it’s back to the Mediterranean diet, high in vegetables, beans and fish, and lots of herbs to add flavour and digestibility. Studies also focus on serotonin, the so-called ‘feelgood’ hormone. Foods that increase the level of serotonin include bananas and whole grains, while those that interfere with its production include – wait for it – sugar, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods. They may make you feel good when you eat them, but people who eat them regularly are two-thirds more likely to suffer from depression. It’s a high price to pay.

What about Christmas dinner, then? In the past, part of the point of a winter feast was to celebrate abundant food stored away, and filling your stomach was a way of affirming life in the face of the lean months to come. Now, we have abundance all year round, and a feast can be a celebration of the wonderful food on offer, rather than an excuse to stuff ourselves. Does anyone really feel great after a traditional Christmas dinner? Let’s be creative at Christmas, and look after ourselves and our planet, with the choices we make.

Have a wonderful holiday! The blog will return in January.