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This week, I’m delighted to bring you a guest blog from Rachel Kelly, journalist and co-author of The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food.
As a busy working mother of five and someone who has suffered from anxiety in the past, I’ve learnt that eating to support my hormonal health is a key to staying energetic and healthy – as well as cheerful. Of course, maintaining hormonal balance is important for both men and women; however, this blog will focus primarily on how women can boost their mood with food.
So often, women feel anxious, stressed or tense because of hormonal change, be it when we have our periods, give birth, or later on when we become menopausal.
Stress is another consideration, which is hardly surprising when you consider how busy women of all ages are – be it work, family, travel, socialising or workouts. Many women are on the go and trying to do it all. We are particularly prone to anxiety, often with worries about our position in society – do we have enough money to support ourselves; should we focus on motherhood or our careers (or both); should we be slimmer; and will we ever be able to afford our own home? Whether it’s the small or the big stuff, stress can also throw out our hormones and make us more prone to depression, anxiety or insomnia, none of which makes us fulfilled, balanced or happy.
Five years ago, I teamed up with nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh, who has degrees in both nutritional therapy and biomedical science. We worked together to build up a range of delicious recipes, based on more than 140 scientific studies to help with my symptoms of low mood. Our recipes in our book, The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food, are designed to increase energy, boost low mood, comfort a troubled mind, improve sleep and, crucially, support hormone balance and stress. So, how can we eat to support our hormonal balance? Here are my top foods to eat on the go.
Brazil nuts and seaweed
The thyroid is an important hormonal gland that plays a major role in the metabolism, growth and maturation of the body. It needs iodine in order to function properly. It is difficult to know how prevalent iodine deficiency is, but Alice sees it a lot in her clinic. Many women who suffer from anxiety also tell me they have thyroid problems, so if that’s the case, eat seaweed, shellfish and white fish to boost your iodine levels.
Selenium is an essential trace element, which is present in most foods, particularly Brazil nuts, offal and fish. Although toxic in high doses, it plays an important role in the immune and nervous system, in addition to supporting the thyroid.
Phytoestrogens are also sometimes called ‘dietary oestrogens’. They are compounds that can gently mimic our own oestrogen. Derived from plants, they are found in a wide variety of foods, most notably soybeans, flaxseed and other pulses. Some scientists believe that phytoestrogens can benefit the health and mood of women of all ages by gently boosting their oestrogen supplies.
The only way to find out if these foods will benefit you is to try eating a moderate amount, around three times a week, and keep a record of how you feel. I would start with edamame beans – they are easy to buy, are a good source of phytoestrogens, and provide plenty of fibre too.
To best support the delicate balance of oestrogen and progesterone, we need a well functioning liver. The B vitamins are important to the liver and are found in kale, alongside folic acid and sulphur-rich compounds that are also needed for hormonal harmony. Research has suggested that B12 (found in meat, fish, eggs and seafood) and folate are essential to the proper functioning of the liver, and also help maintain our hormones and, therefore, our moods. Deficiencies in them have also been associated with depression, probably due to their role in the synthesis of important brain chemicals.
How about giving one of our recipes a try – our dark chocolate Brazil nut brownies are designed to boost hormonal health.
Dark chocolate Brazil nut brownies
We spent ages perfecting these, ensuring that they were soft, rich and gooey in the centre. Though they are still a treat, you have more control over the ingredients as you are making them yourself. Spelt flour is wholegrain, meaning that it won’t lead to a sugar spike as white flour does, and Brazil nuts contain selenium which, as we have seen, plays an important role in the immune system. Cacao is a rich source of magnesium and antioxidants.
Photograph credit: Laura Edwards
Makes about 15 squares.
1. Preheat the oven to 190C. Grease a 30cm x 20cm brownie tin and line it with baking parchment. Leave the paper sticking up at the sides to make it easier to lift the brownies out when they are cooked.
2. Roast the Brazil nuts in the oven for 15 minutes, turning them once halfway through. They should be slightly browned. Leave them to cool, and then chop them up coarsely.
3. Put the chocolate, almond milk, coconut oil, maple syrup and vanilla seeds or extract in a saucepan over a very gentle heat, stirring regularly, until everything has melted and you have a rich, glossy-looking batter.
4. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cacao powder.
5. Allow the mixture to cool for 10-15 minutes, and then beat in the eggs. Add the flour, baking powder and chopped Brazil nuts.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake it in the oven for about 12 minutes. Insert a cocktail stick and it should come out with a little chocolate residue. If you like your brownies less gooey, put the tin back in the oven for a further 3-5 minutes but take it out before the top starts to crack, otherwise the consistency will be more like cake.
7. Remove the tin from the oven and use the baking paper to help you slide the whole brownie on to a cooling rack. Cut it into squares once it has cooled completely.
The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food is available on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Happy-Kitchen-Rachel-Kelly/dp/1780722966
To find out more about Rachel, visit: www.rachel-kelly.net