Green Queen Editor-in-Chief Sonalie Figueiras talks to her good friend Alice Mackintosh, aka UK Nutritional Therapist Extraordinaire about The Happy Kitchen – Good Mood Food (Shortbooks), Mackintosh’s newly published cookbook. Below the latter shares how the book came about, why what you eat impacts how you feel and how she starts the day food-wise.
How did the idea for a book about food and mental health come about?
Rachel (Kelly, my co-author) had suffered two severe bouts of depression, and after the second she was determined to do everything she could to prevent a third episode. She had heard about ‘happy foods’ and that eating might help her mental health, and she went looking for a nutritional therapist to help guide her safely. We worked together for five years, and she got better and better over the process. Being an accomplished writer and best-selling author, she always wanted to document her journey in a book, and we were lucky enough to get the chance to do it this past year!
Can you tell us a little more about the book itself?
The Happy Kitchen – Good Mood Food is a guide on how to eat to support your brain. Though part of the title of the book is Good Mood Food, it isn’t just for those with depression or anxiety. The book is also geared towards those who want to improve their overall mental health and feel happy, energized and focused, sleep well and generally feel their best everyday… that’s pretty much everyone, right?! Rachel and I wanted to create a guide that was as user-friendly as possible without expensive/hard-to-find ingredients or overly complicated recipes.
Rather than laying out the recipes according to meal type (meat, fish, main courses or drinks) like many other cookbooks, we structured them according to symptoms. Specific recipes are categorized according to boosting energy, beating the blues, promoting calmness, mental clarity and hormonal peace, and we also have a section for healthy comfort food. This means that even if you aren’t interested in the personal story or science, you can flick to find recipes that may help you feel better, with easy guides on the best ingredients to choose.
Though The Happy Kitchen is a cookbook, we also wanted to ensure that our recipes were backed up with good quality evidence and explanations about why certain foods helped Rachel with the different symptoms she experienced.
Can you really impact your mood with what foods you eat?
Yes, absolutely and we outline all the ways that worked for Rachel in the book alongside over 140 pieces of evidence that back up our findings. From the nutrients that can help to improve serotonin and dopamine production, to the foods that help to keep us calm, to timing and composition of meals, what we eat is enormously powerful way to support the whole body and the mind. We also look at the impact of inflammatory food on mood, and how certain foods can help support the digestive system, or the second brain as it is often referred to.
There is so much pseudo-scientific advice about what to eat to feel good. What are some of the biggest misunderstandings out there?
There is so much misinformation in general out there, it’s no surprise that people end up just giving up on nutrition altogether. The problem is that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work as we are all so incredible unique. Fad diets normally equate to restrictive eating, and anything claiming miracle-type results should be treated with skepticism.
Some of the big foibles are that we need to be restrictive and super ‘clean’ to be healthy. This includes eating a vegan diet, which, while it does have many health benefits, is incredibly difficult to get right without a huge commitment and entire change of lifestyle.
People are still very confused about gluten, and think that anything gluten-free is healthy, which isn’t true. I also find a lot of city-dwellers get locked into doing yearly juice cleanses in the hope that it will purge all their sins. Again, sadly not true, and a slightly one dimensional way of looking at health.
As always, it comes down to a very boring word: balance. This is really a mindset as much as a way of eating, though I want to be clear that one person’s definition of balance is not the same as another’s, so it’s normally best to seek advice to find out what it actually means!
What is your go-to breakfast to set yourself up for a happy day ahead?
Without fail for me it’s something eggs, avocado and oat cracker based. Not only do eggs keep me full all morning, but they deliver protein, healthy fats, B vitamins, sulphur and choline. I created a few egg-based recipes for the book. One is a special way to make scrambled eggs without destroying the all important choline, which helps to support concentration and memory.
You are based in London but you are originally a Hong Konger. What do you miss most about living here?
I absolutely love London and I think I’ll always live here now, but Hong Kong is my childhood home and there is nowhere else like it. I miss my friends the most, coupled with the fact that it’s so much easier to see them than it is seeing people in London. I used to go for early morning walks up to the Peak and around Lugard Road and loved the fact you can be on top of a mountain looking down at the city, and then look the other way and see beaches and islands. I miss the hustle and bustle of the streets and the amazing fusion of modern architecture with traditional Chinese style and heritage. I’m 6-foot and was hugely reliant on my tailor out there. Ah Wai, please come to London! People always say they miss the tropical weather but actually the humidity and the terrible pollution are some of the things I do not pine for!
It seems wellness is exploding in London. What are some of your favorite brands and heroes?
Squirrel and SHOT are my two favorite healthy eating spots in London- both their menus are full of goodness and yet still diverse, unrestrictive and delicious. C-Press and Radiance Cleanse also do fantastic juices.
HipandHealthy.com is such a fantastic destination for activewear and informative articles about wellbeing, and I also love Active in Style as they have fab workout gear that fits tall people, plus they stock my supplement range, Equi London!
Andy Puddicombe, the founder of Headspace, is a real hero of mine: I love how he’s managed to get so many super-busy, on-the-go urbanites in the city meditating through an app on their phone! Lauren Armes of Well To Do London is also an amazing resource for the wellness scene in the city and a massive supporter of anyone starting up a business in the sector.
What are some of the most important habits when it comes to eating for happiness?
We outline our 10 Golden Rules for eating for happiness at the beginning of the book, which are based on what we found worked, but also where the research is. The rules include advice on specific things to include more of such as oily fish, as well as which herbs and spices may help to boost mood. We also discuss how to support gut health better, outline a general attitude to eating and explain why variety in your diet is absolutely key.
Can you share some of your favorite recipes from the book?
I love all the recipes, but the Omega 3 Kedgeree that we created is one of my favorites. It’s so satisfying and the mix of spices such as turmeric with brown rice, melt in the mouth salmon and zingy yoghurt make this diverse in flavour as well as nutritional goodness.
Another favorite is our Happy Smoothie, which is a great example of an easy, quick recipe that has a number of brain-supporting nutrients. The star of this recipe is the magnesium-rich raw cacao, a nutrient that helps to relax muscles and ease tension in the mind, which may help to relieve anxiety. Cacao also contains antioxidants known as polyphenols that are important for the brain and may help to boost mood and concentration. The recipe also contains pumpkin seeds, a real goldmine for the mind with nutrients such as zinc and B vitamins.
The Scrambled Eggs recipe was one I refined over the course of a year. The secret is that I add the yolks towards the end of the cooking process, which makes the final result much more creamy and flavorsome- they really are the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever eaten! The brain-loving choline in the eggs is also preserved better too, which I find helps my memory and focus.
Order your copy of the The Happy Kitchen – Good Mood Food on Amazon.
About Alice Mackintosh:
Alice Mackintosh gained a first-class honours degree in nutritional therapy at the UK’s Centre for Nutrition Education, following a degree in biomedical sciences at Leeds University. She runs her own clinic in London where she helps people with a wide range of conditions. She co-authored The Happy Kitchen (Shortbooks) with Rachel Kelly, which was released in Jan 2017 and is also co-founder of Equi London, which creates high-quality supplements designed for people who don’t always find the time to eat well. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for news and updates.
All images courtesy of Laura Edwards.