Although it cannot cure depression, food can help enhance your mood. If you're feeling down, follow some of these guidelines.
Make sure to eat lots of lean protein. It contains tryptophan and L-phenylalanine - substances that encourage the brain to produce the endorphins serotonin and noradrenaline (happy hormones).
Monitor your intake of sugary foods. Although they may result in your brain producing short bursts of endorphins, the sugar swings that they cause usually trigger mood crashes.
Try not to eat sugary foods until your stomach contains fibre-rich foods such as vegetables, pulses and wholegrains, as fibre suppresses rapid increases in your blood-sugar level and hence mood swings. Ensure that you eat plenty of fresh fruit (at least four pieces a day) because fruit contains slow-release sugars, which can lift and sustain your mood.
Try to eat as much fresh produce as possible. It contains high levels of vitamins and minerals, the nutrients required to maintain a healthy body and mind.
Drink enough water to help your body to absorb the beneficial nutrients in food. Adults should have 2 to 3 litres a day.
Don't drink too many caffeine-containing drinks. Not only can caffeine adversely affect your mood and energy levels, it can also inhibit your body's absorption of the beneficial nutrients in food. Keep your intake to a maximum of three cups a day.
Cherries dipped in chocolate
Magic ingredient cherries
The cherries will help your brain to produce the mood-enhancing hormones serotonin and noradrenaline. They also contain high levels of potassium, a mineral that helps prevent and correct high blood pressure.
20 firm ripe cherries with stems intact, 300g (10? oz) good-quality, plain eating chocolate, broken into small, even-sized pieces
Carefully wash and dry the cherries, making sure to leave the stems intact. Break the chocolate into a heatproof bowl that can sit on top of a saucepan. Pour boiling water into a saucepan, then place the heatproof bowl containing the chocolate pieces over the water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not come in contact with the water. Stir the chocolate as it melts to ensure a smooth and even consistency. Remove the bowl from the pan once the chocolate has melted. Holding a cherry by its stem, dip into the chocolate, submerging the fruit halfway. Allow the excess chocolate to drip off and place the cherry on baking parchment to set. Work quickly through all the cherries before the chocolate begins to solidify. Make sure that no water remains on the cherries before dipping.
Swings in blood sugar and energy levels
Swings in your blood-sugar and energy levels can seriously affect both your mood and performance. If you experience such swings, try taking the following measures. l Although it may be tempting to reach for foods that contain 'quick-fix' sugars, they will only make the problem worse.
Chocolate and other sweet foods cause your blood-sugar level to rise quickly, which stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin, the hormone that rapidly brings it down.
Fresh fruits give the best slow-release, energy boost, so increase your fruit intake.
Eat plenty of protein-rich foods, including cheese, eggs, fish and chicken, especially for lunch, if you find that late afternoon is when your blood-sugar and energy levels crash. These foods will enable your body to control its blood-sugar levels more effectively.
Eat lots of chromium-rich foods, such as cheese, shellfish, baked beans and wholemeal products. Chromium helps your body overcome symptoms of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar).
Make sure that you drink plenty of water throughout the day to enable all of the energising vitamins, minerals and slow-release sugars in the food that you eat to be absorbed by your body. Adults should aim to drink 2 to 3 litres of water a day.
Only drink alcohol when your stomach is full. Because alcohol is absorbed so quickly it causes the blood-sugar level to drop. The presence of food in the stomach slows down the rate of absorption, thereby lessening blood-sugar swings.
If you are a smoker, try to give up. Nicotine inhibits the body's production of insulin and glucagon, both hormones that maintain a constant blood-sugar level.
Poached fresh figs
Magic ingredient figs
Figs contain fructose-fruit sugar, which in the presence of fibre (conveniently also found within the figs) gives our body a slow-release, sustainable energy burst. You may be surprised to find sugar within the juice, but the fig fibre ensures that the sugar is absorbed slowly.
600ml (1 pint) Italian red wine, 225g (8oz) white sugar, 18 fresh, ripe figs
Place the wine and sugar in a non-aluminium saucepan large enough to hold all of the figs in one layer. Warm over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Holding the figs by their stems, drop them gently into the wine-and-sugar mixture. Lower to a gentle heat and simmer for 7 to 10 minutes, until the figs are tender and deep-brown in colour. Using a slotted spoon, remove the figs, being careful that they don't burst, and transfer them to a serving dish. Reduce the syrup for about 6 minutes, or until it has become thick. Pour the syrup over the figs and allow the dish to cool to room temperature.