I’m a huge fan of collaboration. It just works, time after time and none more so then when writing about food. When I read, the simply inspirational, Rachel Kelly’s hugely informative and fascinating article in last week’s Sunday Times, I knew straight away, literally after the first two paragraphs, I’d unearthed yet another kindred spirit, with so much in common and as Rachel herself sagely observed, “right on the same page”.
There’s really very little need for me to expound and extol the multitude of health benefits to eating fresh wild fish, or even quality well-farmed fish. The overriding nutritional concensus is always, overwhelmingly, that allergies and intolerances aside, seafood per se is extraordinarily good for you and its consumption heartily encouraged.
Food for the soul yes, most definitely, but for the mind? Well, having had cause to take the “Black Dog” for a walk myself, on the odd occasion in recent years, learning that the well-documented virtues of eating fish, especially the oily, pelagic kind, can assuage the symptoms of depression in all its multifarious forms, is quite literally manna from heaven. A better aid to mental wellbeing, I simply couldn’t imagine.
In her latest book, The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food , developed and written with top nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh , Rachel sets out to reinforce the nutritional ideology, that fish is not just “brain food” but when eaten regularly in a diet and especially in conjunction with a diagnosis of depression or anxiety, extraordinary and hugely encouraging results can be achieved by those suffering.
Enough from me though. Let the remarkable Rachel Kelly take you through, just why, fish in our modern diet is so incredibly important, in a blog written specifically for eastcoastavocet.com and with a Kedgeree recipe to die for!
Thank you Rachel. Be my guest.
Why Fish is a Key Part of my Diet
As I tucked into my own recipe for omega3 kedgeree this cold January morning, I reflected that the Victorians were onto something. This traditional Indian dish of rice and fish became popular in England in the Victorian era when British colonials returned home and started having it for breakfast. Like them, I’ve found it an excellent mood-boosting way to start the day.
Now we know more about why. Scientists are discovering the links between nutrition and mental health. It turns out that what we eat can hugely affect our mood. In particular the omega3s contained in oily fish – like the salmon in my kedgeree — can help those who suffer anxiety and depression like me.
Indeed some go as far as to believe that low fish consumption is causing an epidemic of mental illness. So say the Institute of Food, Brain and Behaviour. The omega 3s or ‘healthy fats’, which are contained in fish are crucial to support good brain health.
Professor John Stein, from the IFBB, who is also a professor at the department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at Oxford University says new figures from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey show that the average teenager eats only a tenth of the recommended minimum amount of oily fish per week.
This means teenagers are not only deficient in omega 3s, but also in Vitamins A, D & K and essential minerals such as iron, zinc and iodine.
“Probably therefore, the most important change in the last 100 years that is causing the current epidemic of mental ill health, is the overall deterioration in our diet, of which low fish consumption is the worst example,” continues Professor Stein.
The number of people diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, anorexia, autism, depression, obesity, obsessional compulsive disorder, antisocial personality disorder and crime has increased greatly over the last century.
While many argue that the reason for our mental health epidemic is the stress of modern life, our deteriorating diet is probably a more important factor in my view. The poverty and deprivation of the 1920s must have been far more stressful for most people than now. But the human brain has evolved to cope with complexity, chiefly thanks to the nutrients provided by fish. However, what we no longer do is eat enough fish.
Our brain’s large size was made possible by our evolutionary relationship to fish; fish were not only our main source of protein and calories, but also they gave us important vitamins and minerals, and, crucially, omega 3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Other changes to our diet have also contributed to our mental health problems, especially our consumption of sugar which can also lead to anxiety and insomnia. Likewise fruit and vegetable consumption has plummeted: there is also evidence that a plant based diet can help our mental health. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that 90% of teenagers fail to eat 5 a day, so that even levels of vitamin C are often dangerously low.
Yet changing our diet is one way we can help ourselves without recourse to psychiatrists or therapists. We can choose what we eat and cook. For me taking responsibility in this way for my own mental health was a step on the road to recovery. Over the past five years I’ve worked with the nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh, who has degrees both in nutritional therapy and biomedical science, to build up a range of delicious recipes and write our cookbook The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food. The recipes are based on more than 140 different pieces of scientific research and are designed to boost energy, relieve low mood, comfort a troubled mind, support hormonal balance and help you sleep soundly. In addition, we’ve developed simple meal planners, seasonal shopping lists and nutrition notes to explain the science of good mood food. Now for another serving of that kedgeree….
This traditional Indian dish of fish and rice became popular in England in the Victorian era, when British colonials returned home and started having it for breakfast. Our version works at all times of day, and is filled with omega-3 fats, zinc and B vitamins. My mother said that this was one of the best kedgerees she’d ever had, and she’s eaten a good number. This kedgeree can be reheated a day later, and served for breakfast: those Victorians were on to something. It’s useful on those dark days when I don’t feel like eating or cooking first thing, but know it will help me feel more cheerful if I do. There’s something comforting about serving this dish in an individual bowl, which you can cradle.
100ml semi-skimmed milk
2 bay leaves
3 mackerel or salmon fillets
300g long-grain brown rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric (or fresh if you can get it, peeled and chopped)
2 heaped tablespoons curry powder, or to taste
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
4 tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
Juice of 1 lime
4 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
Large handful of fresh coriander, chopped
Large handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1. Boil the eggs for 10 minutes, then run them under cold water to stop them cooking. Leave them to one side.
2. Put the milk, bay leaves and fish fillets in a pan and add enough water to cover the fish. Bring to the boil, and then reduce to a simmer for roughly 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and leave it to one side.
3. Cook the rice according to the packet instructions, drain it, rinse it in cold water, and then drain it again. Leave it in the fridge until it is needed.
4. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the onion, garlic, coriander, cumin, turmeric, curry powder and chilli. Leave the mixture to soften for about 10 minutes on a low heat, adding a little water to the pan to keep the temperature low. Stir occasionally to make sure it doesn’t burn. Then add the tomatoes and lime juice and simmer for 5 minutes.
5. Flake the fish into the pan; quarter the eggs and add these and the rice, too, and gently heat everything through.
6. Serve each portion with a dollop of Greek yoghurt, a generous sprinkle of coriander and parsley and freshly ground black pepper: this may help you absorb the curcumin, the bright yellow chemical in the turmeric.
The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food available on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Happy-Kitchen-Rachel-Kelly/dp/1780722966
Huge thanks once again Rachel, for sharing this with us. I’m off to make it with herring……!