Eggs and bacon

My Happy Kitchen

by Rachel Kelly

I used to think of food as being physical fuel, or a way to celebrate special occasions. Now, I am learning about the power of food, and its role in boosting our mental health. In recent years it has become widely accepted that we need to look after our minds in the same way that we look after our bodies. What is exhilarating is that changing what we eat is something we can do for ourselves.

In the field of nutrition, new research and evidence is emerging all the time, and I have done my best to report what experts are discovering. I’ve written my new book The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food with the fabulous nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh. We met up five years ago and have been collaborating ever since. Alice has helped me so much. She’s taught me how food can be my medicine, and our chats have resulted in our book of 70 mood-boosting recipes.

The book reflects my personal experience and how I have become calmer and more content by changing my diet with Alice’s help. It is intended to be a gentle guide. I don’t want any rules to weigh you down. Our mood and mental well-being are individual experiences; and this means that we’ll all have our own individual ways of dealing with them too.

Some of what I share in this book reflects basic biology that I wish I’d learnt at school: for example, how fluctuating blood sugar affects our adrenal glands, which can trigger bouts of anxiety. Other advice addresses the effect of particular foods on our nerves, brain and digestion, which in turn affect our moods.

There is a degree of truth to Hippocrates’ claim two millennia ago that ‘all disease begins in the gut’. Recently, scientists have advanced our understanding of the gut and its relationship with the rest of our body in fascinating ways. Indeed there are quite a few studies that find strong links between gut microbiota and anxiety-related behaviours. So cultivating a healthy gut may prove an important way to cheer us up. As well as supporting our immune system, a healthy gut digests vital minerals and nutrients. Without this basic function, you could eat all the Good Mood Food in the world, but still be unable to enjoy its full benefits.

Our poor, tired brains need nourishing too. I was amazed when I learnt that our brain uses about one quarter of our daily energy supply, consuming around 300 calories during the day and roughly the same number at night. No other animal has quite such a hungry brain. An ape would have to eat for around 20 hours a day if its brain was a similar size relative to its body.

In the book I have summarised what I’ve learnt to eat to become more energised, more contented, less anxious, have clearer thinking, more balanced and a better sleeper by following a happy diet, and I include the recipes which put the theory into practice. For me, this has led to a very happy kitchen. I hope it will make your kitchen happy too.

The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food published by Short Books is available on Amazon. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachelKellyNet or visit