Could eating a Mediterranean diet boost your mood and help with depression?
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Researchers in London have linked the sunshine food-filled Med diet with better mental health.
Are you dreading the winter blues? You're not alone. For residents of the Northern Hemisphere, the drastic dip in lumens being generated by the sun from September to April will leave many of us feeling glum.
But recent research shows a diet pitched to the public in the late 70s and popularised in the early 90s could be key to boosting our mood- along with, of course, a daily supplement of Vitamin D (as recommended by most doctors) and regular exercise.
Researchers at University College London have found following the Mediterranean Diet (often cited as one of the best for heart health) can make us 33% less likely to develop depression. And it wasn't a small study sample. This research took data from more than 30,000 adults across Europe.
Not a 'diet' in the traditional calorie restrictive sense, this approach to eating is borrowed from our neighbours on sunnier shores- Greece, Italy, Spain, southern France, Portugal, north Africa, Turkey.
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What should I be eating?
1. Forget five a day - we're talking seven to 10 serving of fruit and veg, incorporating bright peppers, tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, berries, garlic, greens and fresh herbs. Not only are these filling, but you'll be increasing the amount of prebiotic fibre in your gut - linked to improved mental health.
2. Don't eat so much dairy. Natural yoghurt is great, as is the occasional use of feta, halloumi and other cheeses – all in moderation.
3. Stock up on walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and pistachio nuts.
4. Invest in a good quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling over salads and dipping. Local rapeseed oil is still best for cooking as it has a higher burning point than olive oil.
5. Eat fish two to three times a week.
6. Enjoy red meat no more than a few times a month.
7. Red wine can be quaffed in moderation.
8. Incorporate plenty of grains and pulses, from beans, to chickpeas and lentils.
9. Steer yourself away from processed foods.
Where can I eat Med food in East Anglia?
Enjoy a slice of sunshine at one of these spots.
Urban Jungle, Beccles: Loads of the fresh ingredients are grown on site at this exotic nursery, where there's a big emphasis on Middle Eastern and Med food. An example includes home-grown padron pepper, heritage tomato and feta salad with basil oil and homemade flatbread.
B'Nou, Norwich: Book well in advance to get into this popular little restaurant where tapas style dishes are presented throughout the experience for you to choose or refuse. Think fresh topped bruschetta and halloumi baked in harissa with pine nut cous cous.
Casa, Bury St Edmunds: An array of mezze/small plate dishes from warmer climes, such as halloumi with spice braised red cabbage and vegetable tagine with bejewelled rice.
Ruth's Kitchen, Norwich: Authentic Jerusalem street food, from falafel with hummus, salads, dips, pickles and olives, to pita stuffed with hard-boiled eggs, stir-fried aubergine and chopped salad.
Café Kottani, Bury St Edmunds: Fab Greek produce, from mountain coffee, to filling mezze platters and classics like moussaka.
Constantia Cottage, Cromer: A favourite on the north Norfolk coast for nearly 40 years. The menu includes vegan dolmades - Greek vine leaves, soaked in red wine filled with rice, tomatoes and herbs.
Alaturka, Ipswich: The first Turkish restaurant in the town, known for great service and very tasty food, such as caramelised grated carrots marinated with crushed walnuts, fresh herbs, yoghurt, garlic and olive oil.
The Mediterranean Restaurant and Bar, Norwich: Another popular restaurant with a varied menu which includes proper kisir - a salad of bulgur wheat, tomato puree, herbs, spring onions, pomegranate molasses, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice.
Make it at home
Shop-bought falafels are nothing like the real thing. Using the best quality chickpeas you can find will make all the difference. With a large colourful salad this recipe will put you right on the Med diet track.
Serves 4 to 6
For the falafels
2 tins chickpeas (reserve ¼ tin liquid)
2tbsps sesame seeds
1tsp baking powder
1tsp garlic powder
2tsps each ground cumin, coriander and allspice
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
Handful fresh coriander and parsley 1tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2tsp ground sea salt
For the pickled cabbage
1 small red cabbage, cored and finely sliced Juice of 1 lemon 1tsp salt
For the aubergines
3 aubergines peeled, sliced in half and sliced into half moons Seasoning 1tsp allspice
Oil for rubbing
Oil for frying falafels
To serve: flatbreads, hummus, harissa sauce
1. Place all the ingredients for the falafels in a food processor and blend to a rough puree. If it's too dry add a touch of water. Form into small burger-shaped patties and chill for 20 minutes.
2. Mix together the cabbage, lemon juice and salt and set aside.
3.Rub the aubergine pieces with oil, season and then rub in the allspice. Place under a hot grill and turn regularly until softened.
4. Heat about 1cm of oil in a frying pan and fry a few falafels at a time until crisp and golden on each side. Drain on kitchen paper then place on a baking tray and finish in the oven at 200C for 10 to 15 minutes until crunchy.
5. To serve spread hummus on a flatbread, drizzle with harissa sauce, add some cabbage, aubergine pieces and then a few falafels.