With the ongoing pandemic and a devastating conflict threatening to escalate into World War III, it’s safe to say the current global climate isn’t too cheerful.
In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a staggering 25 percent, according to a scientific brief released by the World Health Organization earlier this month.
“The information we have now about the impact of COVID-19 on the world’s mental health is just the tip of the iceberg,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said following the release of the findings in early March. “This is a wake-up call to all countries to pay more attention to mental health and do a better job of supporting their populations’ mental health.”
With the world facing unprecedented challenges, looking after your mental wellbeing is more important than ever. On March 20 each year, the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness is observed worldwide in the hopes of encouraging people to spread a little bit of it around.
While there are many ways we can choose to recognise the International Day of Happiness, such as giving directly to those working on the frontline of a crisis or donating to local efforts, not all options are feasible for everyone. But there are little ways you can choose happiness for yourself, every day.
One of the simplest ways you can take care of yourself and promote wellbeing is by being mindful of what you put into your body. Not only is food a linchpin of day-to-day life (i.e., it keeps us alive and functioning), but choosing nutritious and balanced meals can reap multiple benefits, including improved mood, energy levels and overall health – talk about food for thought.
“In my research, I have found that the relationship between fruits and vegetables and the practice of eating ‘five-a-day’ and happiness is fairly strong. This relationship is even more pronounced when eating raw fruits and vegetables,” says Associate Professor Tamlin Conner, who works in the Department of Psychology at University of Otago.
“In a study led by my students, there is a lot of evidence to suggest raw fruit and vegetables contribute to happiness the most, however, an increase of all fruits and vegetables (either cooked or raw) into the diet alongside a healthy diet will help hit the right balance.”
The research found that eating five or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day is linked to increased happiness as well as enhanced physical health. Adding subgroups of berries, leafy greens, green salad or tomatoes may also have a positive influence on your mental health, while increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables you eat overall may contribute to a rise in satisfaction.
In recognition of International Happiness Day, one of New Zealand’s leading meal kit subscription services, HelloFresh, has provided three recipes containing mood-boosting ingredients to help you start eating your way to happiness.
These recipes can be adjusted for taste and preference, so get creative!
Apple, Parmesan and Rocket Salad
This delicious salad upgrades the classic pairing of leafy greens and parmesan with roasted almonds, apple and parsley, finished with a drizzle of syrupy balsamic glaze.
Leafy green vegetables such as rocket, kale, spinach, cabbage and parsley have been linked with having a positive influence on wellbeing and a reduced risk of mental decline, containing high levels of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Rocket is rich in chlorophyll, amino acids and vitamins C, E, B and K and also contains beta-carotenes, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin. It also provides glucosinolates, which may help to protect against cancer.
- 1 cucumber
- 1 red apple
- Roasted almonds
- 1 bag of rocket leaves or mixed salad
- Fresh parsley or mixed herbs
- Grated parmesan cheese
- Balsamic glaze
- Olive oil.
- Thinly slice the cucumber into half-moons. Thinly slice the apple into wedges.
- Roughly chop the roasted almonds and herbs.
- In a medium bowl, combine the salad leaves, grated cheese, cucumber, apple, a pinch of salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
- Transfer the apple, parmesan and green salad to a serving dish. Drizzle with some balsamic glaze. Sprinkle with the almonds and herbs to serve.
Goat Cheese and Pesto Spaghetti with Caramelised Cherry Tomatoes
Overflowing with spinach, a dark, leafy green and excellent source of vitamin K, this recipe also contains tomatoes, a major dietary source of the antioxidant lycopene, which has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. They are also a great source of vitamin C, potassium, folate, and vitamin K.
A study in 2013 also found that a tomato-rich diet may have a beneficial effect on the prevention of depressive symptoms.
- Half a lemon
- 1 punnet cherry tomatoes
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 1 packet spaghetti
- Baby spinach leaves
- Red pesto
- Dill goat cheese
- Olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar.
- Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan-forced. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Slice lemon into wedges. Place the cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and drizzle of olive oil on a lined oven tray. Toss to combine and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Roast until blistered for 15-20 minutes.
- Cook spaghetti in boiling water until ‘al dente’ for about 10 minutes. Reserve some pasta water (0.25 cup for two people), then drain and return to the pan. Add red pesto, baby spinach and the dill goat cheese to taste. Toss to coat until the spinach has wilted. Season with pepper.
- Add the roasted cherry tomatoes and any tray juices to the spaghetti. Gently toss to combine. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and season to taste. Add a splash of pasta water if the sauce looks too thick.
- Divide the pesto spaghetti between bowls. Crumble over some extra goat cheese to serve.
Vanilla Poached Pears and Nutty Crumble with Berry Compote and Yoghurt
Berries are a fun, tasty and versatile fruit you can easily incorporate into your everyday diet – they’re particularly well-suited to breakfasts and dessert dishes. As a good source of fibre and antioxidants, research suggests berries may help to reduce negative emotions. Blueberries in particular have been found to improve mental health: a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that adding blueberry juice to the diet of older adults improved memory recall and reduced symptoms of depression.
According to Medical News Today, eating a variety of nuts – especially Brazil nuts – may help to ease anxiety. Nuts, especially almonds, are an excellent source of vitamin E – vitamin E deficiency has been linked to mood disorders.
An Australian study, known as the SMILES trial, studied people suffering from clinical depression. Thirty-two percent of those following a Mediterranean diet, including nuts, experienced a remission in depression symptoms. The more closely they adhered to a Mediterranean diet, the lower their score for depression and anxiety.
- 2 pears
- Vanilla essence
- Spices (think cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom)
- Greek-style yoghurt
- 0.25 cup brown sugar
- 80g butter
- 1 cup water
- Berry compote (for a simple compote, throw your favourite fresh or frozen berries into a pot and add a splash of juice, or your sweetener of choice, such as a little sugar or maple syrup – for more flavour, add ginger, cinnamon, or another spice of choice).
- Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan-forced. Cut the butter into small cubes. Roughly chop the pecans. Peel and quarter the pears, then remove the core.
- In a medium saucepan, add the water, brown sugar and vanilla-flavoured essence. Bring to the boil over a medium-high heat.
- Add the pears to the saucepan, reduce the heat to medium and cover with a lid. Simmer, turning occasionally, until the pear is tender, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- In a medium bowl, combine the oats, spices and the butter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the oat mixture, until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the pistachios, crushed macadamia nuts and pecans and mix well.
- Transfer the crumble mixture to a lined oven tray and spread out into a single layer. Bake until golden, about 8-12 minutes. Keep the crumble slightly clumped together on the tray – if it’s spread too thin it can burn.
- Divide the Greek-style yoghurt between bowls. Top with the poached pears and sprinkle with nutty crumble. Spoon over the berry compote and some poaching liquid to serve. Store any leftover pears and crumble in separate airtight containers.