What If …. Nutrition Could Heal Mental Illness?

Last night despite a seriously miserable head cold I ventured out to UC for a free lecture about the relationship between nutrition and mental illness.  The lecture theatre was packed out.  The subject matter obviously pressed a button for many of us and we wanted to find out more.

I am really interested in how a healthy balanced diet and good nutrition can affect mood, concentration and sleep,  and also perhaps help combat long-term mental decline.  I know from experience how much sharper and less foggy my mind seems to be since I switched to a virtually sugar-free diet six months ago.   Nothing else has changed in my life;  I’ve still got the chaos going on around me.  I’m still busy.  I’m still an average sleeper but my brain does seem to be functioning a little better.  Hurray for that.

Back to last night’s lecture by Julia Rucklidge, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at Canterbury University.  Once the link to the lecture on YouTube is up I’ll let you know.

The facts are there.  Mental illness is on the up all over the world and studies have shown that higher rates of mental illness are linked to a western diet (one high in refined carbohydrates and processed foods).  And that  in many cases the pharmaceutical response to these mental illnesses does not work long term.  Julia has conducted longitudinal on-off studies using micro-nutrient supplements in place of traditional drugs, which show profound results for patients suffering from a range of mental illnesses including schizophrenia, ADHD, autism, depression, anxiety and dementia.  It is quite compelling evidence.

This lecture reinforced my belief that diet is directly linked to the quality of one’s life and mental and physical well being.  Eating a variety of wholefoods and cooking meals from scratch, shopping responsibly, knowing where your food comes from and how it is grown surely gives you more control over your health.  Choosing organic foods that are grown in nutrient-rich soil  (not soil over-farmed and chemically-enhanced) and supporting local growers whose foods are fresher and therefore richer in nutrients,  has to be a better option than cooking with ingredients that take 10 days to reach supermarket shelves and have been chemically-treated  to prolong their shelf-life.

The idea that the food you eat affects your health is not new.  It has been around for centuries.  That old saying ‘ Let Food Be Thy Medicine and Make Medicine Be Thy Food’ pretty much sums it up.

And whenever I am struggling with my life and hectic commitments I go back to the basics.  Eat well, exercise and be more mindful.  That seems to help me..

Roasted Pumpkin & Eggplant Red Thai Curry

Roasted Pumpkin & Eggplant Thai Red Curry IngredientsThis recipe was originally created by cookery writer Nadine Abensur who (lucky for her!) lives in Byron Bay.  I have made a few changes to suit my palette and hungry family (doubled the veggies).

I hadn’t cooked much from her vegetarian cook book ‘Enjoy’ until recently, but because I’m on a bit of a mission now to up the vegetable content of my diet (target 70%),  I am constantly in search of tasty vegetarian options.

This is a delicious, easy to prepare Thai vegetable curry.  The caramelised pumpkin looks quite beautiful and is really filling.   And healthy (high in cartenoids, potassium, magnesium & fibre).  And cheap as chips!

You’ll need:  1/2 Pumpkin (peeled, de-seeded and cut into chunks) / 2 Eggplants (cut into chunks – larger than the pumpkin) / Olive Oil / Dash of Tamari / 2 Shallots (finely chopped) / 4 tblsp Red Curry Paste (or to taste) / 2 tblsp Thai Fish Sauce / 1 400ml Can Coconut Cream (possibly a little more depending on how much liquid you want) / 3 Kaffir Lime Leaves / 1 Red Chilli (deseeded and cut into rings) / Handful of Fresh Thai Basil or Coriander

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First you need to roast the pumpkin and eggplant.  Put them onto a baking sheet, toss with a little oil and a dash of tamari and roast until golden.  The vegetables should be caramalised but not too soft.  About 25 minutes in my experience.

Heat some oil in a wok and fry the shallots until softened.  Then add the red curry paste with a little water and fry for a few minutes.  Add the fish sauce, followed by the roasted vegetables and fry for a few minutes more.

Finally add the coconut cream, the lime leaves and most of the chilli and fresh herbs, retaining a little for serving.  Simmer for a few minutes, adjusting the flavour and consistency with extra coconut cream if required.

I serve this with cauliflower rice now – which is the simplest thing to make.  Just cut the cauliflower into large florets and put into a food processor.  Blitz until crumbed.

Put into a pan of boiling water and just cook for a couple of minutes.  Drain as you would normal rice.  And there it is.

Serves 4.

Introducing Carousel Cooks Realfood

ImageDinner Time Illustration Rachel Thornton

Welcome to our new sub-blog Carousel Cooks Realfood (which you can access just by clicking on the logo on the front page of the website). If you’ve been following our blog for sometime you will know that food has been there right from the beginning sitting alongside Gathering Tales,  dropping in from time to time with our culinary inspirations.

I have been passionate about food and cooking for as long as I can remember but have only recently had reason to look closely at what foods I’m preparing for my family and what we’re eating.   As a result the contents of my fridge and cupboards now look very different to how they did a year ago.  And it is partly this journey that I want to share in this new food blog.

Last year I gave up sugar attempting to resolve sleep issues and low energy levels and earlier this year started reducing my carbohydrate intake and now follow a version of a Paleo / LCHF diet.   What struck me initially when I changed my diet was the feeling of loss I experienced when it came to cooking. What had always been quite a natural and therapeutic process for me,  seemed now out of reach all of a sudden.  My favourite recipes and cookbooks became redundant.  Browsing through food magazines and checking in with favourite food blogs seemed a thing of the past. Travelling was a nightmare as there was never any carb-free, healthy food on offer.  I was kind of stuck.

And it occurred to me that there were probably many other people out there experimenting with new health regimes that might feel the same way.  I knew what food groups I could eat,  but was less sure how to combine and make interesting meals without using  refined sugars and carbohydrates.

Fast forward a few months though, hours of on-line research later and here I am.  I’ve found some amazing websites and food blogs from around the world, tested delicious healthy, nutrient-dense recipes and am feeling great.  Motivated and inspired by this food journey I’ve been on, it seems the natural next step to share what I’ve learnt during this process – and am still learning.

Carousel Cooks Realfood will offer links to resources, websites and lectures that I’ve enjoyed as well as recipes that I have tested on my family and friends together with links to my favourite ingredient suppliers, markets and restaurants.

Gathering foods from markets and gardens is the cornerstone of what this food blog stands for.  Wherever possible I am sourcing ingredients that are grown locally and in season.

I hope that you will share your experiences, recipes and comments.  Feel free to comment!