It’s no secret that food affects mood. There are foods that have been scientifically proven to boost our ability to cope or self-regulate – lean protein and complex carbs (fibre) take longer to digest, helping stabilize blood sugar and energy levels and keeping you on an even keel. Iron (spinach, white and kidney beans, oats, lentils, pumpkin seeds) can help ward off fatigue and strengthens neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, which help regulate your nervous system. Healthy fats such as oily fish, avocados, nuts and oils aid with brain health, and studies have shown they can help with depression. Studies of the impact of fermented foods on depression, anxiety and cognitive performance tend to be inconclusive, but a recent one on the connection between the gut microbiome and our mental health showed that the trillions of bacteria that reside in our digestive system have an influence on our mood.
Then there are foods that just make us feel good. Starchy bread, potatoes and pastas are comforting. Those dishes we grew up with, that remind us of people we love, trigger nostalgia, help curb anxiety and boost our sense of contentment and well-being. Just the act of being fed – having anyone cook anything for us – boosts our mood. And of course there’s plenty of evidence pointing toward the mental and physical-health benefits of social connection. No matter what you eat, sharing it with others strengthens relationships, improves our ability to recover from stress and anxiety and has a positive effect on emotional regulation. It’s not only what we eat, but who we share it with.
Recipe: Kimchi Pancakes
Though it may not be backed by official scientific study, most would agree that pancakes are comforting, as are carbohydrates (a kimchi pancake has both complex and simple carbs) and anything soft and warm. A kimchi pancake is the kind of thing you can make quickly to share with friends – low stress, high reward.
1-2 green onions
1½ cups roughly chopped, drained kimchi
1 large egg (optional)
2 tsp soy sauce
1 cup all-purpose flour (or a gluten-free blend)
2-3 tbsp drained kimchi liquid
Vegetable oil, for cooking
1/4 cup soy sauce
1-2 tbsp rice or black vinegar
Slice a couple of one-inch pieces off the bottom of your green onion/s and halve, then thinly slice each piece lengthwise. Put in a small bowl of ice water so they curl. Chop the remaining onion and put into a medium bowl with the kimchi, egg and soy sauce, then mix to combine well.
Put the drained kimchi liquid into a measuring cup and fill it to 3/4 cup. Add the flour and the kimchi water and stir just until well blended.
Set a heavy 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat and add a generous drizzle of oil. When it’s hot (but not smoking) spread the thick batter in the pan, turn the heat down to medium and cook, flipping after a few minutes, when it’s crusty and golden on the bottom. (If you have a hard time flipping it, slide it onto a plate and invert back into the pan. Cook for a few minutes on the other side, until cooked through – it should be springy to the touch. (Alternatively, make smaller pancakes – any size you like – by dropping large spoonfuls of batter into the skillet, spreading them out and cooking until golden on both sides.)
Serve in wedges or diamonds, topped with the green onion, with the dipping sauce (stir the soy sauce and vinegar together, add a pinch of sesame seeds and a few bits of the green onion) and a squirt of Kewpie mayo if you like. Serves about four.