Eating turmeric can boost your mental health

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 by Dr Michael Mosley

The Covid-19 pandemic is having a huge impact on many people’s mental health. Indeed, a new study shows there has been a spike in people reporting significant levels of depression and anxiety after the UK’s lockdown.

I can attest that with two sons contracting coronavirus (and thankfully on the mend now), I have felt higher feelings of worry and anxiety than normal.

While nothing can replace seeking professional medical support, accessing medication or counselling may prove challenging during lockdown. My wife Clare and I are instead turning to nutrition and exercise to support our mental health, and I’ve been adding turmeric to my food.

I have been interested in turmeric’s mood boosting qualities for a while. There are studies that show turmeric (particularly the curcumin in turmeric) is beneficial for your mood. In a recent episode of Trust me, I’m a Doctor, we carried out our own mini study on turmeric. Along with Professor Martin Widschwendter at University College, London, we recruited nearly 100 volunteers from the North East of England to do a novel experiment. Prior to the trial, few of our volunteers ate foods containing turmeric on a regular basis. Then, in true Trust Me, I’m a Doctor style, we divided them into three groups. We asked one group to consume a teaspoon of turmeric every day for six weeks, ideally mixed in with their food. Another group were asked to swallow a supplement containing the same amount of turmeric, and a third group were given a placebo, or dummy pill. The volunteers who were asked to consume a teaspoon of turmeric a day were ingenious about what they added it to, mixing it with warm milk or adding it to yoghurt.

Professor Widschwendenter told me afterwards “We didn’t find any changes in the group taking the placebo (the dummy pill. The supplement group also didn’t show any difference”, he went on. That was surprising and somewhat disappointing. “But the group who mixed turmeric powder into their food saw quite substantial changes. It was really exciting, to be honest. We found one particular gene which showed the biggest difference. And what’s interesting is that we know this particular gene is involved in three specific diseases: depression, asthma and eczema, and cancer…so this is a really striking finding”. Clare and I have been having a Turmeric Banana Smoothie, which is featured on www.thefast800.com for breakfast each day.

Experts think that the act of adding fat or heating the turmeric up makes the active ingredients more soluble, which would make it easier for us to absorb the turmeric. While it’s an acquired taste, I luckily really like it and together with Clare we’re exploring what meals we can add the spice to.

My favourite meal at the moment is this Chicken Turmeric Salad on The Fast 800 website. It is incredibly easy to make and is very tasty. If you’re struggling to get hold of all the ingredients at the moment, you can skip them or replace with something similar.

Turmeric Chicken Salad

Servings: 2 Calories per serving: 433 Prep time: 7 minutes Cook time 7 minutes

Ingredients

300g skinless chicken breast, sliced into thin 5cm strips

3 tsp ground turmeric

Black pepper

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 avocado, seed and skin removed

100g cherry tomatoes, halved

200g spinach leaves

Fresh coriander, chopped

Fresh mint leaves, chopped

Method

1.     Add the chicken strips, turmeric and approximately 1 teaspoon on black pepper to a large bowl. Mix the ingredients together and cover the chicken evenly with the pepper/turmeric mixture

2.     Next, add a tablespoon of olive oil to a large pan and place over a medium heat. Add the chicken to the pan and cook until the chicken is white throughout and browned on both sides

3.     Meanwhile, cut the avocado into chunks and add to a large bowl along with the tomatoes, spinach, coriander and mint

4.     When the chicken strips are ready, add them to the salad ingredients and toss together. Divide in two and place half of the salad in a bowl and the other half in an airtight container and refrigerate

5.     Drizzle half a tablespoon of olive oil over the salad and enjoy!

Leftover tip: When you are ready to eat the leftovers, place the remaining salad into a serving bowl and drizzle half a tablespoon of olive oil over the salad. Please note this dish must be eaten cold the next day-  don’t reheat the chicken.

Turmeric and Banana Smoothie

Calories per serving: 190Prep time: 3 minutesCooking time: 0 minutes
Ingredients

1 banana, chopped and frozen

200 ml carton coconut milk

½ tsp coconut oil, melted

½ tsp ground turmeric

¼ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp chia seeds

Method
Place all ingredients in a powerful blender and blend on high speed for 30 seconds, or until smooth and creamy.Pour the smoothie into a long glass and drink immediately. If your blender isn’t powerful enough to blend ice, add the ice after blending.

Tip: Cut up and freeze the bananas before you add them to the smoothie! This increases the sweetness of the smoothie.

During this period of social isolation you can register on www.thefast800.com for the added support you may need to help you stay fit and healthy. Not only will you be given a personalised diet-plan, but will be able to access a fantastic array of recipes (for veggies and vegans too), lists of ingredients to buy or draw on from your store cupboard, and a fitness plan which is specific to your needs. You’ll also get access to an interactive forum which is full of others currently using the plan – and communities sharing and supporting are vital to us at the moment.

You’ll also get access to one of our health care professionals who monitor the forum and can offer advice. There is also an extensive video library of HITT exercises and mindfulness programmes – perfect for helping you stay physically and emotionally fit at this very trying time, as well as lots of tips from myself. Experts will also send you weekly updates with fresh information, fresh tips and loads more ideas to keep you motivated.