Mood boosting spinach pesto

Mood enhancing spinach pesto

80g spinach

2-3 cloves of garlic crushed

½ lemon, juiced

50g pine nuts

Blitz all ingredients in a food processor using extra virgin olive oil to produce a consistency similar to a thick dip. Season to taste.

The science behind spinach and mood enhancement

Many anti-depressant drugs focus on the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT) due to the fact changes in the brain’s serotonin system are observed in depression [1]. Serotonin is essential for overall health and wellbeing, and people report that it can produce a more positive mood. A class of drugs that act as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) are used in the treatment of depression. SRIs ensure that serotonin is available for a longer duration at the neuronal synapse where it is thought to exert its mood-boosting effects. The mechanism of action for serotonin is not clear due to the complexity of the brain.

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body is not able to synthesis itself, so it is considered an essential amino acid that must be taken through dietary sources. Tryptophan is also a precursor for making the neurotransmitter, serotonin, and has been shown to produce mood-enhancing effects itself [2]. There is much scientific evidence emerging that links the gut, the brain and the importance of diet on not just physical health, but mental health too [3]. In this regard, spinach is rich in tryptophan and therefore, may indeed be mood-boosting as well. Spinach is also rich in iron, vitamins and minerals, so why not try this spinach pesto recipe and add it to rice, pasta, fish or anything else you may fancy. You never know, it may just turn that frown into a smile!

It is essential to be aware that depression is very complex, and eating mood-boosting ingredients will not necessarily lead to a permanent cessation of symptoms; however, it should not cause any harm. Dietary changes can provide additional support to the use of conventional therapy (if recommended by your GP) and appropriate professional support i.e. by licensed counselling practitioners.


1.         Young, S.N., How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience : JPN, 2007. 32(6): p. 394-399.

2.         aan het Rot, M., et al., Social behaviour and mood in everyday life: the effects of tryptophan in quarrelsome individuals. J Psychiatry Neurosci, 2006. 31(4): p. 253-62.

3.         Jenkins, T.A., et al., Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis. Nutrients, 2016. 8(1): p. 56.

Exercise and health

I thought today I would provide a brief overview of why we should exercise; there will always be differences based on an individual’s own circumstances so this is a guide, written and summarised based on the science.

Health benefits from exercise

It is well established and understood that exercise positively impacts on physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. There are plenty of studies providing substantial evidence for regular physical exercise being able to reduce the incidence of chronic diseases in the older population. This evidence supports both infectious diseases, such as viral and bacterial and non-infectious, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, exercise can help a person maintain healthy body weight, reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, assist with sleep and promote bone strength.

Exercise and mental health

More recently, research has focused on the effect of exercise on mental health, with a wealth of evidence suggesting that exercise can contribute to mood enhancement. The mechanism is not entirely understood, although some suggest that the endorphins released during exercise have a calming and mood-lifting effect. Others report the release of monoamines, for example, the neurotransmitter serotonin, during exercise can act in the same way as anti-depression drugs. The reality could be a combination of effects.

Disease control

Exercise can assist in the control of diseases such as asthma, while not preventative, symptomatic control can be observed in some. From a subjective perspective, I can personally testify to this! Individuals suffering from cardiovascular disease, including post heart operation, can improve heart strength, under guidance from a qualified fitness trainer/medical professions. Also, exercise can assist with blood glucose management in diabetics, essential to controlling the symptoms of diabetes.

How much exercise is healthy?

There is a lot of scientific evidence to support the role of exercise in physical and mental wellbeing, still there is also the suggestion that too much or too intense exercise regimes may be harmful. The widely accepted consensus is that moderate exercise, which should be performed daily, is beneficial to health. Of course, it could be argued that moderate exercise is subjective and is also dependent on an individual’s level of fitness. As a general guide, a brisk walk is considered moderate exercise; however, in a more athletic individual, one would think that moderate exercise would be jogging. A good determiner would be that during exercise, a reasonable conversation should still be able to be held. There are some good guidelines provided by the NHS in terms of exercise that should be undertaken:

Exercise should not be a chore

To make sure exercise is not a chore, be sure to choose an activity you enjoy. Maybe incorporate exercise with a new hobby such as bird watching or flower spotting while walking? I am fortunate to live close to some beautiful walks, if you do not have the same luxury, consider listening to a series of informative or fun podcasts, this may help pass the time. It is also the perfect opportunity to join a club and meet new people, look up local cycling, jogging, hiking or walking groups.

In summary

Exercise is good for our health so whatever form of exercise you enjoy – just do it! Each person will have different limitations, so if in doubt about what type of exercise should be carried out, or it will be the first time for exercise, take medical advice. Finally, always listen to your body, if you experience chest pain, or breathing difficulties stop exercising and call for help. Some degree of muscle discomfort is likely to occur when starting a new form of exercise; however, this should not persist, and any post-exercise aches should disappear in a few days – if persistent seek professional assistance.