Can you fight depression by simply eating right? Yes, you can. By sheer indulgence. How? Read Kornelia Santoro´s new book ‘Cooking for Happiness.’ We talk with the award-winning author about her new book and the story behind writing it.
What made you write about improving mood with food?
During the more than 50 years of my life I have gathered a wealth of information regarding food and the way we eat and nourish the body and soul. For years I have suffered from all kinds of eating disorders before finally finding balance in life, thanks to my husband and my son. But during menopause, pre-menopause to be precise, I had to struggle with depression again. That´s when I decided to seriously investigate how we can influence and balance our brain with the way we eat. I firmly believe, we are what we eat.
How long did you research for this book?
Only the research took me about two years. I ordered a bunch of books that dealt with fighting depression with diet, the way our brain works, neuro-transmitters and so on. I also surfed the Internet. I don´t know how many websites and blogs I have visited but the number must be in the hundreds, if not thousands. Anyway, for quite some time I soaked up everything I could find about the subject and I realized something: All books only dealt with diet plans to improve neuro-transmitter levels in the brain. There was not a single book that referred to comfort food as a source for happiness. So I decided to write about both, balancing the brain on the one hand and enjoying happy moments with our favourite dishes.
Comfort food? Don´t they tend to make you fat?
I believe, when you eat healthy, home-cooked food you can enjoy the really yummy, fattening dishes also. I always say: Look at my figure. It proves that I know about nutrition. I am 54 years old now and I weigh around 60 kilograms. Of course I pay attention to what I eat. But I regularly indulge in my favourite comfort dishes like lasagna or chocolate truffles. I also love ice cream. For me, home-cooked food is the key to stay slim. When you cook in your own kitchen, you know what you use. I believe, the right kind of fat is key in staying slim. In my kitchen, I only use olive oil, butter, ghee and coconut oil. Vegetable oils of questionable quality clog your arteries and tend to make you fat. By the way, I am not a scientist but I dare state this after many years of life experience. So many times, so-called experts gave advice that turned out to be wrong. For example eggs: We were supposed to eat not too many eggs. Nowadays we know that eggs are very healthy. One or two eggs a day hurt nobody. The same goes for butter. Although new studies show that butter is healthy there are still plenty of doctors claiming not to eat too much butter.
But many people warn us not to eat comfort food.
I have found people mixing up the terms comfort food with junk food. When I say comfort food I refer to home cooked delights not to greasy stuff from a fast food joint. Many psychologists agree that comfort food is good for us. Savoring the small pleasures of life makes us happy, in a very simple, instantaneous kind of way. There is nothing wrong with reaping joy wherever you can find it.
You mentioned neuro-transmitters. What are these and why are they so important for our mood?
Neuro-transmitters connect our nerve cells. All feelings are caused by our nerve cells getting activated, a bio-electrical process. Different neuro-transmitters cause different feelings. They get activated and then they disintegrate after they have done their work. That´s why feelings, also strong feelings, never last. When you don´t have enough neuro-transmitters in your body, you tend to suffer from depression. All neuro-transmitters are made from proteins, that’s why we need to eat plenty of good proteins.
Is it not possible to improve neuro-transmitter levels by taking them as a pill?
Neuro-transmitter molecules are too big to enter the brain. When we take neuro-transmitters in pills, they do not reach the brain where we need them most to improve our happiness levels. This is due to the blood-brain-barrier, a membrane around the brain. This membrane protects the brain from viruses and bacteria and other big molecules. Only the building blocks for neurotransmitters, amino acids, are able to enter through the blood-brain-barrier. All neurotransmitters need to be synthesized in the brain. For this we need a well nourished body with plenty of B vitamins and minerals.
You also mentioned the right kind of fat. Why is healthy fat important for happiness?
Our nerve cells are embedded in fat cells that the body replaces from time to time. Omega 3 fatty acids are the best kinds of fat for our nerve cells because they are very flexible. They allow the nerve cells to work well. Omega 6 fatty acids, on the other hand, tend to be rather stiff and do not allow the nerve cells to work smoothly. I express all this in a rather unscientific way but I have tried everything I write about. When you eat fish and other seafood, the best source for omega 3, at least two or three times a week, you feel better.
Really? Does this happen immediately?
Unfortunately, improving our mood with food takes time. According to my experience, you need to give it a couple of weeks at least. But you do not need to stick to a diet plan. If you follow the advice in my book, you just need to select your dishes wisely. You can allow yourself the freedom to eat whatever your heart desires. The important thing is to consume enough vitamins, minerals, proteins and healthy kinds of fat. I do not believe in diet. Diets only make you fat. The right kind of lifestyle keeps you healthy and slim.
You suffered from eating disorders when you were young and now you write cookbooks. How does this relate to one another?
Thanks to my eating disorders I have gathered a wealth of knowledge regarding food. When I was a teenager, I started with anorexia nervosa. One of the symptoms of this mental disorder is the obsession with food. At this time I started to collect cookbooks. But at this point, food was the enemy, to be avoided at all costs. Then this changed to binge eating. Thanks to psychotherapy in my thirties I overcame these eating disorders and now I can enjoy food. I believe, when we eat, we take a piece of our world into our bodies. The food we choose and the way we eat says a lot about our state of mind. That´s why I write cookbooks because I think I know the subject really well and I can give some helpful advice.
Happy Food Tips:
Nourish your brain with Pumpkin Soup • Roasted Chicken • Mexican Beans and Brown Rice • Seafood Risotto
Bring a smile to your face with Mashed Potatoes • Goan Prawn Curry • Apple Crumble • Red Wine Cake
* The book is available in bookshops all over India and Amazon
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