(Editor’s Note: This weekly column,”Slow Diet with Dr. Swati Bathwal” is a part of our Slow Foods initiative. To become part of it, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or @slowfoodsindia on Twitter and instagram)
In sooth, I know not why I am so sad, it wearies me; you say it wearies you …”
— William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice
Loneliness. Unexplained sadness. A deep hollow in the heart. The feeling that makes us not want to talk to anyone, not eat, not do anything. The feeling that makes us shut out the world. And one day, we are told we are going through depression.
So many of us have been there. I certainly have.
I was living in Australia, more than 7,000 kms away from my home land and I was swamped with this aching feeling of loneliness and unexplained sadness. It had been almost two years since I had last visited India and travelling wasn’t possible due to work commitments.
One morning, I was sitting by my window which overlooked my backyard, watching kangaroos, wallabies and joeys jump around the woods. It was indeed a pleasant sight to behold. But why was I so sad? What was gnawing at my heart? I just kept looking out with great sadness, lost from the world. My coffee had gone cold. It was a pain I could not bear — and not express either. At that very moment, from my window – cows, goats and water buffaloes grazing on grasslands back at home was all that I wanted to see.
It was the third time that week that such a feeling had overpowered me. It was time to seek help.
With this ongoing issue I looked for support around me — my colleagues who were trained nurses and general practitioners. I was diagnosed with depression. I had a successful career, supportive colleagues, a friendly pet and everything a young girl would ask for. But maybe I was lonely, being away from family and old friends. I had immersed myself in too much work. I was passionate about giving back to the community what I had learned.
Medication was my last resort. “Life can’t be this harsh” I said to myself and started looking for food that could help me heal. Ayurveda, Chinese, Unani, Modern medicine, all have mentioned that food is a voice to our mood. I began growing my herb garden as I started reading about herbs that helped to uplift the mood. I also sneaked into my Lebanese friend’s kitchen to find some middle eastern recipes.
These recipes are a part of my Happy Diet and I have them two or three times a week. Vitamin D, exercise, traditional foods, family and community support can help you recover whatever you are battling.
A middle eastern kitchen is incomplete without this spice. Early in the morning you will smell the aroma of zatar being ground from fresh herbs in every middle eastern kitchen. Researchers have found that spices like thyme and oregano elevated serotonin, a neurotransmitter which regulates mood, sleep and appetite. A compound called carvacrol, a phenol found in thyme and oregano has cognitive and mood enhancing properties. This spice can be sprinkled on pizzas, bread, yoghurt or mixed with olive oil and can be had with some crackers. So, let me share my friend Mariam’s recipe.
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
2 tablespoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoon freshly grounded cumin powder
2 tablespoon sumac powder (1 tablespoon dried lemon peel)
1 teaspoon sea salt
Toast white sesame seeds until aromatic. Once they are roasted, put all the spices in a mortar and pestle and grind them into a rough powder. Once ready, store it in an air tight container. I have 1 tablespoon a day with 1 teaspoon of olive oil on my chapati or parathas or even homemade pizza slices, in hung curd dip and even in salad dressings. It works wonders.
Brahmi is an adaptogenic herb — which means it adapts to any stressful situation and helps in releasing serotonin in our body. It helps in overcoming nervousness and anxiety. No wonder my mother gave me this herb before my exams. Remembering this, I decided to use this herb in my green chutney.
Green Brahmi Chutney
1 cup Brahmi leaves
½ cup coriander or parsley leaves
½ cup fresh coconut
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon urad dal
1 teaspoon chana daal
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
½ green chilly
1 teaspoon salt
Wash the leaves thoroughly. Put the oil in a pan and dry roast the daals. Once roasted put the daal in a blender and mix it with the leaves, coconut and green chutney. Add some water if needed to make it a smooth consistency. Add salt. I enjoy having this chutney and had 2 tablespoons every day. I added it to my sandwiches and wraps or just had it with cucumber, carrots, celery and zucchini as a dip.
There can be no conversation on mood uplifters without mentioning Ashwagandha. Ashwagandha is a stress relieving herb and is a tonic to our nervous system. It uplifts our moods and relieves anxiety. I managed to get some Ashwagandha powder from a health food shop. It was difficult to prepare drinks everyday due to my busy schedule, so I decided to turn them into yummy protein balls.
This makes 10 balls
1 cup shredded/desiccated coconut
½ cup ashwagandha powder
¼ cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ cup peanut butter
½ cup chocolate chip
Mix the coconut, oats, ashwagandha powder and sea salt in a blender. Once blended keep it aside. Add the peanut butter to this mix. Now make tiny bite size balls and roll them in the chocolate chips. Once ready store it in an air tight container in the fridge. One must consume a maximum of 1 teaspoon of Ashwagandha powder in a day, hence 1 protein ball is enough.
Cacao hot drink
Mayans- The Incas of Mexico served cacao to their gods. It was a food for the rich and priestly class and a savior for warriors. Fresh cacao beans from the Theobroma tree were fermented, dried, roasted and hand ground into cacao paste. They combined these with cornmeal, chili peppers or water. Beans prepared at a lower temperature retains all its antioxidant properties and are called “Cacao” whereas those beans which has been exposed to high temperatures and are roasted are called “cocoa”. Cacao contains a compound called phenethylamine which triggers the release of endorphins and serotonins in our brain, helping our nervous system. When I read this, my next hunt was to search for Cacao powder so that I could use it in my drink.
1 tablespoon cacao powder
2 tablespoon almond powder
½ cup hot water
½ cup almond milk
Both almonds and cacao help in releasing serotonin, which is our mood lifting hormone.
This is the best version of a hot chocolate drink. You can also pair this drink with cardamom powder or saffron instead of almond powder.
This became my drink every night for my supper.
Bananas are rich in magnesium, potassium, tryptophan. Magnesium and potassium work as a muscle relaxant and tryptophan helps in producing the happy hormone serotonin. So, I experimented again with my culinary skills in the kitchen and created my own version of the Banana Split. And it is guiltfree!
Banana – 1 medium
¼ cup crushed walnuts, pistachios, almonds, pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon chopped apples
½ cup thick yoghurt
1 teaspoon honey
Slit the banana in half and add a dollop of thick yoghurt on each half. Keep it in the fridge for 10 minutes. Once it is set, add the crushed nuts and seed and sprinkle chopped apples or any fruit of your choice and drizzle honey. This guilt free dessert can also replace your breakfast or be a weekend treat. And not to forget the dose of happy hormone you get from the banana, yoghurt and nuts.
Ever since, I took help from my colleagues and adapted these recipes for use in my everyday life, my coffee has never turned cold!
These recipes are a part of my Happy Diet and I have them two or three times a week. Vitamin D, exercise, traditional foods, family and community support can help you recover whatever you are battling. Looking back to several years ago, I think – if I am what I was 7 years ago, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Life will knock us down and it will also lift us up several times. And it is how fast we get up that matters.
Disclaimer- Herbs like Brahmi and Ashwagandha can be unsafe or unsuitable for certain health conditions, please refer to your local practitioners before consuming them. The above recipes are meant for guidance, please refer to your practitioner if you need any clinical support.