It's a lot to take on board -

Oily or sugary foods seem like a brilliant idea at the time, but can often leave us feeling sluggish and lacking in energy.

Eating healthily can be energising and there are ways of making cooking really fun - yet it can sometimes feel time-consuming and it can be expensive.

Committing to a really healthy diet can be high maintenance – so it makes sense to allow for treats every so often.

The most important thing is to be able to strike the right balance. Here are some ways that good food can lift your mood:

Five a Day: It’s really important to try and eat at least five pieces of fruit and veg a day because they contain vitamins which both keep our bodies healthy and improve our mood. Making a smoothie or fruit salad, or eating your veggies with a dip like hummus can really help to jazz things up.

Drink Water! Drinking water regularly during the day helps our bodies function - being dehydrated can negatively impact on our ability to concentrate and think clearly. Studies show that even mild dehydration (1-3% of body weight) can impair many aspects of brain function. In a study of young women, fluid loss of 1.36% after exercise impaired both mood and concentration, and increased the frequency of headaches. Another similar study, this time in young men, showed that fluid loss of 1.59% was detrimental to working memory and increased feelings of anxiety and fatigue.

Grow your own: research shows that growing our own veggies can be especially satisfying, as we get to harvest and eat our own produce, which can give us a sense of self-sufficiency that acts as a brilliant antidote to depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. The more you get into it, the more adventurous you can become. Before you know it, you’ll have a new hobby that other people admire!

The great thing is, even if we don’t have much space in our own backyards, there are loads of ways to get into growing produce. For example, an allotment’s a great way to feel like we have our own little space and also a way to meet people who’re into exactly the same thing and to exchange tips. If you don’t fancy the commitment of an allotment, why not grow a low-maintenance tomato plant or a few herbs? They can simply sit on your sunny window sill and they give off a lovely aroma!

Cooking: Some of us are total novices, but fear not, there are a surprising number of ways to learn the basics of cooking. Whether we get ourselves down to the local community centre and take a few classes, or pop into the library for a cookbook, or simply get onto YouTube, creativity makes us feels GOOD and a lovely meal at the end of it all can be satisfying to the stomach and rewarding to the soul. Cooking is also a great way to bond with others; gathering round a table with friends can be a simple way to show how much we care. One thing we want to emphasise is that good, hearty and healthy food doesn't have to be Cordon Bleu – many of us have  busy lives and so a jacket potato or beans on toast can be easy as well as nourishing!

Go local: We've got a great market on the Moor in Sheffield, where you can get good quality fruit and veg at reasonable prices. Cooking 'with the seasons' also helps keep the price lower - for example if it's winter, choose some hearty root vegetables and cook up a big soup.

A few final tips for healthy - and tasty - cooking :

  1. Steam, bake, grill, braise, boil or microwave your foods.
  2. Modify or avoid recipes that include lots of butter or ask you to deep fry or sauté in animal fat.
  3. Be aware of how much oil and butter you're using.
  4. Don't add salt to food as it's cooking - if you need to, add it at the end, or try new ways of finding flavour. Creating meals with herbs, spices and other natural flavourings is one of the best ways to add colour, taste and aroma to foods without adding salt or fat. Healthy flavour boosts include:
  • Fresh herbs. Add them toward the end of cooking.
  • Dried herbs. Add pinches of dried herbs in the earlier stages of cooking. 
  • Dried mustard. Used sparingly, dried mustard adds a zesty flavour while cooking.
  • Vinegar or citrus juices. Add a splash at the last moment. 
  • Marinades. Try with foods that you grill or roast. To make your own marinade, use 1 part oil to 2 parts vinegar or citrus juice, and add herbs and spices as desired.
  • Chillies. Remove the membranes and seeds first, and then finely chop. A small amount goes a long way!