As difficult winter months approach, new research by leading health and wellbeing charity, Royal Voluntary Service and Yakult UK, identifies the toll the season takes on older people.
A concerning 46% of over 65s surveyed agreed* that they “dread the winter”, and half agreed* that winter negatively impacts their mood.
When asked what affects mood most, 46% of over 65s surveyed identified the shorter daylight hours, 44% said cold weather, and unsurprisingly amidst the current cost of living crisis, 43% cited higher home heating bills as the biggest offenders.
Following the findings, much-loved TV chef Rosemary Shrager has stepped in to help banish winter blues by launching a collection of Happy Plate recipes which will be served at the charity’s lunch clubs. The Happy Plates are part of the charity’s Stay Safe, Warm and Well campaign, delivered with long-term partner Yakult, to offer people wellbeing advice and support this winter. Rosemary’s Happy Plates are delicious recipes filled with accessible ingredients that have been identified by nutritionists at Yakult as top foods to help boost mood.
The Stay Safe, Warm and Well guide includes vital information such as money-saving advice, energy-saving tips and contacts for mental health support. Plus, tips on eating well including a tasty recipe packed full of mood-boosting foods.
“I’m delighted to share these Happy Plate recipes, which utilise ingredients that are not only delicious, but are mood-boosting to boot. It’s heartening to think that they might be bringing comfort and wellbeing to people during these dark winter days.
“I’m proud to be part of the Stay Safe, Warm and Well campaign which is helping people to look after their health and wellbeing this winter. I know it’s a challenging time but I hope that joy can be found in these recipes, both from that wonderful feeling of hunkering down with a warm bowl of stew, and from the nutrient-packed ingredients.”
Rosemary Shrager, creator of the Happy Plate recipes
The research found that almost half (43%) of older people (65+) surveyed didn’t know that what they eat can affect their mood, and so are being encouraged to try Happy Plate recipes this winter as an easy way to increase their intake of mood-boosting foods. Including high-fibre and nutrient-dense ingredients identified by nutritionists at Yakult, the Happy Plate recipes are:
- Oat coated chicken breast with green lentils and roasted red onion
- Baked salmon with a peanut sauce served with broccoli and bacon
- Beef tagine, mashed potato with olives and a side of greens
“Certain foods can impact mood because of the two-way communication between the gut and the brain, via a network of nerves called the gut-brain axis[i].
“Scientists are understanding more and more about the important role that gut bacteria play in supporting physical and mental wellbeing. What we eat and how we feel are closely linked, with one having a powerful impact on the other. A balanced diet, rich in fibre and nutrients can help beneficial bacteria thrive, supporting the communication between the gut and the brain and helping us to feel our best!
“We’re excited to be working with Royal Voluntary Service and Rosemary Shrager on the Happy Plate recipes, to encourage more people to nourish their gut bacteria and in turn, help us all to feel good this winter.”
Dr Emily Prpa, Nutritionist and Science Manager at Yakult explains the science behind these mood-boosting foods
Top mood-boosting foods and their nutrients which play a role in boosting mood, identified by Yakult scientists, include:[ii]
- Eggs (tryptophan)
- Chicken or turkey (tryptophan, B vitamins and zinc)
- Leafy greens (tryptophan, magnesium, omega-3 and folate)
- Wholegrain cereals (carbohydrate, magnesium and B vitamins)
- Oats (carbohydrates, magnesium and folate)
- Oily fish (omega-3)
- Quorn (zinc) and Tofu (zinc)
- Nuts (magnesium, zinc and carbohydrates) and seeds (magnesium and carbohydrates)
- Liver (B vitamins, folate and zinc)
- Avocado (folate and B vitamins)
- Broccoli (vitamin C, folate and B vitamins)
- Legumes (tryptophan, folate and zinc)
- Potatoes (vitamin C, B vitamins and carbohydrate)
- Berries, oranges and other citrus fruits (vitamin C)
“These delightful Happy Plates are a brilliant addition to our Stay Safe, Warm and Well campaign this year. We have created the Stay Safe, Warm and Well guide every winter for the past four years, and every year we are told what a valuable resource it is for people who are older, more vulnerable or have no one else to turn to in the difficult winter months.
“As the research shows, the pressures of winter exacerbate the challenges faced by older people in our communities every day. At Royal Voluntary Service we are determined to be there for as many people as possible during their time of need, and generous support from Yakult in creating this guide, means we can get our advice into the hands of those who need it most.”
Catherine Johnstone CBE, Chief Executive of Royal Voluntary Service
Those looking for advice this winter can visit and download the Stay Safe, Warm and Well Guide
In January, Royal Voluntary Service and Yakult will be hosting Stay Safe, Warm and Well events, including Happy Plate cook-alongs via the charity’s Virtual Village Hall, a free online activity hub and community.
[i] Cryan, J. F., O'Riordan, K. J., Cowan, C. S., Sandhu, K. V., Bastiaanssen, T. F., Boehme, M., ... & Dinan, T. G. (2019). The microbiota-gut-brain axis. Physiological reviews.
List of nutrients and their role in mood, with references
Tryptophan is a precursor of serotonin, which is important for mood. Lowering dietary tryptophan causes a lowering of brain serotonin levels. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728667/
Tryptophan is found in a wide variety of protein-containing foods, including eggs, cheese, meat (especially turkey), fish, wheat, rice, potatoes, and bananas.
Fish, poultry, eggs and game, but some green leafy vegetables (such as spinach) and seeds also provide a source. https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/depression-diet.html
Carbohydrate rich meals release insulin allowing glucose to enter the cells. Additionally it helps with the entry of tryptophan into the brain.
Evidence low GI is better Vs high GI.
Wholegrain cereals, peas, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables
‘A growing body of evidence has indicated that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 PUFAs) have been effective in improving depression’
Oily fish include salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards and trout.
Plant based alternatives: walnuts, flaxseed oil, rapeseed oil, green leafy vegetables
‘Among healthy young women, those who received zinc and multivitamin supplements showed greater reductions in depression-dejection scores of the Profile of Moods State (POMS) assessment than those who had only received multivitamin supplementation’
A wide variety of foods contain zinc (Table 2) . Oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food, but red meat and poultry provide the majority of zinc in the American diet. Other good food sources include beans, nuts, certain types of seafood (such as crab and lobster), whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, and dairy products [2,11].
Phytates—which are present in whole-grain breads, cereals, legumes, and other foods—bind zinc and inhibit its absorption [2,12,13]. Thus, the bioavailability of zinc from grains and plant foods is lower than that from animal foods, although many grain- and plant-based foods are still good sources of zinc .
Some intervention studies have suggested a beneficial role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression [92,93], while others have not [94,95]. A recent randomized clinical trial in a population of adults diagnosed with mild-to-moderate depression found that the consumption of 248 mg of magnesium per day for 6 weeks resulted in a clinically-significant 6 point decrease (p < 0.001) in depressive symptoms, as measured by the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) compared to those receiving a placebo treatment.
Magnesium is usually consumed through nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables and whole grains.
People with depression have lower levels of folate, and has been used to predict poor outcomes with antidepressant therapy. Supplementing with folic acid was shown to improve effectiveness of depression treatment.
Although this isn’t overwhelming evidence to suggest that increasing folate can improve mood in healthy subjects, sources of dietary folate are also sources of other nutrients important for mood.
E.g. beef liver, spinach, black-eyed peas, rice, asparagus, brussels sprouts
The review provides evidence for the benefit of B vitamin supplementation in healthy and at-risk populations for stress, but not for depressive symptoms or anxiety.
B vitamins are particularly concentrated in meat such as turkey, tuna and liver. Good sources for B vitamins include legumes (pulses or beans), whole grains, potatoes, bananas, chili peppers, tempeh, nutritional yeast, brewer's yeast, and molasses.
Results showed that vitamin C reduced anxiety levels and led to higher plasma vitamin C concentration compared to the placebo
oranges and orange juice
red and green peppers
*Strongly agree and somewhat agree responses combined
For further information
Royal Voluntary Service is one of Britain’s largest volunteering charities with volunteers supporting the NHS, adult social care and thousands of vulnerable people in the community. The charity delivers the NHS and Care Volunteer Responders programme for NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care, enabled by the GoodSAM app, with volunteers responding to over 2.5 million requests for help to support approximately 200,000 people, and completing over 363,000 shifts at vaccination sites.
The charity also works in local communities running home libraries, companionship support, home from hospital services and patient transport. Its Virtual Village Hall provides online activities and classes to promote wellbeing and keep people active.