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.