Rosemary Shrager: ‘Dark days bring you down, especially when you’re older’

Rosemary Shrager has created three recipes designed to boost our mood in winter (Alamy/PA)
Rosemary Shrager has created three recipes designed to boost our mood in winter (Alamy/PA)

It was a dark, chilly, rainy day and – full of cold – Rosemary Shrager didn’t want to get up.

But, like most of us, the 72-year-old celebrity chef and author couldn’t lounge in bed all day – she had appointments to get to. And, perhaps just as importantly, she had soup to make, and that was going to help her feel better.

“Dark days, they do bring you down, especially when you’re older,” Shrager reflects. “I think people don’t realise the impact dark days have on elderly people.”

New research by the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) found 46% of over-65s feel the shorter daylight hours at this time of year affect their mood more than anything else.

“This morning, I woke up and I just wanted to stay in bed all day,” admits Shrager. “It could be something to do with the way I’m feeling [with a cold], but it was dark outside and horrible, and I just don’t want to go outside. But I have to make myself.

“Being my age – 72 – I tell you, it’s very easy not to go out. I know what it’s like to want to stay at home, cocoon yourself in your little place, and just sit down. But you can’t – you have to make yourself get up.

“And I’ve got some stuff in the fridge that needs to be done – I’ve got too many tomatoes. I’m going to make tomato soup with it, I’m just going to shove it on with some onion and so on. Unfortunately, I’ve got to go out later on, but the soup will happen today. Soup will be cooked.”

Shrager, who’s appeared on many cookery shows over the years and written numerous cookery books, is now about to publish her third crime novel (all of which have a cookery theme, of course). She says she’s “completely aware” food can not only give you a psychological boost, but if it’s good, healthy food, the vitamins and minerals in it can also help.

“Good food changes your mood, it actually makes you feel better,” she explains. “Food is one of the most important things. For instance, if you’re going to live on things like hamburgers and chips, the nutrients in there are not good, they can actually change your mood. So you do need to have some really good nutritional help.”

Shrager is supporting the RVS Stay Safe, Warm and Well campaign, which is offering wellbeing advice and support this winter.

“I understand this campaign – I’m one of them, I know what it’s like,” admits Shrager, who’s created three ‘Happy Plate’ recipes filled with top mood-boosting ingredients as part of the campaign.

The recipes are oat-coated chicken breast with lentils and roasted red onion, baked salmon in peanut sauce with broccoli and bacon, and beef tagine with mashed potato, with olives and a side of greens.

Shrager says eating this way “makes you feel more healthy”, and adds: “I think it’s incredibly important to eat vegetables, greens and things like that. Really, for me, it’s a no-brainer. They’re good, they’re lovely, and they’re just good to be cooking – have a bit of fun cooking your own food.”

The grandmother, who’s widowed, cooks for herself as she lives alone – although she never really feels lonely, she says. “There are moments when I sort of think it’d be nice to chat with someone, but if that’s the case, I get on the phone and I talk to someone, if I feel I want to tell them about something. But I have to say I’m one of these people who actually likes living on her own – I like my own company. Believe it or not, I’m quite a tough person.”

But she stresses: “Sometimes, a meal can be the most important thing in your life. It’s a moment where you can enjoy something, and food gives you that pleasure. And not only does it give you pleasure, but it can make you well, it gives you all sorts of different things. And it also gives you something to do by cooking it yourself.

“If people are lonely, then food can be one of the few joys that remain.”

What foods are best for boosting mood?

Scientists at Yakult, a long-term partner of the RVS, have identified some top mood-boosting foods and their nutrients as…

– 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).

Explaining the science behind this, nutritionist Dr Emily Prpa, science manager at Yakult, says: “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. 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.”

Rosemary Shrager is supporting the Royal Voluntary Service Stay Safe, Warm and Well campaign, which is offering winter wellbeing advice and support.