Good Mood Food: ‘Mess of Greens Soup’ is a Recipe for Your Mental Health

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Let these delicious greens bring you a better 2017.


I’ve always dreaded the month of January. One year in my early twenties, I felt so down that I gained ten pounds eating pasta and streamed six seasons of Smallville (which, in hindsight, is an awful show). For years I called January my “guilty pleasure month” since I let myself eat, watch or do whatever I felt like to bring up my mood. It never seemed to work.

Another January in grad school, I hid in my kitchen, away from friends and classmates, making batch after batch of brownies or homemade ice cream. Cooking and baking felt comforting, like I was actually accomplishing something, even though I should have been writing my thesis or, you know, going to class. Little did I know that avoiding human interaction and eating carbs or sweets were the worst possible things for combatting my blues. In fact, the National Institutes of Health examined studies connecting depression and unhealthy diet, and found that “although stress and depression can promote unhealthy eating, recent longitudinal studies have suggested that reverse causality is a less likely explanation for long-term associations.” In other words, bad food can be one of the causes of bad, harmful moods.

Some peole experience mood disorders or depression in the winter months as the darkness lingers and the weather turns colder. Others face entirely different mental health challenges, and it turns out that a remedy can sometimes be found in our kitchens and grocery stores. The growing research supporting this theory that mental health disorders like ADHD, anxiety and depression can be treated effectively in part with a change in a patient’s diet is inspiring and exciting to me, since I both love food and have struggled with severe mood swings my whole life.

If you have been feeling like you can’t focus or have always struggled with ADHD, psychologists recommend limiting processed sugars, alcohol and caffeine to help yourself stay on track and calm your mood. Or, if you have been feeling down or blue, try eating fatty seafood high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon or oysters; leafy greens high in folic acid like collard, turnip and mustard greens or kale; and complex carbohydrates like brown rice, sweet potatoes and quinoa to boost your mood and improve brain function. Studies seem to show that these nutrient-rich foods can have a positive impact on your mental health. I mean, has a doctor ever prescribed oysters or sweet potatoes to you before?  A diet change should not be considered a silver bullet for severe mental health issues, but a possible remedy that might decrease the need for antidepressants or other pharmaceutical solutions could be worth a try.

Since I’ve never been one to turn down a chance to eat good food, and the side effects of my own mood issues — like binging on bad TV all winter — are something I’d like to get rid of, I’m willing to give it a shot. Here’s one recipe high in folic acid and full of flavor, plus it can do double duty as your lucky new year’s day meal.


Mess of Greens Soup

Serves about 6 (depending on the serving size)

Time: 1.5 hours


What You Need:

One can of black eyed peas

2 quarts of turnip greens (around 4 bunches or probably one or 1.5 bags of prewashed)

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

4 strips of bacon

1 package ham pieces or 1 ham bone

4 cups chicken stock

2-4 cups water

salt, pepper, red pepper flakes/hot sauce to taste


What You Do:

  1. Make sure to rinse and wash your greens very well to rid them of grit. Also, take out all the little veins and stems and tear the leaves into 1-inch pieces.

  2. In a large heavy bottomed pot, brown the bacon and ham pieces, then use the grease to saute the onions and garlic until translucent. Remove the ham and bacon and set aside.

  3. Once the onions and garlic are cooked, add in the chicken stock and the red pepper flakes.

  4. When the stock comes to a rolling boil, toss in your greens.

  5. Add in the ham and bacon (that you’ve chopped up) and the water. You want it all to simmer together for an hour or an hour and a half at least.

  6. When the greens are beautifully wilted and the flavors have melded a bit (45 minutes or more), stir in the black eyed peas.

  7. Let the soup simmer for another hour on low at this point and, if needed, add a bit more water.

  8. You can either serve it immediately, or freeze it and serve it at your leisure, but whatever you do, for the love of God, serve it with cornbread and a few dashes of hot sauce.
Written by

Biz Harris is a Laurel, Mississippi native who's lived in towns from Virginia to Texas. As a homecook, she writes about full bellies, warm welcomes, southern recipes, and radical hospitality at her blog, Mess of Greens. In addition to food writing for DIME, her recipes have been featured in various Mississippi and regional publications. She's also chaired community chili-cookoffs, co-written & published an e-cookbook around foraged mushrooms, and is an avid (but unsuccessful) vegetable gardener.

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