The Relationship Between Food And Mental Health

For Mental Health Awareness Week, Jil Carrara speaks to Lauren Lovatt, chef and founder of the plant-based culinary school Plant Academy and Feed Your Mind Candy about the connection between food and mental health.

I first met Lauren Lovatt at The Conscious Living Retreat and had the pleasure of tasting her incredible plant-based culinary genius. From sourdough with oat butter, foraged vegetables, smoked carrot slices that tasted (and looked) exactly like salmon, to the signature mind-boosting dessert – I felt like I was inside a plant-powered episode of Chef’s Table. At the retreat, we started talking over Hackney Herbal tea and I discovered her affinity towards sustainability and was immediateley inspired by her very personal story about loss and mental health that led her to bringing mental wellbeing into the kitchen. Lauren now focuses on cooking with mind-boosting ingredients and making meals as wholesome and fulfilling as possible while hosting classes at her Plant Academy – a plant-based culinary school in London – and pop-up events with Feed Your Mind Candy, which she founded to help inspire better mental health through food. 

What role does sustainability play in your kitchen?

Sustainability is everything to me in the kitchen. My mission really is to connect people with real ingredients and share a way of cooking and eating the inspires better personal health and does good for the planet.

I opened the Plant Academy – a plant based culinary school in East London – earlier this year. Our whole ethos is to make food more sustainable, more delicious and even more accessible. Through the classes we teach students how to use seasonal ingredients, connect with local suppliers and to be creative so that nothing goes to waste.

For me personally I love the creativity that sustainablilty brings. If you have stems and stalks left over what can you do with them? I’m forever making spiced up surplus crackers, breads and ferments. It keeps life interesting.

Why plant-based? 

Plant food gives us such variety, so much flavour and so much goodness. It is so important to eat a wide variety of foods and plants especially can give you that.   

On so many levels we know plants are great for our health but also a key part of doing good for the planet. The more we can enjoy things local where we are and have that connection with ingredients – it will have make a world of difference.

It’s so exciting to see a shift in consumer demand now and a growing plant curiosity. I think now we are at the point where we’ve done the vegan junk food thing – it’s time to make this way of eating and living sustainable long term, so the Plant Academy is about teaching sustainable solutions to everyday eating. 

What is Feed Your Mind Candy and how did it come about?

Feed Your Mind Candy is all about inspiring and expressing better mental health through food. We exist as a supper club experience, offer mind food workshops and curate mental health-focussed catering. It’s about rebranding mental health with a trend towards wellness through bringing a breath of fresh air and a bit of sparkle to the idea of living to support your mental health.

The concept came to me when I suffered with mental illness myself. I had gone to art school and fallen in love with an incredible guy who was diagnosed with bipolar early on in our relationship. We went through such a tough time trying and failing to get help and understand this diagnosis. Through a turbulent serious of events, he committed suicide a year later. It destroyed me. From there I had PTSD, depression and a whole concoction of eating disorders.

Long story short, with incredible support and a lot of hard work something clicked and I wanted to get better. I spent years researching and finding ways that could help me get my life back on track – which led me to train as a plant-based chef, as I had really understood the power of plants. This led me to open restaurants, travel the world teaching and now open the Plant Academy in East London. 

Feed Your Mind Candy really came to life last year as I finally wanted to really share this journey and the power of food specifically created to elevate your mood. This is not only about the high vibe, seasonal ingredients we use, but the act of bringing people together to experience magic. Everything I do is in support of CALM – the male suicide charity – and I hope by continuing to open up this conversation we can support those going through dark times by making positive lifestyle actions acknowledged by the nation.

What role does food play in our mental wellbeing and how did you first discover this connection? Mind food is all about balance. Whole foods, good ingredients and enjoying what you eat. It’s about using superfoods for an added boost and having meals that feed your soul. I personally champion a whole foods way of eating, healthy fats, whole grains and loads of veggies. Nuts and seeds, beans and pulses and the abundance of fresh ingredients on our doorsteps. Keeping your blood sugar stable is a key part of good mental health, that means choosing and pairing foods that aren’t just full of sugar.  For example, try the ‘feed your mind candy’ recipe – yes it’s a sweet treat but it is balances with carob, omega fats and good nuts.  I discovered all this through experimenting on myself, recovering from mental illness in a way that nourished my mind and body back to good health in a more holistic way. What is your goal or mission through your work? To share that healthy living is delicious, it’s fun and can support you on so many levels. It can be the auto of cooking, turning up as part of a team or simply coming together to chat over a nourishing meal. I aim to make mind food a form of social prescription in the form of culinary classes. I also starting this conversation about mind food in general. After all we are all on the spectrum of mental health and go though all sorts of things and all hope to connect with anyone going through a harder time or supporting someone else and make the knowledge of mind food known about. After all, if we know how to better support ourselves in general, if things get tough we have that toolbox of knowledge to draw upon. What are your three go-to ingredients for mind-boosting food? Cacao is a natural mood booster it helps to release happy-hormones and a powerful and diverse range of nutrients and minerals. It can be simply added to salads for a bitter crunch or melted into your favourite chocolate recipes. Infusing ingredients together for an added punch of brain-busting power, Rosemary, has been scientifically proven to help with your memory. Hemp is an ingredient that’s having its field-day and no wonder when it’s “one of Britain’s most nourishing crop”, hemp seeds are full of handy omegas that feed our mind and nourish our soul and with CBD – the non-psychoactive part of cannabis widely available in the UK can help control anxiety and sleeping disorders. Blend a cup of hemp seeds with three cups of water, a pinch of salt and some vanilla beans to create your very own hemp milk, which is delicious in smoothies or on home-made granola or add some berries for an amazing antioxidant elixir.  

What are some of your favourite sustainable restaurants/cafes in London? 

Of course, Plant Hub is my go to. We create fantastic locally-sourced dishes made with so much love. Our salad bowls change with the season and we currently have an alright bowl laden with G-oat cheese (oat cheese), amazing ferments, loads of veggies and crunchy surplus breadcrumbs. 

If out and about, I love Wild Food Café both in Islington and Covent Garden for their creative dishes. SLAW is a fantastic new find that serves cool small plates made with passion. I’ve recently enjoyed Scilly’s and always enjoy a good adaptogenic creation from East London Juice. I’m also really excited for the new opening of SILO. Douglas’ vision and drive for sustaibaility has inspired me for a long time.

What would a perfect meal look like for you?

I’m all about the experience – supper clubs get me really excited. So if I were to choose a starter main and dessert it would be:

I was recently in Bali where I had Coconut Roti (bread) with smoked coconut butter. It was followed by a dip covered in crunchy condiments. I love alerts of surprise in food with lots of dips and flavours, so this again would be perfect.

I really do enjoy a good salad – something absolutely packed full of interesting things. Local leaves smothered in a miso vinaigrette with crunchy coconut fritter, chilli marinated seaweed, grilled vegetables, toasted herbs and some perfectly cooked Bali red rice.

Smoked chocolate is my favourite thing ever. So a smoked chocolate ganache with some crunchy candied cacao nibs and a pop of a fish wild berry and micro herb.


To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Lauren is hosting an evening of discussion, plant-based and mood-boosting food and a calming meditation session. All profits will go to CALM – (The Campaign Against Living Miserably) a leading movement against male suicide and limited seats are available. Book your tickets here.
When? 16th May 2019 at 6.30 – 9pm, The Plant Hub Academy

Want to try one of Lauren’s recipes? Try this brain boosting snack and this nutritious bowl designed to have a positive impact on your mind.