As it starts to get cold outside, and the days grow grey and rainy, the sun revealing itself less and less, it can only mean one thing -winter has arrived. Because of the drab weather, people can often suffer from what is known as seasonal affective disorder, brought on by the changing of seasons. It usually reaches its peak during the winter months, and that’s why I decided to dedicate this post to ways that can help prevent or reduce the effects of the winter blues a lot of us might be feeling these days.
As you might imagine, I am not a fan of prescription medication. I strongly believe that you can improve the way you feel with the foods you consume. How you nourish your body really affects your emotions, and especially during winter consuming foods that are rich in vitamins will help you feel more energized, and happier! On top of the foods I will list here for you, I also drink green smoothies and cold-pressed juices to keep my vitamin intake high and strengthen my immune system.
So here is a list of foods you should include in your menu to beat the winter blues. They work; I have tested them myself 😉
Unsurprisingly, one thing the majority of us will be deficient in during winter is vitamin D. Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, because our body produces it by synthesizing cholesterol while absorbing natural sunshine. It can improve your mood and make you feel happier (see my article about vitamin D here). In winter the lack of natural sunshine requires us to get our vitamin D from foods such as wild mushrooms. Wild mushrooms – like our skin – produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. That’s why they are particularly high in this vitamin. The commercial mushrooms are typically grown in greenhouses, so are unlikely to get too much indirect exposure to the sun. Try getting them wild if you can to boost you vitamin D levels. Some of them are still in season and you can find wild mushrooms in the farmer’s market or in your health food store. I am buying loads of wild chanterelle currently. I still supplement vitamin D during winter to really make sure I meet my daily dose.
This sweet fruit contains Tryptophan, which helps your body produce serotonin, a chemical important for both – proper sleep cycle and mood. Additionally, the natural sugars and potassium in bananas help fuel your brain, and the magnesium in them helps improve sleep and reduce anxiety, both typical symptoms of winter blues. You can enjoy your bananas whole, or blended in a smoothie with some raw cacao… which brings me to my next point.
Well, isn’t chocolate sort of a self-medication at times? 🙂 But if you want it to really help you beat the blues don’t opt for milk chocolate or chocolate ice cream, as this wont help you. Instead reach for dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa. The high concentration of cocoa will increase the dopamine levels in your brain, which helps block different kinds of pain and will make you feel better instantly. I also love adding raw cacao nibs to my granola for breakfast or I make myself a cacao smoothie in the morning, to make sure I start off the right way. 🙂
According to research folic acid has an effect on the brain that boosts your mood. Some arguments are that the body uses it to create serotonin – which we now know is a chemical that affects mood – but this hasn’t been 100% confirmed. What we know for sure is that Folic acid is crucial for proper brain function, and plays an important role in maintaining mental and emotional health. Some foods that contain high amounts of folic acid are leafy greens, oatmeal, wheat germ, and lentils.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Consuming good fats is essential for your health, Omega-3 in particular is really important for your brain and can influence your mood. People suffering from depression have low blood levels of brain chemicals called (EPA) and (DHA). As the human body converts Omega-3 into both EPA and DHA, this really is an essential nutrient.
According to studies of native Eskimos in Greenland, who consume about 7-10 grams per day of long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids, they have virtually no depression even though their living conditions can be pretty depressing with only an hour or two of sunlight a day during the winter months.
So to fight off those winter blues make sure you consume flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds on a daily basis, or salmon, which are all good source of omega-3.
Berries and fresh fruits
Last but certainly not least. Eating colorful fruit will immediately make you feel better. And berries such as blueberries and raspberries can help relieve stress symptoms in your body, as they prevent the release of cortisol – a stress hormone.
So there you have it. It can be difficult to stay on the healthy track during the winter months, but it is important to try and include as many of the foods above in your diet to help you feel better. Limiting sugar and simple carbohydrates will also help improve your mood, and even caffeine drinks, as they can increase the stress level in your body.