Updated: Mar 20, 2019
Now that it's mid-march, warmer weather should be right around the corner. Days are getting a little longer, temperatures seem to be creeping up and the "official" first day of spring is today! Still, this time of year can be tough for many (including this girl!), as the days of shorts and tank tops seem unbearably out of reach. This feeling is especially the case for the millions of Americans struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Whether you are clinically diagnosed,* or simply have a few winter-time blues, there are certain things you can do each day to shake that gloomy feeling and prep for the warmer days ahead.
Okay, so a juicy burger and fries, or a comforting bowl of Fettuccine Alfredo sound like a home-run when you're down in the dumps, I get it - and I feel ya! Unfortunately, while we feel good in the moment (or even for a few minutes after indulging), that feeling doesn't last long.
Don't get me wrong, I believe balance is key, and that all foods fit in a healthy lifestyle (see: What We Believe At Well By Design), so the occasional comfort meal is important to our overall well-being. However, when it comes to improving mood and breaking out of that slump long-term, certain foods assist in the process, while others hinder it. Studies show highly processed foods high in added sugars, refined (white) carbohydrates, and fried foods all can increase inflammation in our bodies. Over time, this inflammation can increase our risk for diseases, and also have a negative impact on our frame of mind.
What's more, stress can also have a significant, negative impact on our physical and mental wellness. Stressful situations (deadlines at work, busy schedules) provoke a "fight or flight" reaction, leading to cortisol release. Increased cortisol production, can lead to food cravings (especially for carbs), and those cravings then cause increased food intake - further exacerbating your winter blues in a vicious cycle.
The good news: Enjoy these nutrient-rich foods to truly sooth and improve mood.
Omega-3 rich foods
Research shows omega 3's (a fatty acid we get from foods) are able to positively alter cell signalling and structure, acting as an antidepressant. Additionally, omega-3 rich foods may be able to decrease the release of pro-inflammatory and mood-diminishing compounds in the body. Omega 3's are highly concentrated in the brain, and may have a positive impact on memory and brain function as well.
Nuts and Seeds - Pecans, Walnuts, Sunflower Seeds, Almonds Ground Flaxseed & Chia Seeds
Fleshy Fish - Salmon, Tuna, Sardines
Olive Oil, Avocado
Eat the Rainbow
Fruits and vegetables are particularly high in vitamin C and Beta-Carotene, as well as other powerful antioxidants that can help fight that nagging inflammation. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables from all the colors of the rainbow is essential for consuming a wide array of mood boosting, immune-system enhancers.
Vitamin B-Rich Foods
B Vitamins are critical when it comes to serotonin production; Serotonin is an essential neurotransmitter for mood regulation. Many studies have linked low levels of Folate, B6 and B12 with depression. The examples of B-rich foods below will be your best friend for breaking out of that slump.
Complex carbohydrates - 100% whole grains, oatmeal, legumes, lentils, and veggies, like dark leafy greens, asparagus, and avocado
Shiitake Mushrooms - Not only a rich source of B6, they are also rich in magnesium and selenium - two nutrients closely linked to regulating mood
Eggs - Rich in B12 and tyrosine, an amino acid precursor for dopamine- another mood-boosting neurotransmitter. The yolk of the egg is rich in vitamin A, magnesium, iron, selenium and choline- all critical for improving mood
Every tissue in our body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain, heart, and immune system. This means it's critical for optimal functioning, alertness, and energy. Accumulating evidence shows Vitamin D has an important role in mood and mental health. In addition, the microbiome (see below) regulates the availability of some nutrients including vitamin D.
The sunshine vitamin - Human skin cells can convert sunlight on our skin into vitamin D. Get outside and enjoy the sun whenever you can.
Vitamin D is also found in:
Salmon, Sardines & Tuna
Mushrooms if grown under UV light
Fortified foods including milk and cereals
"Microbiome" is a huge buzzword right now in the health + wellness arena, and for good reason. Research is booming, and more and more studies point toward our gut as a "second brain". Studies are showing that maintaining a thriving microbiome is key to overall health + happiness.
Add these foods to your daily routine for a boost in mood:
Greek Yogurt/Kefir - Full of probiotics that keep your gut balanced with the right kind of bugs
Kombucha - A tasty probiotic drink that will add some good bacteria to your life
Fermented foods - Add sauerkraut, Kimchi and Miso to your grocery list for the week
Upcoming post: Gut Health- what you need to know
Eat at regular intervals to balance blood sugar
When we don't eat for several hours, blood sugar levels dip, causing us to become sluggish, tired, and foggy. Not drinking enough water throughout the day can also lead to the same symptoms. Anyone that has experienced 'hanger' knows how brutal it can be.
Small, nutrient-rich snacks, and sipping some H2O every few minutes can help keep energy and brainpower up. This means planning well-balanced snacks throughout the day that include carbs, protein, fat, and fiber:
1 handful unsalted nuts with 1 piece of fruit
2% Greek Yogurt with lower sugar granola (We love Purely Elizabeth or homemade) and piece of fruit
Apple with Peanut Butter + hard-boiled egg
Turkey & cheese roll-up with a handful of 100% grain crackers
When you're not sitting down for a meal or snack, enjoy a good laugh with a friend over a hot cup of cocoa; take time to stop by your favorite yoga joint or gym; think about all you have to be grateful for. Exercise, fellowship, and gratitude are all good for the mind + soul.
Remember, whatever you do-
do it well, and by design
* The information provided on this post is general health information directed toward a generally healthy individual. The information here should not replace individualized recommendations from your doctor or Registered Dietitian. If you believe you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or any other type of depression, please consult your doctor.