We’re on the final stretch of winter and spring is in the air, but what I’m about to share with you can work year-round and not just through the dreary days of winter. It’s just that in winter we often get in this funky mood that just won’t seem to go away. For some people, it can be a serious issue, for example, those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder. But I’m going to talk to you about foods, or food types, that will help you overcome those winter blahs. Whether you are struggling in the winter or some other season, these foods can really make a difference.
As I list off these foods, you’re going to see some foods that you’ve probably eaten a lot of and others that you might not have eaten at all. What most of them have in common is that they help boost our serotonin levels in some way. A good way to think about serotonin is to think of it as your body’s feel-good chemical. So, increasing it can lead to great shifts in energy and mood. Let’s jump into this list, and don’t be surprised if you see some of the same foods listed more than once – these are good because you can check off several categories and benefits with a single food.
- Lean Proteins – You’ve probably heard from a lot of people, including me, that lean proteins should be an essential part of a healthy diet, but I’m going to give you one more reason to want to include them in what you eat. Lean proteins help combat the winter blues. Say what?! Yep, they help improve your energy levels and it’s hard to be in a bad mood when your energy level is up. Specifically, salmon and turkey offer the most benefit. Turkey contains tryptophan. You’ve heard of that happy, sleepy feeling after eating a big Thanksgiving dinner – that’s tryptophan from the turkey making you happy.
- Bananas – Bananas help your body absorb tryptophan. So, if you’re going to combine odd foods, think turkey and bananas. I know, I know. It’s an odd combination, but if you’ve got a good recipe for those two things, let me know.
- Berries aka Careful Carbs – When we eat refined carbs such as white bread, cookies, etc., we get short term pleasure, but they often eventually make us sluggish later on. Instead, careful carbs such as berries, lentils, legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables take longer to digest so they don’t cause our blood sugar to spike and wreak havoc on our mood. Berries can also prevent cortisol release, a hormone that is associated with stress and high levels of belly fat.
- Nuts – Many nuts are full of Vitamin E. This vitamin is an antioxidant that has shown to impact our anxiety and depression levels. Studies have shown that many people who suffer from depression also have low Vitamin E levels. To increase your Vitamin E intake, eat more nuts, seeds, legumes, and beans. Almonds, walnuts, and Brazil nuts also contain mood-boosting ingredients and brain-protective compounds. Nuts are also high in omega 3’s which have been shown to increase mood.
- Lentils – Lentils are rich in magnesium which plays a vital role in mood regulation. Just one cup of black beans contains 30 percent of the RDI for magnesium. Magnesium has a huge impact on me, and if I’m off-kilter it is almost always because my magnesium levels are too low. You can find magnesium in bananas, seeds, nuts, and avocados, but one of my favorite ways to boost my magnesium is through a bath. I take baths with Epsom salt and baking soda. I first started taking them because I was having body aches. Almost immediately after the first bath the aches and pains went away, but I noticed something else too. My mood had significantly improved. Why the baking soda? It opens up the pores so that your body can absorb all the benefits of the magnesium you are getting from the Epsom salt.
- Quinoa – All B Vitamins play a big role in our mood and energy, but the role Vitamin B12 has tends to have the biggest impact. Quinoa has a range of B vitamins and when our Vitamin B levels are low it can impede our production of serotonin. This vitamin helps boost energy levels and improves how we respond to stress. You can add more Vitamin B12 to your diet by eating dark leafy greens, salmon, eggs, yogurt, and milk.
- Avocado – This yummy fruit (yes they really are a fruit, a berry to be exact) helps with our hormone production, and when our hormones are imbalanced our minds and bodies suffer. Avocados are rich in omega 3 fatty acids that help our brains react positively to stress, as well as B vitamins that impact our nervous system. I personally eat one daily!
- Chocolate – Yay! Chocolate really is on the list. Ha, party time. But truly, chocolate triggers the release of pleasurable endorphins which produces feelings of exhilaration and elation (why I said PARTY). Dark chocolate, specifically, has been shown to increase levels of dopamine in the brain and low levels of dopamine have been associated with depression in some people.
- Green Tea – While tea may not be a food, it still deserves to be on the list. Green tea is an amazing source of the amino acid L-theanine which helps us relax and calm down. It also has a bit of caffeine which can be a welcome pick me up if we are feeling down. I use an amazing brand that comes in a pomegranate flavor. So good!
- Spinach & Kale – Foods containing Omega 3’s offer more benefits than just boosting our mood. A lot of times when the cold weather sets in, our bodies suffer from aches and pains more than they normally would. The good thing about Omega 3’s is that they help lubricate the joints and the body, so many of those aches and pains go away. Not only do they help with the aches and pains of winter, but they also contribute to our brain health so they can decrease symptoms of depression. Foods with the highest levels of Omega 3’s include salmon, flaxseed, and walnuts.
As you can see, many of these foods were listed in more than one category, such as berries, bananas, and lentils. The thing is, any little tweak you can do to make your body and mind feel better when you’re struggling with the blahs is worth giving a try. After all, who cares about being healthy if you’re feeling miserable, right? Certainly not me! We are human. So, go give a few of these foods a whirl and let me know how they make you feel.
And remember, we’ve only got a few more weeks of winter left. We can do this!
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