Wintertime means frigid temperatures, possibly some ice or snow, fewer hours of daylight, and the onset of seasonal affective disorder for many.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that generally occurs during winter months. However, if you find yourself “bumming” during the cold and dark months of the year, the good news is that a few simple dietary changes can help.
Although depression can cause cravings for refined carbohydrates, these sorts of foods should be avoided because the body digests them too quickly, resulting in a rapid spike in blood sugar and a crashing effect afterwards – and that can make you more irritable.
What should you do?
Avoid highly processed carbohydrate foods like white bread, white rice, soda, candy, and snacks like chips and cookies. To keep blood sugar, and your mood, more steady, try consuming fiber-rich carbohydrates like plenty of fruits and vegetables, beans and lentils, oats, and whole grain rice, breads, and cereals. These will help maintain an even blood sugar and help avoid that crashing effect.
A tip to choosing healthful carbohydrates that will boost your mood is to choose whole foods that are minimally processed. A good rule of thumb: If you can’t pronounce the items on the ingredients list, avoid them!
Coincidentally, whole foods to boost your mood are often rich in B vitamins as well. Research shows that adequate consumption of B vitamins can boost serotonin levels and dopamine function in the body. Serotonin can contribute to a feeling of happiness and ease, and dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for pleasure, helping you fight off the winter blues. Folate is a B vitamin that can be found in things like whole grain cereals, lentils and beans, broccoli, and oranges.
In addition, vitamin B12 is abundant in shellfish, wild salmon (the omega-3 fatty acid content also boosts mood!), lean beef, dairy, chicken, and eggs. These are all great and healthy sources of protein that will keep you feeling satisfied longer and ward off moodiness. Lean proteins with minimal fat are best because consuming excess fat can weigh you down and increase fatigue. Use these ingredients to cook foods to help make you feel warm and fuzzy, like rich, spicy stews, or a warm bowl of oatmeal in the morning. Or try a clean and fresh salad for lunch loaded up with leafy greens and crisp vegetables to make you feel refreshed, light, and rejuvenated. Don’t forget to enjoy a glass or two of water with meals, and in between, because staying hydrated also reduces fatigue and improves mood.
Winter doesn’t have to mean a decline in your happiness and sense of well-being. Stock your pantry with feel-good foods to warm up your mood during the colder months.