If you’re like most people, you could probably use a bit of a mood lift this time of year. The shorter days and colder temperatures seem to be here to stay while the festive holidays are in the rearview mirror. The good news: Adding a few healthy foods to your day can be a tasty way to brighten up your spirits. (That said, if you are experiencing a more serious seasonal depression, be sure to see your doctor who can help come up with the best treatment plan for you.)
The food-mood connection all comes down to what’s going on in your body during the winter. “Two things happen as you have less daylight: Your melatonin production increases, which can leave you feeling sluggish, and you have lower levels of serotonin, which is a feel-good chemical,” says Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD, a dietician in Alabama and author of Meals That Heal. “That’s one reason why people crave sugary carbs so much. They give you a quick fix for both sluggishness and mood.” Unfortunately, reaching for a doughnut every time you want to turn a frown upside down probably isn’t going to help you hit your health goals. A better idea? Include more of these happiness-inducing foods.
Whole Grains. “Complex carbohydrates give you the same mood lift as sugary treats, but they are higher in fiber, so they won’t spike your blood sugar, then drop it way down,” says Williams. “The fiber will also help you feel fuller, which will lessen cravings.” Whole wheat bread isn’t the only way to get your grains—snack on popcorn, start your day with oatmeal, and add barley or wild rice to your soups.
Foods High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Research shows that people with major depressive disorder tend to have lower levels of these fatty acids in their blood. Look for omega-3s in fatty fish, flax seed, and walnuts.
Foods with Vitamin D. “People usually just associate vitamin D with bone health, but it does a lot for mental health, too,” says Williams. “And even if you aren’t deficient in vitamin D, you probably aren’t getting as much as you need—especially when you don’t get a lot of sunlight in the winter.” Find vitamin D in fatty fish, fortified dairy, and eggs.
Lots of Fruits and Veggies. Saddle up to the salad bar! Researchers followed a group of people from 2010 to 2017 and found that those who ate the most produce (both in amount and frequency) reported higher levels of mental wellbeing. While winter isn’t nearly as exciting for produce as summer, now is the perfect time to experiment with citrus fruits (ever had a blood orange?) Alternatively, you can try making smoothies with frozen-at-their-freshest berries, or even try sprinkling in some pomegranate seeds!
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.