If you’ve ever felt tired or a little depressed in the winter, you may have experienced the winter blues. It’s a very common medical condition, and is know more formally as “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (or “SAD”). SAD can actually affect people in any season, but is most common in summer and winter. In this article we’ll discuss some of the foods you can eat in order to get rid of those winter blues.
SAD is caused by decreased levels of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, sleep and learning. Factors that can lower your serotonin levels include stress, lack of natural sunlight exposure, unbalanced diets and certain drugs or medications. Because the winter months often bring less direct sunlight and we tend to eat a little more (and possibly not as healthfully), it’s no surprise that SAD is very common this time of year.
The good news is you can fight back on the winter blues, by making a few changes in your diet. Food does not actually contain serotonin, but do contain certain nutrients that can help restore your serotonin levels.
Nutrients that Boost Serotonin:
- Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids: Foods high in this are also high in Tryptophan, which is an essential amino acid your body can’t produce naturally, so incorporating foods rich in omega-3s can be very helpful. Try foods like salmon and other oily fish, bananas, walnuts, turkey, tofu and flax seeds.
- Folate or Folic Acid: Also an important part of increasing serotonin levels, foods like lentils, asparagus, spinach, kale, citrus fruits, kidney beans and broccoli can pack a punch of folic acid.
- Magnesium: A natural anti-stressor, foods high in magnesium are worth including in your diet. Look to incorporate more bran, squash and pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts and even dark chocolate.
- Vitamin B: This important vitamin can boost your energy levels, so eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin B. Some things you might try include more of include brown rice, corn, shellfish, fish, beef, lamb and eggs.
Other Winter Healthy Eating Tips:
- Replace simple carbohydrates with complex carbohydrates. When the days are cold, we often crave carbohydrates to give us energy. The problem with simple carbohydrates like white flour and white rice is that they give us a quick boost of energy but then cause of too crash and deplete our serotonin levels. By choosing complex carbohydrates like whole grain flour, brown rice, vegetables and legumes, you get more long term energy for your food.
- Drink more water. Water is always good for you, no doubt about it. It keeps you hydrated, flushes out toxins and can fill you up, keeping you from making poor food choices.
- Avoid alcohol because it’s a depressant. While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional glass of wine or other alcoholic drink, regular consumption can be harmful to your overall well being.
- Avoid stimulants like caffeine and other drugs. They can affect your sleep and can deplete serotonin levels.
Staying happy and healthy this winter is pretty simple, but sometimes it takes a conscious decision to choose the right foods. Use these tips as your guideline to help you stay on track and of course remember to exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep at night.