As winter rolls around, it’s easy to feel a little blah. The days are shorter and colder, our bodies get less sunlight, and with all the holiday festivities it can feel like you’re running around non-stop. Just dealing with the more difficult weather can really take it out of you, and when it’s dark outside already by the time you leave work, it can be a real downer.
Some of us feel the winter blues intensely—Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression associated with the colder season—and others may just feel a little down in the dumps. To combat SAD, or just the blues, there are plenty of ways to give yourself a little mood boost during the winter months, from exercise to getting outside, to thinking consciously about you eat. Certain foods and beverages help us feel better—and not just of the wine variety. The truth is that by making healthy strategic choices about what we put into our bodies, we can make a huge difference in our energy levels and overall happiness. If you’re feeling down this winter, try the following foods to put a little extra pep in your step.
This lean protein is a good source of energy and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, the healthy fats that help regulate mood by lowering levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Salmon is also rich in vitamin B12, which is linked to the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that has a major impact on how we feel. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include tuna, flax seeds, avocado, and walnuts.
Berries & Citrus Fruit
Chock full of vitamin C, these fruits help lower levels of cortisol and give the immune system a huge boost to boot. A known stress-fighter and immunity enhancer, vitamin C also helps the body absorb iron, deficiencies of which can lead to fatigue. Other sources of vitamin C include chili peppers, red bell pepper, kale, and broccoli.
Less sunshine means our bodies produce less vitamin D, the feel-good vitamin. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to depression, and studies have shown that SAD patients can benefit by increasing their intake of the vitamin. To compensate for the winter drop, try milk and dairy products. Other sources of vitamin D include mushrooms and egg yolks.
A rich source of numerous vitamins and minerals including potassium, magnesium, vitamin K, iron, and calcium, leafy greens like spinach, kale, collard greens, and chard are also an excellent source of folate, a B vitamin. Folate may fight depression by aiding in the creation and regulation of serotonin. Other sources of folic acid include oatmeal, oranges, lentils, nuts, and beans.
A popular protein this time of year, turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is known to have a calming effect (this is the chemical blamed for your post-Thanksgiving nap, even though studies have proven that’s just an excuse for vegging out all afternoon). Tryptophan does, however, play a key role in serotonin production, which affects not just your happiness levels, but your quality of sleep, as well. Other sources of tryptophan include chicken, nuts, and cheese.
Everyone’s favorite health food, it’s hard to argue that the happy effects of chocolate are limited to winter months. Loaded with fiber and minerals, dark chocolate is a powerful antioxident that contains phenylethlyamine (PEA). This is the same chemical your brain produces when you fall in love. Look for chocolate that’s 70 percent cocoa.
Try these foods and see if you don’t turn those winter blues into spring fever. Be sure to spend some time in the sun and get enough exercise, and kick those blahs to the snow-covered curb.
Ariana Brookes is a San Francisco-based copywriter who’s trying to be a cool mom but still, you know, legit. She loves old-school hip hop, 19th-century literature, tattoos, manicures, yoga, running, travel, and true-crime, and could happily eat Mexican food every day. You can read more of her work on her blog, notahipstermom, where she writes about her adventures in modern parenting, and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.