If you are like most people, the shorter daylight hours and dreary weather of winter can sometimes get you down. Less sunlight and fewer opportunities for outdoor exercise can combine to make you feel sluggish. But did you know you can improve the way you feel by eating certain natural foods?
It’s true. In fact, your diet can have a powerful impact on your mood. By eating foods that are high in vitamins B, C and D and rich in magnesium, iron, folate and omega-3 fatty acids, you can increase both your energy levels, and, in many cases, improve your overall mental state. Here is a list of the top foods to eat for their mood-elevating boost.
- Leafy green vegetables
Popeye was right about spinach! Leafy green veggies, such as spinach, collard greens, kale and chard, are high in potassium, magnesium and calcium which help regulate stress hormones and your sleep cycle. Leafy greens are a good source of folate, which can reduce your risk of heart disease and memory loss. Remember: Folate contributes to the body’s production of serotonin, which can help ward off depression.
- Fresh Fruits
Citrus fruits can be like eating liquid sunshine. The rich amounts of vitamin C in oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes can help fight fatigue and depression. Vitamin C also helps the body absorb iron. Since an iron deficiency can contribute to fatigue, eating citrus fruits or drinking fresh juice can have a positive effect on your mood. Cherries and dark berries are also great mood enhancers. Loaded with antioxidants, berries are rich in folate (also known as B9 or folic acid), which helps the brain produce serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters help regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle. In simple terms, when you get enough rest, you usually feel better.
A Boston University Medical Center study published in Science Daily found that eating a serving of mushrooms is the equivalent to taking a daily vitamin D supplement. Mushrooms also contain two B vitamins, niacin and riboflavin, which can help you feel better mentally. Please note that all mushrooms are not the same when it comes to their mood-boosting capabilities. Look for mushrooms that have been exposed to sunlight for their natural vitamin D content.
Many American are low in their consumption of magnesium, and, as a result, can feel fatigued and experience other mood-altering effects, such as muscle tension, an irregular heartbeat, insomnia and restless leg syndrome. Try snacking on nuts or adding them to your salads to get enough of this important mineral. Nuts, such as pecans, walnuts and almonds, also contain the amino acid tryptophan, a neurotransmitter that can improve depression.
- Dark chocolate
Here’s a mood-boosting food that is fun to eat! Dark chocolate stimulates the production of the chemical serotonin, which acts as a natural anti-depressant, and of endorphins, the chemicals in the brain that produce feelings of pleasure. Moderation is the key. A Swiss study found that eating just an ounce of dark chocolate daily for two weeks reduced stress hormone levels in people with high anxiety.
If you love Italian food, chances are you love garlic. Did you know garlic was good for your mood? When you consume garlic, your body produces more of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which helps reduce stress. Garlic also relaxes the body’s blood vessels and can reduce blood pressure.
It’s portable and easy to eat, and it is great for you. It’s the banana. When you eat a banana, you get a healthy combination of potassium; vitamins A, C and B6; fiber; tryptophan; potassium; phosphorous; iron; protein and carbohydrates. Plus, you get a quick energy boost from both the fructose and the fiber. The great thing about many of these natural energy-boosting foods is that you can keep them handy in your desk drawer or your car for a quick snack when you need it. So ditch the energy drinks and so-called “power” bars and reach for real food for natural mood lightener this winter
- Lentils, chickpeas, beans
Legumes like lentils and chickpeas contain high levels of folate and zinc, both of which have been used as effective supplements for treating depression. Beans like black eyed peas also contain high levels of folate.
Quinoa is an alkalizing, gluten-free, protein-rich seed that can be used instead of rice. Quinoa has magnesium and B-complex vitamins, and it’s also a great source of amino acids, which are precursors to serotonin. Thanks to its protein content and natural, complex carbohydrates, quinoa stabilizes blood sugar, which is also a key component of a happy mood.
- Omega-3’s (fish, flax seeds, chia, hemp)
Omega-3s are a winter warrior’s ideal ally. Fish, such as salmon, sardines, herring and tuna can help reduce feelings of depression. These fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that improve the function of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that processes feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Omega-3 fatty acids work to increase the brain’s production of serotonin and dopamine, the neurotransmitters directly linked to our moods. Nuts and seeds are also a good bet, especially walnuts, flax seeds (and flax oil), chia seeds, and hemp seeds.Another interesting thing is that spinach is actually really high in omega-3s. All leafy greens contain them, but spinach is the highest.
Many herbs and spices are notorious for their beneficial effects on health in addition to adding flavor to dishes. Rosemary has been shown to increase blood flow to your brain and improve mood. Like Omega-3 fatty acids, this herb also has anti-inflammatory properties and may even benefit the immune system. Responsible for fighting infection and warding off winter colds and flu, keeping your immune system strong will keep you on your feet and feeling great. Use Rosemary to season your meals and bolster your immunity this winter season!
Just because the sky is gray and the temperature is low, doesn’t mean your mood has to be! Choosing the correct foods (in the appropriate portions) can give you more energy and help you handle those winter doldrums.