10 Surprisingly Energising Foods You Need to Eat This Winter
Vitamin D helps make feel-good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine in your brain. Low levels of the sunshine vitamin – which can happen when the sun disappears during the winter months – have been associated with depression and SAD. Since you’re not your vitamin D fix from sunlight right now, get all you can from your diet. Two cups of milk will get you nearly half the way there.
“Your brain is made up of mostly fat, so you need to consume that for your brain to function at its best,” says Dietitian Brianna Elliott, RD, LD. Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to low moods and depression. Most Americans don’t get enough of these healthy fats. Eating at least two 100 gram servings of fatty fish such as wild salmon, herring, sardines, and anchovies each week can help boost your omega-3 levels and perhaps help lift your mood. Fatty fish are especially rich in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which is essential for brain health. “You also need fat to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D – fatty fish can ensure we are absorbing this important feel good vitamin!” says Elliott.
Winter weather can trigger the urge to scarf down all the macaroni and cheese and other carb-rich comfort foods in sight. That’s because when you eat carbohydrates, you make more serotonin, the feel-good hormone that anti-depressants boost levels of. Instead of fighting your carb cravings, indulge them with healthful, slow release carbs like oatmeal (not the instant kind), which boost serotonin and provide plenty of energy without the sugar spike and crash associated with refined carb foods like baked sweets. “Oatmeal tastes delicious when combined with fruit, nut butters, and nuts or seeds. It keeps you full for a longer period of time than dry cereals will – important for the winter months when you may be feeling sluggish,” says Elliott.
Fruits & Veggies
Need another reason to get your five servings a day? A study of nearly 14,000 adults found that eating five or more servings of produce every day was consistently linked to a greater sense of mental well-being. “The more colours of produce you include in your diet, the more nutrients you get, and the greater your mood will be,” says Elliott. “Colourful fruits and vegetables are also rich in antioxidants, which can fight off infections that we’re all prone to during the wintertime. Vitamin C can help with strengthening the immune system – we can get an adequate amount of vitamin C by consuming plenty of colourful produce.”
Green tea is naturally high in a unique amino acid called L-theanine, which has been shown to stimulate alpha brain waves, which promotes a feeling of calm alertness—a state where you’re focused and mentally engaged, but also relaxed. Plus, a hot steamy mug of tea helps warm you up and soothes your soul on chilly winter days.
Low levels of B vitamins, particularly vitamin B12, have been linked to increased risk for depression. Adults over 50 are at higher risk for B12 deficiency because the ability to absorb the food-bound vitamin can diminish with age. Active people may be at an even higher risk because they need higher levels of B12 to build new blood cells and to repair and rebuild cells damaged during intense exercise. Two eggs delivers nearly 40% of your daily vitamin B12 needs. For a bonus mood boost, choose eggs from pasture-raised hens or hens fed omega-3 enriched feed, says Elliot. “They’re higher in omega-3 fatty acids.”
These fall favourites deserve a sprinkle on your salads and side dishes year round—especially during the winter, when you need a shot of the amino acid tryptophan, which they provide. Your body uses tryptophan to manufacture serotonin and melatonin, neurotransmitters your body uses to relax and sleep. Serotonin is also associated with a sense of well-being. “They’re also especially helpful for balancing blood sugar,” which will help your energy levels stay more even, says US-based nutrition scientist Stacy Sims, PhD.
These popular portable fruits can boost your mood on a few fronts. For one they’re a good source of vitamin B6 (one medium banana provides about 20% of the recommended daily allowance), which your body needs to synthesise mood-lifting brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. Surprisingly, they’re also a good source of the amino acid tryptophan, which your body uses to manufacture serotonin and melatonin for relaxation and improved well-being. “The natural sugar in bananas can give you an energy boost your body might be needing during winter,” says Elliott.
You already know that the probiotics found in active culture yogurt are good for your belly. Well, they also appear to be good for your brain—and your state of mind. In one study, mice fed a probiotic diet had lower levels of stress hormones, were more relaxed, and showed fewer signs of anxiety than their counterparts who ate no probiotics. It seems to work on humans too according to two studies that found people taking probiotic supplements or eating probiotic-rich yogurt report lower stress levels and improved mood. Look for refrigerated yogurts that bear a Live & Active Culture (LAC) seal. They contain at least 100 million bacterial cultures per gram at the time of manufacture.
Okay, maybe this one isn’t so surprising, but it’s a scientifically-proven staple for improving mood. Dark chocolate not only boosts levels of serotonin, but also triggers the release of endorphins (natural opiates) in your brain, which can definitely make you feel happier on a dreary day. Just be careful to not overdo it. 50 grams is all it takes. Look for a bar that contains at least 75% cocoa for the biggest benefits and least added sugar. “Dark chocolate is also high in antioxidants which boost your immunity and can help fight off illnesses like the common cold and flu,” says Elliott.