As much as I love this time of year—cozy evenings in front of the fire, treks in the woods with my snowshoes (followed by the occasional hot toddy!)—I also know how challenging it can be for some people. I have personal experience with the winter blues—aka Seasonal Affective Disorder—and its often debilitating symptoms.
The accumulation of chilly, dark, gray days during the colder months can really take a toll on our well-being. Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that impacts millions of people annually, and 60-90% of these folks are women (source and source). Of course, guys aren’t exempt, but it seems as though gals experience it more often.
As I mention in my 10 Ways to Conquer Seasonal Affective Disorder blog, there’s plenty you can do to keep your spirits up during the colder months. It’s important to sleep well, get out of the house and prioritize physical activity. But today I want to focus how you can eat to beat the winter blues. Let’s chat about the foods you’ll want to have on hand in your pantry and fridge all winter long for an extra boost of blues protection. Bon appetit!
7 Mood-Boosting Foods to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Brazil nuts are loaded with selenium, which is a highly effective mood booster (study). They’re so rich in this mineral that just two a day can significantly increase the amount of selenium circulating in your body (study). Plus, Brazil nuts (like most nuts) are packed with several mood-boosting B vitamins (study). Crumble a couple Brazil nuts on top of a salad, a bowl of oatmeal or fresh berries. Or just eat a few as a snack (I do!). Try to add a serving per day whenever you can (stick with no more than 5 Brazil nuts a day on a regular basis to reap the benefits without overdoing it on selenium).
- Pumpkin seeds are the perfect food for managing seasonal affective disorder because of their magnesium content. Just 1/4 cup of these bad boys has 50% of your daily recommended magnesium intake. This incredible mineral promotes relaxation, better sleep and anxiety relief (study, study, and study). And like Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds make great salad toppers and an awesome addition to trail mix or your favorite chickpea hummus recipe.
- Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa is best because it’s lower in sugar) contains polyphenols, which help to elevate mood and relieve anxiety and depression (study). If you wanna try something new, melt a couple squares of chocolate with 1/4 cup of non-dairy milk. Add the mixture to 2 Tbsp of chia seeds and let it sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, then savor your scrumptious chocolate pudding. Or, just enjoy a few squares as an after-dinner treat. Chocolate lovers, rejoice!
- Lentils are folic acid powerhouses—1 cup cooked has 90% of your daily recommended intake. Folic acid regulates the production of the “feel good” and energizing hormone serotonin, making it especially helpful in beating seasonal affective disorder and enhancing mood (study). It also helps the body generate new cells, keeping you more energized in winter months (study). In addition, the complex carbohydrates in lentils boost tryptophan production, which in turn boosts (you guessed it!) serotonin production (study). Get more of these lovely legumes in your diet by making a big pot of lentil soup, adding cooked lentils to pasta sauce, stirring them into a rice or couscous dish, or eating them in a chilled salad with oranges, celery and a citrus vinaigrette. Yum!
- Spinach is especially high in iron, which helps keep our red blood cells oxygenated and our bodies energized (study). It’s also a surprisingly rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which may help alleviate depression in winter months (study). And the benefits don’t stop there. Spinach is packed with potassium and magnesium, which both assist with regulating stress hormones and sleep cycles (study, study and study). Last, but not least, its vitamin C content helps fights fatigue and depression (study). Since it’s practically tasteless, it’s easy to add spinach to your smoothies, juices, soups, salads and casseroles. Enjoy at least 1 cup of raw spinach or 1/2 cup of cooked spinach per day as often as possible.
- Flax seeds are packed with depression-blocking Omega-3 fatty acids (as mentioned above, these help your body maintain healthy levels of feel-good brain chemicals). Two tablespoons a day contain 133% of the recommended daily dose of Omega 3s! Get ‘em ground or grind them yourself in a coffee bean grinder to get their full benefit. You can use them as an egg substitute (how cool!) in baking or for French toast (1 Tbsp ground flax seeds + 3 Tbsp water = 1 egg). You could also toss them into hot cereal or oatmeal, stir them into almond butter for dipping apple or celery slices, or whisk some into a salad dressing.
- Quinoa and other whole grains are full of complex carbs, which help boost serotonin levels in the brain (goodbye, seasonal affective disorder!). As I mentioned above, serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that elevates mood, improves memory, and even elevates sexual desire and function. Plus, quinoa is a rich source of protein, which means that it can help balance blood sugars, leading to more sustainable energy and steady mood. Whole grains really are superstars in my book. You can learn more about their many amazing health benefits here!
This Crazy Sexy Juice smoothie recipe really does the trick when it comes to packing in a hefty helping of some supreme SAD-fighters—spinach, flaxseed and Brazil nuts!
Hormone Helper Smoothie
Makes 2 servings (20 to 24 ounces)
- 1 banana, frozen
- 1/2 cup blueberries, frozen
- 1/2 cup young Thai coconut meat
- 1 3/4 cups Brazil nut milk or nondairy milk of choice
- 1 teaspoon flax seeds, ground
- 1 teaspoon maca
- 1 cup spinach, tightly packed
1. Wash and prep all ingredients.
2. Blend and serve.