Katie Brind’Amour is a freelance writer and food aficionado eating her way through Columbus, Ohio one delicious dish at a time. When she’s not busy trying to identify the perfect combination of chocolate and wine, she writes on health, nutrition, pregnancy, and friendship for Elance clients and on her personal blog . -- AP
Eat to Beat the Winter Blues
There’s something about beef stew, chicken noodle soup, buttery golden biscuits, potatoes, cocoa, and pie (not all at once, though!) that scream “winter comfort food” to me. I basically gravitate toward warm, delicious, fatty, starchy foods to make me feel cozy and satisfied during the long winter months, and I have a feeling this is the case for many people out there. After all, Thanksgiving is about stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie – not carrot sticks, salad, and rye bread!
The appeal of filling and fattening foods during colder months is perhaps a biologically programmed weakness, but in modern times it would be tough to argue that this does us any sort of favor. (At least, ever-widening hips and a bulging belly don’t exactly meet my definition of a gift from the universe…)
Luckily, Mother Nature has something in store for those of us with less desire to store fat and more interest in staying trim despite the holidays and never-ending onslaught of flavored coffees and flaky, buttery cookies. She gave us foods to get us through winter in an entirely different way.
In fact, there are a whole slew of healthy foods that can actually improve your mood and get you through the cold months with more energy, better health, and a sharper mind (http://www.helpfordepression.com/slideshow/lifestyle-changes/10-foods-boost-your-mood). Sign me up!
For those of you who are health junkies, the fact that salmon is one of these super foods should be no surprise. Dietitians and health nuts have long been singing the praises of its healthy fats for brain development, but its nutrients can also improve your attitude and help beat mild depression by increasing levels of serotonin and certain hormones that help regulate mood and memory.
Eggs are another delicious food that supply a number of important vitamins for your foggy winter brain, of which Vitamin D and B12 help improve your mood – just be sure to eat the yolk, as the egg whites don’t contain equally beneficial amounts of these brain-boosting nutrients! Unless you already have high cholesterol, there is no need to avoid the yolk, which can provide a healthy source of fat and protein to give you a slow release of energy throughout the day.
Think green! Spinach and other dark leafy green vegetables are powerhouses of magnesium, folic acid, and antioxidants, all of which can improve energy levels, reduce fatigue, and help you better manage the stress that comes from buying exactly ten thousand holiday presents. This protective level of magnesium is also found in bananas, which also contain high levels of potassium and tryptophan as well as many vitamins and minerals. So instead of sugared dates, try snacking on a banana to improve oxygen flow to your brain, reduce stress, and even help you sleep.
And speaking of tryptophan and improved sleep, remember that your Thanksgiving turkey has plenty of health perks as well. The tryptophan that helps your mind relax is paired with melatonin in turkey, which encourages your body to relax. Even better, the tyrosine contained in turkey can help you achieve better energy levels and triggers the release of dopamine and norepinephrine in your body, which improve your reaction time and may help boost your motivation.
For those of you who love nuts, breads, and even fruitcakes, remember that whole grains and walnuts can also be lifesavers during the winter. Whole grains – like oatmeal and whole wheat bread as well as other high-fiber foods like legumes and some vegetables – can help deliver a slow and steady dose of glucose to your brain, keeping your energy stable and giving your thyroid gland the selenium it needs to keep your mood controlled as well. Walnuts may go one step further and help prevent mood swings by zapping away mild depression, anxiety, insomnia, and irritability (can you say, “miracle food?”)
If anxiety and frustration are your problems, try drinking a glass of milk with those walnuts or bananas. Milk can increase your body’s ability to absorb important vitamins and minerals from the food you eat while pumping you full of mood-boosting whey, magnesium, protein, and healthy carbohydrates.
Last, but certainly not least, comes dark chocolate. Hooray! This is perhaps the best news of all for those of us searching for a healthy replacement for snicker doodles. Besides the benefit your blood vessels get from the antioxidants found in dark chocolate, the phenylalanine delivered in bars with 70% cocoa or more are believed to boost levels of dopamine in the brain, flooding you with happy feelings and the very happy realization that winter doesn’t last forever.
If all else fails, think positive (www.healthline.com/health/depression-alternative-treatments)! As a chronic daydreamer, it’s comforting to know that imagining myself at the beach while eating a salmon and spinach salad is officially a healthy activity with the added perk of beating the winter blues.
So go ahead, indulge this winter – just be sure to indulge in the feel-good foods that satisfy your natural urge to glut yourself and provide a natural and healthy dose of happiness and energy!
Thanks for the great tips, Katie! I’m off to dip a banana in melted dark chocolate and roll it in walnuts. Yum! And it’s good for me! -- AP