In case you haven’t noticed, winter isn’t coming, it’s here. Which means that where I live it’s snowing and really, really cold. Before we moved to Michigan, I honestly did not think that ‘bone-chilling’ or ‘breath stealing’ was an accurate description of exactly how cold winter can get. I learned how to naturally make my winter blues better with mood boosting foods.
Mood Boosting Foods For Seasonal Depression
I honestly thought everyone was exaggerating. I know, I know. But y’all. It’s really freaking cold. Breath stealing, bone-chilling cold. I cannot seem to get warm. And yes, we’ve seen some sunny days (blue sky and snow is amazing if you are lucky enough to get it!), but overall the temperature hasn’t reached double digits in a week.
Which means this Texas girl is staying inside…which is making me a little stir crazy. This means that I’m not exactly my sunny self. I’m a little moody, in fact.
Seasonal depression is a thing, and I’ve been there done that. This year I want to do it differently. I’m changing the way I eat, which got me thinking…what if food can change your mood?
Turns out it can.
If you’ll bear with me getting super nerdy for a second, your brain and the food you eat are both very complex, and not completely understood, yet (I have faith that science will prevail!). One thing we do know is that when we eat, the food is broken down into a digestible raw material, which is used by our body to carry out different functions.
These raw materials are used by our neurotransmitters, which help our nervous system communicate, remember where we left our keys, and stay happy.
As if that weren’t enough, the foods we eat affect our blood sugar, and if you’ve ever had unstable blood sugar, you know that you feel like garbage if your levels are swinging up and down all the time, which can also cause your mood to shift between happy and …not so happy.
Check Your Levels
I have an awesome doctor who is happy to run panels for things like vitamin deficiencies, and I am so, so thankful that we figured out a huge issue that I’ve been struggling with.
Turns out I’m deficient in Vitamin D and selenium, and some of my B-vitamins are low, but not scary low. My doctor (who believes in food as medicine!) suggested that I overhaul my diet. I laughed and told him that I’d already started.
Selenium is a mineral found in Brazil nuts, walnuts, cod, and poultry, so I’ll be eating a lot more of those. Turns out Brazil nuts are yummy!
What I didn’t realize is that those things I’m deficient in help with inflammation (I’ve been having a heck of a time with my ankle this winter) and mood.
I learned that vitamin D deficiency is far more common in the winter, and in states where there is not a lot of sunshine or where being outside isn’t possible (hello 4 degree days!).
Weird how that works.
Vitamin D isn’t naturally occurring in many foods, so it’s important to get outside, even if it’s cold.
This was much easier when I lived in Texas, but I shoveled the walk and driveway yesterday morning in the sun.
Because I’m not getting as much sun as I should, I’ve been diligent about taking a vitamin D supplement since my levels came back low.
Focus on Protein
There’s a reason that people feel so good when they’re on high protein diets is that protein is your body’s number 1 source of amino acids. This is super important because amino acids are part of what make up your neurotransmitters.
This means that having enough protein makes sure your body can trasport all the seratonin it needs. Pretty cool!
Additionally, eating enough protein will help maintain a steady level for your bloodsugar. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to get enough protein if you remember to eat it with every meal.
Some great sources of protein are eggs, poultry, dark green leafy vegetables (really!), rice and beans (together), and red meat.
Complex Carbs Rule
Complex carbohydrates (think sweet potatoes and quinoa) rock. Not only do they taste delicious, but they allow better absorption of certain amino acids like tryptophan.
Tryptophan is the amino acid found in turkey that everyone thinks makes you sleepy (it helps your body make melatonin)…and it does, but it is also used by your body to make serotonin, which makes you happy.
You’ve probably heard people (myself included) reference how awesome omega-3s are. You can find these fatty acids in fish, nuts, seeds, and algae.
They are super important because they’re part of your brain’s diet, and if your brain is well fed, it’s likely to produce more of the things you need to be happy.
Interestingly, one study showed that giving one multi-vitamin and one omega-3 fish oil tablet per day to prison inmates reduced the incidence of violent behavior by 50%. So there’s that.
Drink Enough Water
Finally, make sure you’re drinking enough water. Coffee and tea don’t count. You need to make sure that you’re properly hydrated to help your body function optimally.
Plus, mild dehydration can cause mood issues as well.
So What Mood Boosting Foods Should You Eat?
If you’re eating to help yourself stay happy, make sure that you get enough protein, eat complex carbohydrates, and are topping up on Vitamin D.
This means getting plenty of…
- Dark Leafy Greens
- Red Meat
- Rice & Beans (together they make a complete protein!)
- Sweet Potatoes
…or other similar foods. Likewise, there are foods that you should avoid (per science), as they’re known to cause you to feel pretty awful.
Foods to Avoid
I bet you can tell where this is going.
Let’s just get to it. Obviously, processed foods aren’t great for you.
In fact, one study suggested that eating a lot of processed foods can increase your chances of becoming depressed (by as much as 60%!).
I get it. I like gluten-free cookies and bread, too. But the fact of the matter is that I feel crummy if I eat too many or indulge too often.
I’m not saying you can’t…just be mindful of how you feel afterward. It took me years to realize that the 5 minutes it takes me to inhale a sleeve of cookies is totally not worth the 3 days of joint pain and crankiness that follow.
The cookies are just a crutch. And I know that if I eat whole foods I’ll feel so good after.
Likewise, if you’re feeling depressed, you may want to avoid some of these other common crutches:
- Alcohol (which is a nervous system depressant)
- Caffeine (can worsen anxious feelings and hinder your ability to sleep)
- Sugar (messes with your blood sugar and can cause inflammation)
Being in a bad mood may make you want to eat the cookies, but that’s not a long-term solution. Instead, pick something from the list above that will help your body naturally boost your mood.
And yes, you can still have that cookie…just make sure you balance it out by having a large salad with your main meal.