I lived in Boston for college, and, having been raised in the South, I had no idea what to expect weather-wise. I didn’t have a proper jacket, and I had no idea what long underwear was. Needless to say, when that first real winter rolled around, I was ill-prepared. I soon found myself with a low-grade depression, one that buzzed under my skin for nearly the entirety of my experience, and one that I treated with hot yoga and antidepressants. Mind you, this “treatment” was accompanied by meals of Hot Pockets and Ramen noodles; had I the nutritional knowledge then that I do now nearly a decade later, I wonder if I would have been able to boost my mood more naturally.
Today, as a health coach living in Austin, Texas, I am (luckily) not faced with the same degree of winter weather as I was when living in the Northeast. I still find, however, that my body and mind just do not belong in winter weather of any sort; I thrive in the sunshine. As such, I became curious about the potential to cure winter blues though nutrition, and my findings gave me hope that I (and all of you!) can, in fact, impact our mood by monitoring what we put into our bodies. Here’s what I found.
Most comfort food provides only that: Comfort. It makes sense that when sadness creeps in, so does the tendency to reach toward comforting foods, most of which are chockfull of refined sugar and carbohydrates. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with cookies and pies and the such, these sweet treats create a sugar high that is then followed with a crash. The better move is to eat foods with natural fruit sugars and carbohydrates, like, say, sweet potatoes, that help maintain steady blood sugar.
Our daily crutches aren’t so great, either. It’s best to avoid both caffeine and alcohol during low mood periods of time, as they can be the cause of many anxiety and/or depression symptoms, while also mimicking the same peaks and valleys that those aforementioned high-caloric, refined sugar-laden foods produce.
Foods rich in the mineral selenium are helpful in stabilizing—and even boosting—depressed moods. Think walnuts, Brazil nuts, cod and poultry.
As are foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon, halibut, algae.
And dark chocolate, too! This (semi) sweet stuff increases endorphins in the brain, which make you feel good.
It might help to go even bigger, and change your whole diet. The Mediterranean diet is one such diet that decreases depression nutritionally. A study published by the Cambridge University Press (and others like it) demonstrate that a diet high in B-12 vitamins help fight depression. The Mediterranean diet is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and olive oil, as well as lean, unprocessed meats and fish high in omega-3s; all foods that serve to keep blood sugar at a steady level.
All in all, while diet alone has not proven to prevent depression symptoms, it can certainly make us feel better and lighter and proactive.
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