Like I said in my December column, ‘January is the saddest of months around these parts.’ We’re as far away from Christmas as we’ll ever be; yet warm temps are months away. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a thing, and some are more prone to it than others. Inclement weather and the extra hours of darkness make it hard to get out for fresh air and sunshine (what little we get). Unless you can escape to your summer home in Florida, try these simple diet tweaks to help improve your mood while we wait out the long winter.
- Vitamin D. Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin,’ Vitamin D is made in our bodies when we’re exposed to the sun. However, it’s common for our levels to be low during the winter. Vitamin D isn’t found in many foods, but it is found in canned salmon, cheese and egg yolks. Additionally, many milks and orange juices are fortified with Vitamin D as well. Make It Happen: Whip up a salmon frittata with eggs, canned salmon, feta and a little dill.
- Studies show those with depression tend to have lower levels of folate than those without depression. Folate is one of the B vitamins and can be found in dark leafy greens, edamame and avocado. Make It Happen: Try a salad with kale, edamame, avocado, red bell peppers and a lemon vinaigrette.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids. When people talk about ‘brain food,’ the first on the list is always omega-3s, found most commonly in cold-water fish. Studies show that those who eat more fish tend to have fewer symptoms of depression. Other sources of omega-3s include sardines, anchovies and walnuts. Make It Happen: Add sardines to spaghetti with pesto; recipe found in Run Fast Eat Slow.
- B vitamins. B vitamins play various roles in brain function, so making sure you’re loading up on those guys is a good idea. Whole grains are high in B vitamins, so take this opportunity to expand your repertoire. Instead of relying on traditional instant oats and brown rice, try steel-cut oats, quinoa, amaranth and millet, too. Make It Happen: Use steel-cut oats to make baked oatmeal and have breakfast ready all week long.
- Researchers have found that probiotics had a positive effect on depression symptoms in a majority of studies. Probiotic supplements are available, but it’s easy to add sources of probiotics to your diet. Yogurt, kefir, kimchi and miso all contain probiotics. Make It Happen: Consider a supplement if you’re not already into yogurt.
- Limit caffeine and added sugars. It’s always a good idea to moderate your intake of things that are known to affect mood and/or your sleep, such as caffeine and sugar. Consider quitting your afternoon cup of coffee or soda in favor of herbal tea or a sparkling water. While there is limited research to support added sugar having a dramatic effect on energy levels, we all know how we feel after downing an entire package of M&Ms: not good. Instead, take a walk when you need a pick-me-up. Make It Happen: Waterloo Grape seltzer water KNOCKS MY SOCKS OFF. I’m confident you’ll like it, too.
- Establish a Routine. Our bodies perform the best when we get enough sleep, good nutrition and plenty of fresh air and physical activity. Sticking to a regular schedule will help ensure you go to bed at approximately the same time each night, eat breakfast within an hour of waking and incorporate exercise into your day. Make It Happen: Set an alarm for each activity until you get used to the new routine.
I’ll be out jogging with the stroller a few times a week, and I’m looking forward to trying out some of the recipes from my new Whole30 Slow Cooker cookbook I got for Christmas. Will I see you out on a walk, too?