By Felicity Downes-Casipit, Naturopath, BNat.
We often tend to associate summer with sunny skies and happy faces, whereas winter often conjures up grey, gloomy images of dark skies and weary faces. If your mood starts to take a dip at the same time as the thermometer, then you might be experiencing what is sometimes called the ‘winter blues’.
During the colder months, less natural light is available and this can throw out the body’s natural rhythm. Our serotonin and melatonin levels get disrupted and impact on our mood and sleep patterns, leaving some of us feeling less than shiny and happy.
Research conducted in Australia in 2015 revealed that 35% of people felt more depressed in winter than in the warmer months. The research also showed that 47% of Australians tended to overeat in winter1. Whilst tucking into carbohydrate-rich comfort food is tempting, it can often make us feel worse and lead us to weight gain.
Before embarking on dietary changes having a discussion with your healthcare professional is advised to ensure you are eating the right foods for your individual needs.
But great news! There are lots of delicious, healthy foods bursting with mood-boosting nutrients, all you have to do is eat them! Firstly, start with a basic, healthy diet. There are no magical short cuts here, so ensure that your diet consists of whole foods, get rid of processed foods and sugar and get at least 20 -30 minutes of exercise a day, preferably outdoors to make the most of the winter sunlight.
So, which foods are best at helping to beat the winter blues?
Porridge – Porridge is chock full of vitamins and minerals and it is low GI, which means that your blood sugar levels will rise gradually over time. So not only will it keep you feeling fuller for longer, but a more balanced blood sugar will ensure a more stable mood. As a bonus, oats naturally contain the soluble fibre called beta glucan, which may help to lower cholesterol levels. Try to use whole rolled oats or steel cut oats, rather than the flavoured variety and add a few nuts or fresh berries to really pack a nutritional punch!
Omega-3 rich fish – Oily fish such as sardines, tuna, salmon or mackerel are all high in omega-3 fatty acids which are necessary for healthy brain function. Scientific data suggests that mood imbalance can be linked to low levels of these essential fatty acids. So eat up and feel great!
Eggs – With less exposure to the sun in winter, we need to ensure that we are getting enough vitamin D in our diets. Research has indicated that low levels of vitamin D have been linked to mood imbalance2. Eggs are an excellent source of vitamin D. Go for free range, organic if you can and make sure you eat the whole egg, the yolks are particularly high in vitamin D. Try them poached, boiled, in an omelette, whatever you fancy!
Citrus Fruits – Not really the first thing you think of when you think of winter, however citrus fruits are at their best at the coldest time of the year. Not only do they contain powerful antioxidants and vitamins such as beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E which are important for our immune health, these nutrients are also important for our mental health. Two good reasons to include them in your winter diet. Include them in freshly squeezed juices along with a touch of ginger to help get the circulation going!
Lentils – Lentils are not only a great source of fibre, but they are also jam-packed with vitamins and minerals, as well as protein. Lentils are a complex carbohydrate which may help to boost the brain’s ”feel good” chemicals, helping you feel great. Lentils are also extremely versatile, try them in soups, burgers, casseroles, the options are endless.
Dark Chocolate – There’s no denying the mood boosting properties of a comforting, warm hot chocolate. Go for organic cacao or pure cocoa powder in warm milk or indulge in a square or two of the darkest chocolate that you can get your hands on. It’s all full of antioxidants which stimulate endorphins to be released from the brain which then helps to balance mood. Yummy and good for you!
It’s often all too easy to bunker down during winter and eat all the wrong (although often comforting) foods, leaving us feeling sluggish and moody. A few mindful alterations to your diet as well as a chat with a healthcare professional who can tailor a plan to your individual needs can make a big difference to how you feel during the winter months, putting you in one form and ready for spring.