Nutritional tips for beating the winter blues

Food can make us feel good, not only because of its good taste, but also through nourishing the body. Research shows that some foods influence our appetites and moods through their effects on brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Three such neurotransmitters are: serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.

Serotonin: released after eating carbohydrates (such as fruit, dairy, starches and sugars), serotonin is calming. It improves mood and decreases depression. Serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan.

Dopamine and norepinephrine: These chemicals are released after eating protein (such as meat, poultry, dairy, and legumes). The body makes dopamine and from that, norepinephrine is produced. Both increase concentration and mental alertness and have an effect on mood, stress, depression and even ADHD. These neurotransmitters can be made from the amino acid tyrosine.

What are good foods for winter blues?

A diet rich in antioxidants, namely beta-carotene and vitamins C and E help combat the blues when they are converted to the neurotransmitters that enhance mood.  

Foods containing beta-carotene include:

  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Peaches
  • Pumpkins
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Spinach

Vitamin C can be found in foods such as:

  • Broccoli
  • Citrus, such as grapefruit and oranges
  • Strawberries and berries
  • Tomatoes
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Peppers

Vitamin E can be found in foods such as:

  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Seeds
  • Wheat Germ
  • Margarine

Proteins provide the chemical units known as amino acids, which form the foundation of neurotransmitters. In a series of enzymatic reactions, vitamins and minerals help convert amino acids to the neurotransmitters that our brains use to enhance mood.

Protein foods you want to include in your diet to enhance mood and decrease winter blues are:

  • Lean beef
  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Milk
  • Beans
  • Yogurt

Carbohydrates are useful for reducing the symptoms of sadness and blues in winter as well.  Foods in this group include:

  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes

Combinations of carbohydrates and proteins (for example, milk and honey) increase the uptake of tryptophan which is needed to make the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain and therefore enhances mood, improves sleep and decreases depression.

With regards to vitamins: folate and B-12 have been shown to have an effect in reducing the symptoms of sadness and winter blues. Foods high in folate are: leafy greens, namely collard greens, turnip greens, spinach, and mustard greens. Animal sources such as liver, fish (mackerel, herring, salmon, and tuna), eggs and meats are good sources of vitamin B12.

Since vitamin D can be produced by exposure to the sun, Lack of sun or less exposure to sun can effect affect the requirement of this vitamin. Good food sources that contain vitamin D include:

  • Salmon and tuna
  • Milk
  • Fortified cereals
  • Eggs
  • Mushrooms
  • Beef liver
  • Pork

Selenium is shown to enhance mood. It can be found in a variety of healthful foods, including:

  • Seafood (sardines, freshwater fish, and saltwater fish)
  • Lean meat (pork, beef, turkey and chicken without the skin)
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Beans and legumes

Omega-3 fatty acids in the diet may also decrease depression and enhance mood.   The best omega-3 food sources include:

  • Seafood, such as mackerel, anchovies, sardines, salmon, and tuna; and
  • Nuts and flaxseed, walnuts.

And at the end of the day, chocolates always help!