Yes, you can eat your way to a better mood. (Photo: Getty Images)
It’s winter, and depending on where you live, it could be very cold and gray, with sunshine in short supply. The winter doldrums plus holiday high anxiety make this season especially stressful and depressing for many people. But you might be able to eat your way to a better mood. Load your plate with these winter superfoods for depression to lift your spirits.
Dark Leafy Greens
Veggies like spinach, kale, collard greens, and chard are at their nutritional peak during winter, says Zelana Montminy, PsyD, a psychology and nutrition specialist in Los Angeles.
“They are high in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which help your body maintain its sleep cycles, restore tired muscles, and regulate stress hormones — all are critical to a good mood,” she says. “Try having 1 to 2 cups a day during winter to really see a difference.” Eat them raw in salads and smoothies and lightly sauteed in olive oil for a great holiday side dish.
Folate deficiency is linked to depression and a poorer response to antidepressant medication. So pair your collard greens with folate- and fiber-rich black-eyed peas, a bean superfood, for a healthy combination.
“It’s a Southern tradition to eat peas and greens on New Year’s Day to ensure good luck in the year ahead,” says Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD, a registered dietitian in Atlanta, author of The Slim Down South Cookbook, and a nutrition adviser to BestFoodFacts.org. Serving size is a half-cup, according to O’Neil. But also talk with your doctor to see whether you should take a folate supplement as well.
Winter is peak season for mushrooms. They’re packed with two important B vitamins — niacin and riboflavin — that can boost mood, Montminy says. “They also contain vitamin D since, like us, they create it when exposed to sunlight,” she notes.
A review of 14 studies that looked at the link between vitamin D and depression, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2013, found a definite association between depression and a deficiency in the vitamin. Try eating a half-cup daily and choose wild mushrooms because they contain more vitamin D, Montminy suggests.
Snack on crunchy pumpkin seeds this winter to help ease depression. Pumpkin seeds are one of the richest sources of tryptophan, Montminy says.
“Tryptophan is needed to produce serotonin, which makes us feel relaxed and happy,” she explains. The body can’t make it, so you need to get it from food. Sprinkle these little mood boosters on granola and salads, or simply enjoy them on their own, Montminy suggests.
Walnuts, a staple of many holiday goodies, contain omega-3 fatty acids, a good-for-you fat source that can boost mood, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They could also help you sleep better. A study in the journal Nutrition in 2005 found that walnuts contain the sleep-inducing substance melatonin.
Related: 8 Depression Myths Debunked
“Serving size for nuts is an ounce and a half — about a handful, not a can-full — for optimal benefit and not overdoing it,” O’Neil says.
Oranges and grapefruits are in season in the winter and are great sources of folate and vitamin C, Montminy says. “People who have vitamin C deficiency often feel tired or depressed,” she adds.
Heat reduces vitamin C in cooking, so enjoy citrus raw for the best nutrient absorption. Eat one or two citrus fruit each day for the most benefit. However, she cautions that there are prescription drug interactions with certain citrus fruits, so be sure to talk with your doctor first.
Tip back a cup of eggnog this holiday season to lift your mood. Eggs contain vitamins D and B12, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A study in the journal BMC Psychiatry in 2013 found that people with lower B12 levels had more symptoms of melancholic depression, a subtype of depression. The yolks also contain the essential nutrient choline, important for the development of healthy brain cells, O’Neil says.
But, she cautions, “go easy on the rum ladled into the eggnog, as overconsumption of alcohol is associated with causing depression.” And, to keep a lid on fat, she suggests making your eggnog with low-fat or nonfat milk.
By Regina Boyle Wheeler; Reviewed by Pat F. Bass, III, MD, MPH
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This article originally appeared on EverydayHealth.com: 7 Winter Foods for Depression