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Foods to beat the winter blues

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 (Kris Schoels)

Day after day of gray skies and cold weather, and you just might find yourself coming down with a case of the winter blues.  The winter doesn’t only affect the way we feel, but it also can change the way we eat.  You may reach for calorie-laden comfort foods to boost your spirits, but in the end the weather is still bad and you feel overstuffed.  Of nearly two thirds of U.S. adults, 64 percent agree that they are filled with greater joy soaking up the summer sun, then bundling up in winter coats. According to studies done at Cornell University, the winter blues and its more severe foil, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), affects about four times as many women as men.  

Research has begun to reveal how mindful eaters can choose their fuel to help achieve or maintain a desired mental state.  The food you eat can also brighten your winter.  Our moods are linked to the production or use of certain brain chemicals, and scientists have identified many of the natural chemicals in foods that change the way we feel.  That’s right, you can eat certain foods in order to beat the winter blues.  Food influences neurotransmitters by attaching to brain cells and changing the way they behave.  This opens pathways to those cells, so that other mood-altering chemicals can come through the gates and attach themselves to brain cells.

The next time bad weather has got you down take a walk to the kitchen! Here are the foods to eat to beat the winter blues:

When you want to feel pleasant and alert: Eating foods that stimulate the release of dopamine may produce enjoyable feelings. Phenylnine is an essential amino acid found in the brain and blood that can convert in the body to tyrosine, which in turn is used to synthesize dopamine, instantly increasing your energy and alertness. Start your morning off with eggs and whole wheat toast, which stimulate dopamine production, and will help keep you feeling energized throughout the day. Breakfast is a must because it provides glucose to your brain, making you mentally efficient and alert.

To ease feeling of depression:  Eat more fish!  Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and tuna) may help ease depressive symptoms.  People with higher blood levels of these fatty acids were reported to experience less depressive symptoms, and were generally found to be more pleasant. This effect may be attributed to the fact that omega-3 fats make up about 8 percent of our brain. Higher intakes of these fats are associated with an increased volume of the parts of the brain responsible for mood and behavior.  

To get out of a bad mood: A lack of selenium can cause bad moods. Individuals suffering from too little selenium have been shown to be more anxious, irritable, hostile and depressed than people with normal levels of selenium. Brazil nuts, salmon, and shitake mushrooms can instantaneously get you out of this funk.

When you want to feel happy:  When we don't get enough exposure to sunlight, our mood and physical health may suffer. More specifically, serotonin levels, a hormone associated with elevating your mood rises when you're exposed to sunlight, leaving you to feel sad during the darker winter months.  An amino acid, tryptophan helps raise serotonin levels in your body, causing you to feel upbeat once again. Eating foods that are high in tryptophan such as low-fat cottage cheese, nuts, and chicken will help boost your mood.

Get Moving: Studies show that anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour of exercise every day can have a positive impact on your mood.  When we exercise our body releases endorphins that help us to feel happy. Exercise has also been shown to reduce stress, which can help alleviate feelings of depression brought on by the winter blues.  Not to mention, frequent exercising can make your jeans fit a little better, and that’s a mood booster in itself!

Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a nationally known registered dietitian based in New York and the creator of a proprietary high-fiber nutrition program for weight loss, wellness and for treating various medical conditions. Tanya authored the bestselling weight loss book The F-Factor Diet, and she is the first dietitian with a national line of high-fiber foods, which are sold under the F-Factor name. Become a fan of Tanya on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn, and visit her website Ffactor.com.