Monday, January 16, 2012

How to Beat the Winter Blues

Ever wonder why people who stay in shape and watch what they eat seem happier? It's because they are.

Dark, cold, gloomy days leave many people feeling in the dumps. Depression and anxiety rates rapidly increase in the winter months. However, your diet and lifestyle may play a big role in your mood.

Selenium, omega-3's, vitamin D, folate, and vitamin B12 have been shown to decrease depression and boost happy moods.

Sources of selenium: whole grains, beans and legumes, lean meats, low-fat dairy, nuts and seeds, and seafood.

Sources of omega-3's: fatty fish (salmon, sardines, rainbow trout, tuna, herring), walnuts, and flax seed.

Sources of folate: fortified cereals, oatmeal, black-eyed peas, lentils, sunflower seeds,  mustard greens, broccoli, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, and oranges. 

Sources of vitamin B12: lean beef, low-fat dairy, fortified cereals, wild salmon, shellfish, and eggs. 

 It's very difficult to get enough vitamin D through the sun alone (especially in the winter months). The Institute of Medicine recently increased the recommended daily allowance of the sunshine vitamin to 600 IUs due to many health benefits. The few foods that contain vitamin D: fish with bones, fortified milk, and egg yolks. If you aren't in the sun very often and are lacking in the foods mentioned above, consider taking a vitamin D supplement. 

In addition to eating these nutrients, exercise is one of the best medicines for depression. Exercise releases endorphins which are "happy-feeling" brain chemicals. Exercise also causes the body to release serotonin, adrenaline, and dopamine, which work together to make you feel good. If you're feeling down, go for a walk and you'll notice the difference in your mood!

There are also foods that negatively affect your mood. Limit refined carbs (white grain products), alcohol, caffeine and saturated fat. Refined carbs spike your blood sugar, but then cause a crash that leaves you feeling cranky. Alcohol is actually a depressant to the human brain and isn't a good match for people who suffer from depression. Caffeine is fine in small amounts, but can cause anxiety. Saturated fat has been found to worsen depression in addition to causing other health problems such as heart disease.

I know from personal experience that I feel the best when eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly. 

Apricot-Glazed Salmon with Herb Rice is one of my favorite recipes that incorporates some of the nutrients listed above.  I eat it with a side of grilled asparagus or steamed broccoli. Sometimes I use quinoa instead of rice. Click here for the link.



  1. Great information! I will try some of the things. Would taking a Vit D3 help? how many mg?

  2. Thanks! And yes, it would be helpful if you aren't in the sun very often and don't eat a lot of vit D foods. The recommendation is 600 IUs/day. The tolerable upper limit is 4,000 IUs/day. A lot of health professionals recommended more than 600 IUs/day. Anything below 4,000 would be helpful. I take a 2,000 IU supplement 2/week, plus try to eat vit D foods.