For many people, the winter does not only bring about colder weather; it can bring on feelings of depression, lack of motivation, and overall decreased energy. These are symptoms of what you may know as “winter blues”, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Lack of sunlight in the winter months can decrease our production of serotonin, which affects our overall mood and leads us to make poor food choices. Luckily, there are a variety of nutrient dense foods and nutrients that can help ward off these negative emotions, while boosting immunity, and leaving you feeling happy and healthy in the New Year.
There are 5 important nutrients that can help boost mood and your immune system: Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin D, B Vitamins, Vitamin C, and Magnesium. It’s ideal to try to increase your consumption of foods rich in these nutrients; however, some find that along with a healthy diet, supplementation is helpful as well.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
These are powerful essential fatty acids that are found in fish such as salmon, anchovies, and sardines. You can also find them in healthy nuts such as walnuts. These fatty acids play a major role in brain health. They also reduce inflammation in the body, which can lead to an overall stronger immune system.
Vitamin D is known for boosting immunity and warding off signs of depression. As Vitamin D is absorbed best through exposure to sunlight, the Winter months can deplete our bodies of this vital nutrient. Food sources with Vitamin D include egg yolks, fatty fish, cod liver oil, and milk. You may also want to talk with your health care provider to get your Vitamin D levels checked to see about proper supplementation during the Winter months.
B vitamins help to produce serotonin and regulate brain functions, which can in turn regulate mood. B vitamins are also known for their role in boosting white blood cell production. Major food sources of B vitamins include avocado, eggs, brazil nuts, lean meat, poultry, and dairy products.
Vitamin C is well known for its role in a healthy immune system. It is also responsible for restoring energy levels in the body, which can greatly enhance mood. Citrus fruits and leafy greens are major sources of Vitamin C.
Magnesium plays a vital part in the development of serotonin, which helps to explain its role in reducing stress and symptoms of depression. It is also an immune boosting nutrient. Leafy greens, fish, and nuts are the major food sources for magnesium.
In addition to eating a variety of healthy foods this Winter, it is equally important to remember the role that exercise plays in reducing feelings of depression and increasing energy levels in the body. Try to get outside even in the coldest Winter months, if only for 15 minutes a day to soak up a little extra sunlight/Vitamin D. Remember to bring comfy shoes to change into at work and utilize 15-20 minutes of your lunch break for a quick walk! On colder/rainy days, hit the gym or pop in a workout DVD at home if you feel like staying inside. Research has shown that it can take a mere 5 minutes after a workout to feel mood boosting effects.
So remember to load up on healthy foods and stay active this Winter. It will lay the groundwork for a happier and healthier YOU!
By: Katie Godin, RD, LDN
Registered Dietitian – Raleigh