Science keeps making it clear to us that eating the right foods can improve our mood, give us healthy skin, keep us energized, and restore our health. Why is it then, that every time winter rolls around I inevitably reach for stuffing with gravy, cookies galore, and too much eggnog?
It’s kind of like an evolved hibernation mode that I kick into, and I’m starting to realize that it affects more than just me. I lived in Phoenix for several years, but even the hiatus from harsh winters couldn’t crush the frantic desire to eat carbs and nothing but carbs as soon as the sun started setting before 7pm! And really, I should know better. I generally eat pretty healthy – no sodas, limited caffeine, rare desserts (alright, maybe not rare, per se…), and mostly whole foods that I prepare at home.
But why can’t I avoid the urge to glut on the things that threaten to leave me in a physical and mental funk? If I’m being honest with myself, the only time I feel better about eating those foods is WHILE I’m eating them, and even that is hit or miss. I typically feel zapped of energy, bummed out, or worse – mildly depressed about my lack of willpower, the winter, or just in general.
Thank heavens there are foods that can kick up the levels of serotonin, dopamine, and other feel-good chemicals in our brains! Certain other foods can help reduce symptoms of depression, banish fatigue, ease anxiety, boost motivation and focus, and even help us sleep.
Sign me up, Scotty!
Today – yes, in my post-Thanksgiving resolution to eat for my health instead of my hibernation – I vow to start eating more of the following feel-good foods:
Bananas, berries, nuts (especially walnuts), spinach, eggs, turkey and chicken (OK, no problem with the leftovers I have!), salmon, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and dark chocolate. Yes, you read correctly, dark chocolate is officially on the list for its mood-boosting potential (the effects are more than just the happiness you get by allowing yourself to indulge). If you are desperately in need of a natural winter pick-me-up, you may also wish to discuss natural nutritional supplements with your doctor, as some have been shown to relieve symptoms of mild or seasonal depression.
The ingredients that make these foods vital for your mental (and physical) health include Omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, magnesium, a variety of other vitamins and minerals, amino acids such as tryptophan and phenylalanine, fiber, and protein (among others). These can be found in many healthy foods, but the foods listed above are star sources. Water is also essential to a healthy, happy brain.
Not only do these ingredients help give your brain the energy it needs to function effectively, but they also help stimulate the production of feel-good hormones, improve the communication among brain cells, reduce inflammation, improve circulation of blood and oxygen in the brain, and allow your brain to nurture itself. So eat up, and you too can conquer the winter blues!
Cleveland Hot-Spots for Mood-Booster Foods
Try the Flaming Ice Cube – a healthy vegan hang-out with delicious brain boosters like the Blue Banana Smoothie, the Summer Rolls, the Spinach Salad with Tofu and Cranberries, or the Mediterranean Panini are just a few of their healthy brain boosters.
Tommy’s Restaurant in Cleveland Heights offers mood lifters for every meal of the day. Try the Kraig omelet for breakfast, the Kalle Salad or the Jenny Wrap for lunch, and the Georgia Tuna or the Ceebee Falafel for dinner.
At Magpie Pizza, try the Tuscan or build your own pizza with chicken, black beans, spinach, and red peppers. If you prefer salads, try the Grape and Honeyed Walnut!
Also, just about any place you can get a spinach salad, a grilled salmon entrée, or a fresh berry parfait is a great place to start building your brain health this winter. Best to get started before you begin the descent into Foggy Brainville or SAD Town!