• Haley Schlechter, RD, LDN

Eating to Beat Winter Blues


It is around this time every year, when the clocks change and days get shorter that many people begin to have symptoms of the winter blues. Many people report experiencing seasonal slumps, some more extreme than others. Maybe during the winter months, you are more tired than usual, are craving sweets more, are more irritable than usual and/or find you are less interested in social situations. These are all common signs of the winter blues! At its most intense it can actually turn into something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which about 6% of the population has. The good news is, what you eat can help mitigate some of these symptoms! Here are my top 6 research based picks!

1. Vitamin D:

Vitamin D is known for being essential for things like calcium absorption, development/ maintenance of strong bones, reducing inflammation, cell growth, and neuromuscular function. Likely due to its neuromuscular and anti-inflammatory properties, research is finding that low levels of the vitamin are associated with symptoms of depression. Mix this with the days getting shorter, and only seeing sun from your office desk and you have a recipe for grumpy and unmotivated. The good news is that same study concluded that supplementation of vitamin D may be able to decrease these symptoms. Aim to consume some of the vitamin D rich foods listed below daily to ensure adequate daily intake! If you would rather use a supplement, choose the D3 variation!

Sources: Salmon, mackerel, eggs, tuna, trout and vitamin D-fortified milk and orange juice

Recommended Dietary Allowance: 600-800 IU for adults

2. Increase your serotonin levels:

Serotonin is thought to be a major contributor of feelings of happiness and well-being. In the midst of the grim winter months increasing your consumption of protein rich foods containing tryptophan has been found to help increase production of serotonin in the brain. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid and necessary in the creation of serotonin within the body. B vitamins (B6, B12, B9) are needed to help convert tryptophan into serotonin, so it also makes sense to eat plenty of foods rich in B vitamins. Lastly, starchy carbohydrates (i.e. whole grains & brown rice), fruits and vegetables also help indirectly lift levels of serotonin. We are still unsure how this occurs in the body but it’s likely associated with assisting in the release of tryptophan (and other amino acids) into the brain.

Sources of Tryptophan: beef, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, cheese, nuts and seeds

Sources of B Vitamins: fish, lean meats, pork, eggs, brown rice, soya beans, oats, whole grains, peanuts, walnuts, avocado and bananas

3. Dark Chocolate:

Would it surprise you if I told you chocolate is a cure-all? Well I guess that is a slight overstatement... BUT studies looking at dark chocolate (has to be dark chocolate) have found that dark chocolate contains cocoa polyphenols (antioxidants) which increased participants self-rated calmness and contentness over the course of the study. I think most of use could stand to tolerate a piece or 2 of dark chocolate a day.

4. Omega 3s:

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Seasonal depression has been associated with a deficiency in Omega 3 fatty acids. Decrease intake of omega 3 rich foods in the winter months should come as no surprise as omega 3s are richest in fatty fish like salmon and tuna. All foods we do not easily find in the winter months. Try increasing your intake of the foods listed below! Not interested in increasing fish or tuna intake during the winter months? Consider supplementation with fish oil or cod liver oil.

Sources: salmon, tuna, mackerel, flaxseed, hemp and canola oil.

Recommended Daily Allowance: Males >19 years old 1.6g/day; females >19 years old 1.1g/day

5. Zinc:

Some research is finding that zinc doesn’t just help with wound healing. It also is being shown to help heal the feelings of winter blues! Zinc is readily available in meat, poultry, dairy and shellfish. If you choose to supplement avoid taking with iron, cooper or calcium as they all compete for absorption in the body.

Recommended Dietary Allowance: Males 11mg/day and women= 8mg/day

Moral of story: Winter time blues can be a real downer and negatively affect intake and motivation. Try in incorporated more colorful vegetables, healthy dairy and fatty fish (like salmon) into your weekly diet to keep your spirits up! In addition to all these recommendations, exercise whenever possible! Your body and mind well thank you! Happy snowball season friends!

Have Questions? Ask!

#depression #winterblues #foodismedicine #eatyourveggies #healthyeating #growstrong #backtobasics #vitaminD #Omega #Zinc #Chocolate #serotonin #science #exercise

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