It’s common for some people to start feeling down in the wintertime. Days are colder and shorter, we spend much less time outdoors, it’s dark a lot of the time and even in the midst of the holiday season, sunny spring feels so far away. It’s also common during this time to crave refined sweets and junk foods, but they only make us feel better for a very short time and may be followed by feelings of regret, guilt or an energy crash. Seasonal changes, especially in natural light, lead to chemical changes in our brains and that can lead to negative feelings from just feeling “blue” to real clinical depression. The good news is that we can help lift our mood just by eating certain foods – foods that can reduce stress, ease anxiety and fight depression.
Here are some plant-based foods and recipes that can help lift your winter “blues.”
We all know we should eat more fruit. Instead of reaching for sugar-filled processed snacks, reach for the natural sugar that comes in fresh fruit. Fruits contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that can keep us healthy all winter. Bananas, for instance, contain potassium, magnesium and tryptophan which can help improve sleep and reduce anxiety. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and other fresh berries can help prevent the release of too much cortisol, a hormone linked to anxiety and stress. Lift your mood with these Apple-Banana Breakfast Tortillas, Toasted Banana Bread with Passionfruit Butter, Superfood Raspberry Smoothie, Blueberry, Strawberry and Banana Ice Cream Cake, and Vegan Bananaberry Pancakes.
If you needed another reason to eat your vegetables, fighting the winter blues is on the top of the list. Dark green, leafy veggies such as asparagus, arugula, Brussels sprouts and spinach are high in folate, a B vitamin that can help depression by raising our levels of norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine. Green, leafy vegetables are also high in fiber, calcium and magnesium. Another vegetable high in folate is beets. Beets also contain betaine and uridine, natural antidepressants. Tomatoes contain lycopene which has anti-inflammatory properties as well as folate, magnesium, iron and vitamin B6 – all of which are helpful in regulating mood. You can’t help but feel good when you eat dishes like this Asparagus and Saffron Biryani, Skillet Asparagus and Tomato Medley, Arugula Fennel Salad with Creamy Lemon Dressing, Sesame Brussels Sprouts Curry, Warm Potato Salad with Spinach and Chickpeas, Beet and Avocado Salad with Cashew Cream, Roasted Beet Noodles with Crispy Shallots, and Kale Salad with Apricots and Almonds.
Carbs get a bad rap and while we shouldn’t indulge in too many simple carbs, complex carbs are good for us. Carbs can boost your mood and relax you due to the production of serotonin, a brain chemical linked to feeling good. Reach for whole grains and complex carbohydrates and avoid processed, refined white carbs. Check out Carb up! Here Are The Healthiest Carbs You SHOULD Be Eating and then try these Whole Grain Banana-Date-Flax Muffins that are also oil- and sugar-free.
Yes, it’s true. Chocolate is good for you especially dark chocolate. Eating a small amount of dark chocolate each day (about 1 ounce, not one pound) can reduce cortisol which lowers stress. Dark chocolate is also filled with healthy antioxidants. Look for chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa to raise your dopamine levels. Satisfy your chocolate craving with this No-Bake Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Pie and this Special Dark Chocolate Vegan Cake. Or for even more fun, learn How to Make Homemade Dark Chocolate.
Walnuts and other nuts such as Brazil nuts contain lots of minerals and vitamins including magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, calcium, vitamin E, folate, and B vitamins. They are also a good source of omega-3-fatty acids which can help improve mood. Get nutty with these Acorn Squash Rings with Walnuts and Dried Apricots, Kidney Bean Walnut Burgers with Mississippi Comeback Sauce, and Gluten-Free Walnut and Oat Brownies.
Seaweed is also packed with mood-improving omega -3-fatty acids and iodine. Iodine helps the thyroid gland function with is essential for a good metabolism, high energy and good moods. Read Seaweed Decoded: Why It’s Essential on a Vegan Diet and then dive into this Easy Seaweed Salad and Kelp Noodles in Peanut-Miso Sauce.
Legumes such as lentils and beans including soy increase our brain serotonin which in turn leads to mood regulation and helps prevent or alleviate depression. Read 10 Ways to Cook Beans With Global Flavors and 10 Delicious Ways to Eat Lentils for dozens of recipes and ideas.
Instead of drinking too much coffee, have a few cups of tea. Tea has less caffeine than coffee but enough to help with an alert state of mind. Black, green and oolong tea also contain an amino acid called theanine which works with caffeine to improve focus and attention. Drink 5 or 6 cups of tea a day for maximum benefits. Green tea also helps regulate blood glucose levels which can prevent those afternoon sugar crashes. Sip a hot cup of tea while you read 10 Health Benefits of Green Tea. Alternatively, you could eat your tea by cooking with it. Try these Green Tea Soba Noodles With Roasted Vegetables and Herbs and Green Tea and Mango Sandwiches.
Coconut isn’t just tropical, it’s magical. There are so many health benefits to eating coconut oil and it also has so many uses outside the kitchen. Try baking with coconut flour. Check out Everything to Know about Coconut Flour: The Grain-Free Superfood for tips. Learn How to Make Homemade Unsweetened Coconut Milk. Besides all the good things that eating coconut can do for you, the scent of it alone can make you feel better. The amazing tropical fragrance of coconut can lower blood pressure, reduce stress and decrease heart rate. Make sure to get a good whiff of this Vegan Coconut Cream Lime Pie before digging into it.
Garlic, Chile Peppers and Spices
As if I needed another reason to love my spices, it turns out they are good for you! Garlic is a great source of chromium which increases serotonin and thereby, improves our moods. Chile peppers contain capsaicin which not only revs up our metabolism but encourages our bodies to release endorphins, natural compounds that make us feel good. Health is in your grasp with this Roasted Garlic, Miso and Greens Soup. Get the benefits of every ingredient in this Chile-Garlic Potatoes and Cauliflower With Turmeric dish. Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, has been shown to help with mood swings and depression by increasing serotonin in our brains. You’ll be happy when you eat this Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash or this Summer Fresh Mango-Saffron Popsicle.
We can’t do anything about the weather or make the seasons change any faster but we can influence the way we feel by paying attention to our diets. Eating the right foods is not only good for our bodies but it’s great for our moods as well.