The summer months make it easy for us to get all of the nutrients we need. With an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, time in the sun, increased physical exercise, and yes, even the occasional scoop of ice cream (we count that as dairy!), we’ve got our bases covered. In the thick of winter, it can be more difficult to get adequate nutrition, and every part of our health—including our mood—can take a hit.
Changes in mood during the winter are primarily due to the lack of daily sunlight we experience. Sunlight is necessary for our bodies to produce vitamin D, which improves mood by helping to create serotonin. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, contributes to feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Essentially, the more serotonin we have, the happier we feel. With less exposure to sunlight, and therefore less vitamin D, our serotonin dips.
Another trigger for serotonin production comes from our food. When we eat carbohydrates, serotonin is released, giving us that feeling of pleasure and causing us to crave more starchy foods. Carbohydrates are not an enemy—they’re important! To fuel your body with a full variety of nutrients while stimulating serotonin production, enjoy a variety of foods and smart carbs.
- Choose whole grains. Most breads, crackers, and snacks can be found in whole grain form. Unlike refined grains, whole grains have not been stripped of their germ and bran, which contain fiber and numerous nutrients.
- Sneak in fruits and vegetables. Even if they’re accompanied by drizzle of chocolate or a rich dip, you’re still getting beneficial nutrients.
- Forego fried foods. Reach for baked or air-popped snack foods to reduce your intake of empty calories and fat.
- Stock up on soup. Broth is full of nutrients, and the liquid helps to keep you warm and full without the added calories.
- Curb cravings with healthy fats and proteins. In addition to filling you up, many foods known for their “healthy fats” also contain vitamin D, leading to a serotonin boost sans starch. Such foods include salmon, eggs, and cheese.