Have you ever wondered why donuts or cookies miraculously make us feel better? Why the words “winter” and “blues” go hand-in-hand? Or why we feel so much better after a good workout?
If the winter months get you down or leave you feeling fatigued and lacking motivation, you’re not alone. As a nutritionist, I hear comments all the time like, “I feel so down all winter,” “No matter what I do, I can’t get out of this funk,” or “I just can’t handle going to work and coming home in the dark every day”.
If these sound like words you are known to utter, I’ve got great news for you—you can do something about it!
Start taking action with the following simple daily habits to wash away the winter blues and optimize your mental wellness this winter.
Avoid reaching for sugar
Yes, you crave sugar, it tastes great, and it makes you feel better when you’re down. After all, when you’re in a slump or need a boost, would you rather grab a celery stick or donut? A muffin or some nuts? A glass of water or a latte?
I get it. But have you ever wondered why donuts, muffins, and sugary treats seem to give us a boost when we need a pick-me-up?
The foods that tend to make us feel better are carbohydrate-rich foods, like sugary cakes, cookies, muffins, or comfort foods like pasta and rice. Insulin released when we eat these foods mobilizes tryptophan, which our body then uses to create serotonin.
Therefore, carbs improve our mood by boosting serotonin, a neurotransmitter and natural mood stabilizer. It makes us feel happier, less anxious, and emotionally stable.
But the problem with these sugary “comfort foods” is that they zap our energy, create cravings, and leave us wanting more. So what should we do instead?
We can naturally increase our body’s production of serotonin by increasing our intake of tryptophan. Tryptophan is found in nuts, seeds, cheese, pineapple, and quality animal proteins like pasture-raised chicken, turkey, eggs, and fish.
So swapping out simple sugary carbs for ones containing tryptophan is an excellent place to start.
Another way to boost serotonin is by making sure you have enough of the nutrients needed to convert tryptophan into serotonin, including 5-HTP and vitamins D, C, and B6.
Consider 5-HTP supplementation
5-HTP, or 5-Hydroxytryptophan, is found in some foods, but only in small amounts. For this reason, many people looking to boost their serotonin levels supplement with it.
Ask the friendly staff in the vitamin department of your Nature’s Fare Markets if they think 5-HTP may be for you.
Bump up the D
Boosting your levels of vitamin D in the winter months is an excellent idea. You can achieve this by getting more natural sunlight (the same reason many Canadians flock to sunnier climates this time of year). However, during the long dark days of winter, exposing ourselves to enough sunlight can be a challenge.
Moreover, many people who deal with depression, including seasonal depression, are often deficient in vitamin D. You can boost your vitamin D levels by adding a supplement to your daily winter routine and eating more foods containing it, including wild salmon, egg yolks, mushrooms, and fortified foods.
Another natural way of boosting serotonin is through exercise. Exercise also improves blood flow to the brain to help with mental clarity and focus. That’s a win in my book!
If you don’t know what kind of exercise to do or can’t make it to a gym, get out there and walk. Walk as quickly as you can to increase your heart rate.
Dopamine, like serotonin, is a neurotransmitter. It’s involved in motivation and provides the focus, drive, and attention to get things done.
If you feel like you don’t have enough energy to get through the day, struggle to complete tasks, have little motivation to do anything, or find yourself moody and unable to sleep, your dopamine levels may be low.
Unfortunately, many things people do to boost focus and energy, like grabbing caffeine and sugar-filled treats, end up backfiring. Though these do provide a quick boost, they disrupt natural dopamine production processes, which results in reduced dopamine production long-term.
Healthier and more natural ways of boosting dopamine include eating foods rich in tyrosine. Just like tryptophan creates serotonin, tyrosine is used to make L-dopa, then dopamine.
Tyrosine is found in almonds, eggs, beans, fish, chicken, bananas, and avocados. Again, Vitamin D is required to convert tyrosine into dopamine, making your daily vitamin D dose even more critical.
Try meditation & breathing exercises
Another natural way of boosting dopamine is through meditation. Spend a few minutes daily engaged in slow deep breathing or meditation. Find your breath signature—it can help you create inner peace, relieve stress, handle challenging times, and better manage moods.
Finally, to optimize your mental wellness and keep your mind sharp, avoid anti-nutrients and substances your brain finds toxic. These neurotoxins zap our mental energy and contribute to fatigue, moodiness, and depression.
For this reason, avoid chemicals, pesticides, and toxins on food as well as those typically found in household cleaners and personal hygiene products.
Opt for organic foods and clean products when possible. This is easy to accomplish at Nature’s Fare, where quality food is priority. Organic may cost slightly more, but illness ends up being much more expensive than wellness!
There are numerous approaches we can take to optimize our mental wellness. Start by taking small, strategic steps like eating a healthy whole foods diet, evading harmful substances, and incorporating bite-sized actions one day at a time. Embracing these simple daily habits will help you avoid the winter blues so you can not only survive this winter, but thrive!
Kelly Aiello, RHN is one of Nature’s Fare Markets’ nutritionists and provides free half hour one-on-one nutrition consultations in our stores. Check out the nutrition consultation schedule on page four and book your free appointment today at naturesfare.com.
Learn more: happihuman.com