Eating to Lift Your Winter Blues

Look to a variety of foods that can keep you healthy through the winter months. These include plant based kefir, coconut yogurt, various nuts, vegetables, and nut butters. Food ideas also include oranges, broccoli, potatoes and berries, among other healthy foods.

How does food impact your mood?
Food makes us feel good. Besides tasting great and nourishing the body, food also has an influence on appetite and mood. Research demonstrates that certain foods affect powerful mood-modifying brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are made from the foods we eat and are present in higher concentrations after meals than between them.

Of the many neurotransmitters, only a few affect appetite:

Serotonin: A chemical released after eating carbohydrates (such as fruit, starches, and sugars) that enhances calmness, improves mood, and lessens depression. Serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan. High levels of serotonin control appetite and satisfy cravings.
Dopamine and norepinephrine: Chemicals released after eating protein (such as tofu, legumes) that enhance mental concentration and alertness. These neurotransmitters come from the amino acid tyrosine.

What foods should you pick?
What you choose for a meal or snack can make a difference in how much you eat or how soon you will want to eat again. Including carbohydrate and protein sources with meals and snacks can help you to feel satisfied, both during and after eating.

Look for carbohydrate foods that are high in fibre. Choose foods such as:

Whole grain bread, cereal, and pasta
Potatoes with skin
Whole grains (brown rice, bulgur, quinoa, oats)
Fresh fruits
Vegetables (frozen or low-sodium canned)
Legumes (beans, lentils)

Choose foods such as:
Tofu or textured vegetable protein (TVP)
Legumes (beans, lentils)

Pair carbohydrates and protein together in any combination that works for you:

Oatmeal with plant based milk and a sliced banana
Tofu on a bed of brown rice with fresh lemon juice
Whole grain tortilla with spicy beans topped with coconut Greek yogurt
Nuts and dried fruit
Apple with nut butter

What are good foods and beverages for winter health?
Look for a variety of foods and beverages to support a healthy immune system through the winter months. Be sure to include the following when planning meals and snacks:

Plant-based yogurt: Containing live bacteria cultures, yogurt can help your gut stay healthy this winter. Coconut greek yogurt is slightly thicker and has a custard-like taste. Use yogurt as a dip for fruits and vegetables or eat it plain. Yogurt provides protein, calcium, and vitamin D. Read labels and choose yogurt with little or no added sugars. Use fresh fruit or cinnamon to add taste and extra antioxidants.
Nuts: Nuts are powerhouses of energy and nutrients. Full of protein and heart-healthy fat, nuts add texture, taste, and a mouthful of antioxidants to any dish or snack. Sprinkle nuts on cereal and salad, or spread nut butter on whole grain bread and fruit. Look for nut butters with nuts as the only ingredient – no sugar, salt, or added fats. A portion size of whole nuts is ¼ cup or 2 tablespoons of nut butter.
Kiwifruit, oranges, broccoli, potatoes, peppers, and berries: Providing vitamin C, fiber, vitamin A, and a host of other antioxidants, fruits and vegetables are an essential part of the winter mix. Studies demonstrate that there may be little value in popping pills for antioxidants, but including food sources is invaluable to your health. Each color provides different vitamins and minerals. Choose two or more cups of fruits and vegetables every day and be sure to include a variety of colors.
Fermented foods: Foods that nourish the gut are important; it is the home of the feel-good serotonin production. Sauerkraut, kimchi, plain yogurt and kefir all good ways to improve your gut microbiome.
Dark green leafy vegetables: Instrumental in decreasing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), collard greens, turnip greens, spinach and mustard greens are seasonally available.
Dark chocolate: Chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids release endorphins that improve mood.

Change the impact of the meal by changing the colors you offer on the plate. A dish of pork loin with mashed potatoes and cauliflower is boring. Brighten up the plate by serving pork loin with a fresh cranberry relish paired with a baked yam and broccoli. If the price of fresh berries in the winter months has your wallet groaning, choose frozen instead.

Fluids: Dry air from indoor heating can make your throat, nose, and skin feel parched. Make sure you include adequate fluids throughout the day. Choose caffeine-free beverages such as water, herbal tea, 100% fruit juice. Foods such as soups and fresh produce can contribute to fluid needs, as well.

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