While not winter yet, the change of the season is definitely here. Fall is definitely my favorite time of year; gorgeous colors, cool weather, cozy sweaters and hot tea. What’s not to love? The only real bummer about fall is the potential for “winter blues,” or for some people, full on Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which effects millions of Americans, and people all over the world.
Would you believe that what you eat might help relieve some of your symptoms?
Like trading your polka dotted bikini for a parka every year, there are certain foods to toss with the changing of the seasons, and certain ones to embrace. Nature is really perfect, she knows best, and stocking up on thick, rich, hearty foods and brain boosting vitamins is the best thing you can do for your noggin this time of year. Sweet potatoes, leeks, onions, garlic, squash, pumpkin, kale, swiss chard, daikon radish — roast these babies up and have ‘em with brown rice or some millet, or puree them into a soup or stew.
There is a reason that stuff like strawberries, blueberries, and grapes are not in farmer’s markets during the fall and winter — they are out of season! And why? Fruits have a cooling effect on the body, so it wouldn’t be the best choice for your brain and bod to be snacking on strawberries when there is snow on the ground. It can really help bring about balance when you eat with the seasons. Produce is always cheaper when its in season, too!
Here are some big, but simple steps to take to ensure that you are being the best caretaker you can be for your body and delicate brain during this cold season!
1) Make sure you take extra Vitamin D:
This amazing supplement is one of the most important shield against depression during the winter — even if you get outside a lot. The shortening of the days means less light, which equals less Vitamin D. Vitamin D is literally sunshine — it makes your bones, brain, and body happy, and your whole mood bright. When there is less sun exposure per day and your levels of Vitamin D go down, depression, along with lethargy, exhaustion, muscle/bone aches, and overall blech can take over. People can be low on Vitamin D and experience these symptoms all year, and never attribute it to their low levels of sun exposure. If you live in an urban area or big city, you need some Vitamin D love all year round. Do some research and safe self testing to see how much is right for you — anywhere from 400-1,500 IUs per day has been shown to be hugely effective.
What to eat: Vitamin D is found in very little other than sunshine or supplement form, so go with a high quality supplement, and get outside!. Other sources include cod liver oil, and the flesh of fatty fish.
2) Eat good fats!:
Stay with me. There is a huge, huge misconception about good oils and fats in this country. Good fats (like poly and monounsaturated fats) lower LDL levels of cholesterol (the bad kind), raise levels of HDL (the good kind), and can help you lose weight in many cases! But overall, the most tragic consequence of this misconception is the underappreciation of what good fats can do for your brain. They are best buds, and if you have a particular propensity toward depression or anxiety, these fats can make a huge difference in the overall function of your brain. The typical american diet is very, very high in carbs, low on nutrient rich foods, low on good fat, and in many cases, it can also be high in bad, or saturated fats. These bad fats have the opposite, negative effect on the brain and body.
What to eat: fatty fish (salmon, mackeral, sardines), Avocados, Walnuts, Almonds, Olive oil, and if you need some extra good fish oil lovin, my recommendation is Udo’s Oil, the Omega 3 with DHA.
3) Stock up on a good Vitamin B complex:
This beauty is found in so many amazing cold weather foods, but if you happen to be a vegan (because animal protein is the highest source of Vitamin B on the planet), get a supplement formula with B12, folic acid, and B6. They will help with neurotransmitter function in the brain, which can malfunction in the brain when depressed, and can also help with cognitive behavior as well. Vitamin B might as well be called Vitamin M for “Mind” — everything brain-related, including memory, mood, and behavior, can source back to this complex. (Also! If you happen to be an acne sufferer, Pantothenic acid, which is a B-vitamin, is particularly wonderful for helping to clear up skin!)
What to eat: Animal meat of any kind. Organic, hormone free, grass fed, and humanely raised is always best. Yellowfin tuna, cod, and many kinds of fish contain very high amounts of Vitamin B. Bell peppers, spinach, peanuts, dark leafy greens, potatoes, all excellent forms of B6, whole grains, beans, and nuts. Stock up on the good stuff!
4) Eat your roots:
Hearty, rich, fabulous, easy to prepare, root vegetables are chock full of vitamins, nutrients, and wholesome goodness, especially for this time of year, when roots are naturally in season. Check out your local farmers market, and revel in the gorgeousness of the brightly colored squashes, pumpkins, radishes — its amazing! Roast them with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, steam them and eat with a bit of coconut oil in place of butter, make them into soup.
What to eat: Ginger, Garlic, Fennel, Sweet Potatoes, Squash, Daikon radish, Red Radish, Pumpkin, Beets, Carrots, Onions
5) Eat your greens:
Folate and B-vitamin rich, dark leafy greens are just so good for your mood, brain and body. Folic acid has been shown in many studies to be an important element in combating depression and the blues. It also reduces fatigue, and overall lack of energy. Greens are beautiful and amazing. Juice them in smoothies and morning juices, sautee them in a little olive oil or coconut oil and garlic, have them raw in a salad. However you dress them up, just have them!
What to eat: Kale, Swiss Chard, Spinach, Bok Choy, Dandelion greens, Romaine, Arugula.
6) Get a good cardio blast for at least 20 minutes per day:
Do whatever strikes your fancy. Dance wildly to 5 Madonna or Lady Gaga songs in a row, sprint around the block a few times, do 100 jumping jacks in your house. Don’t over think it, just do it! So, so amazingly helpful for your brain, and your body — gets those good chemicals pumping.
7) Stay hydrated!
There is a very powerful book called “Your Body’s Many Cries for Water” by Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, that has some incredible insights on what thirst can take form of in the body — asthma, pain, and depression, among others. It is so important to drink your 8 daily glasses, just as important in the winter as it is in the summer. Because it gets cold, we tend to think hot tea, hot coffee, hot cider, and while those are lovely too, don’t forget about water. Dehydration can take on many forms, including brain dysfunction, sluggishness, depression, and lack of energy. And when you add naturally dehydrating caffeine to the mix, its not pretty. Carry around a water bottle, refill when you can, and get your daily dose of water love. You will definitely feel a marked difference. Tip: if you have some trouble with over eating, you may just be thirsty. Next time you feel hungry, drink a glass of water, wait a few minutes, and then see how you feel.