Beat Winter Blues: 5 Mood Boosting Foods
When you get a few days of winter grayness in a row, it's easy to get a "case of the Mondays" as Office Space memorably puts it. But even if it's too cold for you to boost your mood with a wetsuit-donning, cold weather-braving paddle, there are a few things you can do to cheer yourself up. One is to eat foods with mood-boosting properties. No, we're not talking drive-through fare that tastes good at the time but makes you feel like garbage later; rather, five healthy foods that can give you a lift, no matter what the weather's doing.
While it's tempting to steal the creamy milk chocolate from your kids' advent calendars, we suggest you go with its high-cacao cousin instead (and leave those calendars alone, too!). Chocolate is one of the richest natural sources of the mood-enhancing amino acid phenylalanine, particularly if you get one of the highest cacao varieties. Not to mention, that dark chocolate tastes good too.
Fish isn't the first food that comes to mind when you're looking to perk up, but don't ignore it. Not only does fish provide a rich source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids to enhance joint health and reduce post-workout soreness, but it also enhances mood by increasing your brain's production of serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters are directly linked to mood, so fire up a salmon fillet or get to your favorite sushi joint next time you're feeling blue. If you don't do fish in its original form, fish oil provides much of the same benefits.
Another food that kicks your brain into high gear is that cooking staple, garlic. This flavor-rich powerhouse stimulates production of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. In addition, the chef's favorite also relaxes blood vessels and reduces blood pressure, which can do lasting damage if it remains too high. And, the chromium in garlic helps with insulin response, so your body better regulates its response to carbohydrates. Did we mention that garlic is also believed to have anti-cancer properties?
Mushrooms (Exposed to Sunlight)
Many of us are lacking in vitamin D, particularly in the winter when the sun isn't only shrouded by snow-dropping clouds, but also provides us with less daylight. One of the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency is a depressed mood. While it can be a wise insurance plan to pop a vitamin D pill containing up to 2,000 IUs for women and 5,000 IUs for men, there are other, more natural ways to get a vitamin D fix. One way is to search your supermarket for mushrooms that have been exposed to vitamin D (or just buy regular ones and put them in a sunny spot in your house for a couple of days). As mushrooms often grow in shady conditions, not all are created equal. But the sun-drenched variety can provide all of the vitamin D you need for the day.
Oh, the humble banana. So often overlooked by many people in favor of more gaudily colored and juicy fruits, it remains a go-to for endurance athletes looking to stabilize their mood before a race and get some quickly absorbed carbs during extended exercise. Credit the amino acid tryptophan (yep, the same one that's prevalent in turkey and, contrary to popular opinion, does not put you to sleep), which, when combined with the vitamin B6 in bananas, causes a surge of mood-lifting serotonin. The potassium in bananas also contributes to elevated mood by helping your nervous system function optimally.