By now, it’s possible that you’ve adjusted to the time change and reveled in that extra hour of sleep we got on Sunday. Don’t forget that it comes with a heavy price tag. As the days get shorter and the sky turns darker your mood might take a devastating dip. Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the ever so appropriate acronym SAD) tends to present itself in the fall and winter. But have no fear; depression proof nutrition is here!
Fats are where it’s at
Consider fats the stars of the show when it comes to regulating moods. Hydrogenated oils, better know as trans fat, have been under scrutiny for years because of their ability to increase LDL levels (bad cholesterol) and decrease HDL levels (good cholesterol). That’s barely half the story of these evil fats. In 2011, for the first time ever, researchers in Spain identified a link between trans fat and depression. Trans fat in the diet increased the risk of depression by almost 50 percent! Those who only ate “good fats” had a 35 percent reduction in mood disorders. For a quick refresher course in fats, my previous post, The Skinny on Fats can clear things up. In the meantime here are some brief guidelines:
- Nuts and seeds contain polyunsaturated fats that can halt unhappiness in its tracks. Try sprinkling sunflower seeds on your salad, chopped walnuts in your oatmeal or sesame seeds as a topping for any type of protein.
- Olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, contains polyphenols with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which basically act as an antidepressant in the body. Combine with flavored vinegar (Martin Pouret found at the Williams-Sonoma store makes delicious ones) and use for salad dressing instead of store bought brands. Lightly brush olive oil on fresh veggies, top with salt and pepper, and broil in the oven.
- The main purpose of trans fat is to extend the shelf life of a product. You will find it in most processed foods, packaged baked goods and fried foods. Think about what the appropriate shelf life of a food item should be before you buy it. If that muffin your about to eat can stay “fresh” for over a week, it probably has trans fat in it.
Beef up on B vitamins
Although there are eight B vitamins, the ones that may determine the status of your mood are folate, B6 and B12. They all work together in the body, so if you are lacking in one, chances are you’re lacking in a few.
Thanks to grain fortification, folate deficiency is pretty rare in the United States. When choosing foods naturally high in folate, think beans and greens! Spinach, asparagus and collard greens all score high in levels of folate, along with pinto, kidney and navy beans. Steam any deep green leafy vegetable, mix with cooked lentils and flavor with lemon juice for a meal that’s sure to boost your folate level.
B6 acts as a precursor for numerous cognitive reactions in the body, so it’s essential to make sure that you have enough. Garbanzo beans, chicken and tuna are some traditional sources, yet you’ll also find it in bulgur wheat, cottage cheese and winter squash.
Sub-par levels of B12 can cause restlessness, anxiety and irritability. Animal products such as beef and liver are terrific sources, but it’s also found in fortified cereal, milk and yogurt. Surprisingly, clams have one of the highest levels of B12 of any food. Try them steamed over a serving of whole-wheat pasta tossed lightly with olive oil. For fish fans, opt for salmon, rainbow trout or haddock to increase daily levels. Keep in mind as you get older your ability to absorb B12 decreases. Checking in on your status with a blood test never hurts.
Vitamin of the Year
If you listened to everything you read and saw in the media you would think Vitamin D cured everything. Maybe not, but low levels in the body have been directly linked to depression in adolescents, healthy adults, and the elderly population. Of course, short winter days and cold nights makes it a bit tricky to get an adequate amount from sunlight. Besides dairy products, copious amounts of Vitamin D are found in ocean products such as herring, salmon, halibut and oysters.
If you’re feeling down in the dumps, don’t fill up on carb-laden foods. Eating processed foods with simple carbohydrates will only cause severe dips in sugar levels and mood. Choose some of the foods listed above to get through the dreary, winter months.