Curious about how to avoid winter blues? You're not alone. Recent studies suggest that as many as eight in 10 of us are prone to sadness during winter months. Is it possible to KO the symptoms — which can include fatigue, irritability, anxiety and brain fog — and stay upbeat and energetic straight until spring? Yes!
Shore up serotonin with D.
If you spend a lot of time indoors (and who doesn’t this time of year?), you can cut your risk of blue moods 67 percent just by taking 4,000 IU of vitamin D-3 daily, say Cornell University researchers. Vitamin D-3 increases your brain’s production of serotonin, a mood-elevating hormone that helps you stay upbeat even when the weather is cold and dreary, says Michael F. Holick, M.D., author of The UV Advantage. Important: Always check with your doctor before taking any supplement for the first time.
Stay energized with pomegranates.
They’re in season right now, and enjoying two cups of pomegranate seeds weekly — or a 2-oz. Shot of pomegranate juice daily — could reduce your risk of blue moods 25 percent, plus brighten your outlook and boost your energy in as little as 10 days if you’re dragging right now, UCLA studies suggest. These ruby-red fruits are loaded with nutrients (ellagic acid and anthocyanins) that increase your production of mood-steadying, fatigue-fighting alpha brain waves.
Switch on happy genes with sweet potatoes.
The genes that produce the mood-lifting, “bonding” hormone oxytocin often become sluggish when sunlight is in short supply. Luckily, eating just 1/2 cup of sweet potatoes daily re-energizes those genes, boosting happiness and easing anxiety in as little as 72 hours, say University of Bridgeport researchers. The credit goes to gene-energizing beta-carotene, a nutrient that sweet potatoes have more of than any other food on the planet.
Increase endorphins with stretches.
According to British scientists, as winter drags on, your brain’s pituitary gland naturally dials down its production of your body’s own antidepressant, pain killing compounds called endorphins. The great news: Spending five minutes twice a day loosening up tight muscles with simple stretches (such as toe touches and neck rolls) can kick-start endorphin production, lowering your risk of blue moods and listlessness 43 percent, plus reducing any aches and pains 50 percent, in as little as seven days.
Up your zinc intake with roasts.
Eating 14 oz. of beef weekly can halve your odds of the winter doldrums as long as you choose unprocessed meats, such as steaks, roasts and homemade burgers, research in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests. Beef is loaded with zinc, a mineral that keeps brain nerves calm, reining in worrying, chronic tension and stress, explains study coauthor Takako Sawada, Ph.D. If you’re a vegetarian, try 1/2 cup of zinc-rich pumpkin seeds daily instead.
Chase away the blues with avocado
Regularly enjoying guacamole or avocado toast can cut your risk of the winter blues — or your symptoms, if you’re already in a funk — 33 percent or more, studies suggest. Avocados are brimming with a healthy fat (oleic acid) that prods your brain to produce more of the energizing, blues-busting hormone dopamine.
How to Avoid Winter Blues With Food
Need a new recipe to lift your spirits? Try Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Avocado and Pomegranate Dressing, which is healthy, flavorful, and even quite colorful. Experience a jolt of happiness by digging into this delicious dish loaded with three good-mood foods: sweet potatoes, pomegranate seeds and creamy avocado.
Preheat oven to 450°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Toss sweet potato slices with oil; arrange in single layer on baking sheets. Season with salt and pepper. Roast 25-30 minutes until potatoes are tender and start to brown, rotating pans for even cooking as needed. Meanwhile, in food processor, combine avocado, vinegar, lemon juice, 2 Tbs. water and pinch of salt; blend until smooth. Drizzle avocado dressing on roasted sweet potato slices; garnish with pomegranate seeds, Gorgonzola and parsley. Makes 4-6 servings.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.