By Kylie Spicer
As the weather changes, becoming darker and colder, it is not uncommon to also suffer from mood changes. It can be hard to stay motivated to integrate healthy habits into shorter days. Feeling the winter blues is extremely common but knowing the habits and routines that can be incorporated into your daily life can help beat the winter blues.
TIPS TO HELP BEAT THE WINTER BLUES
There is a growing amount of research that shows how diet can affect mood and mental health, not just physical health. Symptoms such as anxiety and depression can result from certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies such as iron, zinc, magnesium and vitamin D. Small changes to diet and lifestyle can reduce the likelihood of these deficiencies and improve your mood and mental health.
Food fuels both body and mind. We eat nutritious foods so that our bodies can grow, repair, and function well. Our brain needs nutritious foods too. In fact, it’s quite hungry – the brain accounts for around 20% of our total daily energy requirements.
A nutritious plant–based diet rich in whole grains, fruit, and vegetables provides our body with the building blocks we need to reduce the winter blues symptoms. Often, people with low moods have diets high in fat and sugar. This, along with high intakes of meat, can cause inflammation in the body and reduce healthy gut bacteria, leading to depressive symptoms.
Eating a Mediterranean–style diet with healthy fats from olive oil, avocado and fish, and large amounts of local, fresh plant–based food high in fibre will decrease depression–related symptoms. By cooking Mediterranean–style meals, you are helping yourself feel healthier, happier, and more in control of your life.
Essential ingredients that help your brain feel happy include:
- Fruit and vegetables provide us with fibre to support a healthy gut environment. Fibre is a favourite food of the beneficial bacteria in our gut that play a range of roles in supporting our overall mental and physical health. Fruit and vegetables also give us a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support brain health and assist in the production of serotonin (our happy hormone). We should aim for two serves of fruit and five serves of veg a day.
- Wholegrains are another important source of fibre to feed our gut bacteria, plus healthy fats for brain function and low GI carbohydrates for a steady source of brain fuel.
- Fish, especially oily fish, is high in Omega–3 fatty acids which are healthy fats that, when broken down and absorbed, travel to your brain and interact with certain parts of the brain that affect your mood. People who eat higher amounts of foods containing omega–3s have less depression and a better mood.
- The protein in lean meats, fish and eggs, as well as nuts, seeds and legumes provide the building blocks of many brain chemicals that can influence our mood. One of its essential roles in the brain is to help make serotonin, our happy hormone, which, when released, makes you feel more positive and have a better mood.
- Dairy foods like yoghurt contain living beneficial bacteria (known as probiotics) that can boost our gut health, which influences our mood and mental wellbeing.
Time in the sun
Vitamin D is commonly known as the sun vitamin as your body needs to absorb sun rays to make it. This year more than ever vitamin D deficiency is being diagnosed by GPs at a higher rate because of the weather and Covid lockdowns. Vitamin D has been shown to play a role in mental wellbeing. Around 30 minutes in the sun in winter with arms and legs exposed will be enough to get your daily dose. If you are not doing this it is recommended go to your GP to get your levels checked and take a supplement as per your GPs advice.
But how do you do all of this when the winter blues are getting in the way of this change?
That’s where Accredited Practicing Dietitians come in! Dietitians can support you in achieving improved diet quality by adding in foods with specific nutrients to help boost your mood while keeping it to simple, affordable options. They help by breaking it down into small achievable steps that suit you and your lifestyle. They can provide you with practical ideas and equip you with the knowledge and tools you need to maintain these long–term changes, even when you are battling the winter blues. You are not alone, and dietitians are here to help so call and book in with your local Dietitian today.
Kylie Spicer is warm, non–judgemental and passionate Dietitian/Nutritionist working at Bright Diets. She loves helping everyone reach their full potential by understanding how food affects their body. She enjoys working with people of all ages in a supportive and empowering way to assist them to improve their health and wellbeing. You can contact Kylie on 0419 612 807 or www.brightdiets.com.au or connect on the Bright Diets Facebook page.