Boosting your mood as the days grow shorter
By member Kristen Sherman, Muncie, Ind.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free. — Psalm 146:7
Our personal prisons and hungers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The changes they bring can leave many people with a “hunger” for good mental health and joy “locked” from their hearts.
This can be amplified by the coming of winter and its shorter, darker days. Though changes in the weather are out of our control, we have options to combat the winter blues, boost our mood, feed our mental health hunger, and release our minds from the oppression they may feel.
Food changes can lend a hand in uplifting your mood, but if you are feeling more than a little down, don’t rely only on food changes. Mental health and mood can be influenced by stress levels, environment, poor sleep, genetics and mood disorders, as well as nutrient deficiencies. Talking with your doctor is an important step in taking care of your mental health; however, food changes can complement your doctor’s instructions.
Here are a few foods that can boost your mood:
1. Salmon and albacore tuna: They are both rich in DHA and EPA Omega-3, which are linked to lower levels of depression and also play a role in overall brain health and development, and cell signaling. Most experts agree around 250-500 mg of combined EPA and DHA per day is what you need. Try for one to two servings per week to meet the recommendation.
2. Dark chocolate: This delight is “choc-full” of mood boosting compounds which can produce feel-good chemicals in your brain. The sugar in chocolate is a quick source of brain fuel, too. Lastly, simply enjoying the texture, taste and smell may promote a good mood. It’s a calorie dense food, so stick with a sensible portion of one or two small squares (70 percent or more cocoa solids).
3. Fermented foods: Foods like kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut can help improve gut health through probiotics. These microorganisms support good gut bacteria, which then produce up to 90 percent of your body’s serotonin. Serotonin affects mood and other human behaviors. Try incorporating several servings per week.
4. Bananas: A simple banana is a good source of vitamin B6, which helps your body make dopamine and serotonin (neurotransmitters). When eaten while the peel still has some green, bananas are a good source of prebiotics, which feed the good bacteria in your gut. Improved gut health has been connected to overall lower rates of mood disorders. Also, eating a banana with a protein or fiber-rich food may help avoid irritability and mood swings caused by low blood sugar.
5. Oats: Try oatmeal, granola, or overnight oats, which are delicious and high in fiber and iron. Fiber helps with blood sugar stability, keeping your energy level steady. This helps with mood swings and irritability. If you are deficient in iron, the high iron content in oats may also help improve mood.
6. Berries: Fresh or frozen, any variety of berries is high in compounds that fight oxidative stress—an imbalance of harmful compounds in your body. Eating more fruits and vegetables is linked to lower rates of depression, but researchers aren’t sure why. Include lots of fruits and vegetables in your diet, but particularly berries whenever possible.
7. Nuts and seeds: Both are good sources of protein, healthy fat and fiber. Try including almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, and pine nuts in your diet; pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds are also a good choice. They provide tryptophan, zinc and selenium, which may support brain function and may play a role in producing serotonin. Try to include small amounts in your diet daily.
8. Coffee: Caffeine is known to increase alertness and attention. Coffee also increases the release of dopamine and norepinephrine. However, too much can backfire on mood by causing anxiety and issues with sleep. Here’s the good news: If you’re sensitive to caffeine, caffeine-free coffee can provide the same benefits of regular coffee.
9. Beans and lentils: These legumes are high in fiber, a great source of plant-based protein, and full of feel-good nutrients. Their high levels of B vitamins such as B12 and folate increase serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and more. They’re also high in zinc, magnesium, selenium and iron. All varieties are thought to play a role in mood, so try to incorporate beans into your daily diet.
As winter looms, the days are getting shorter. Be good to yourself. Feed your soul, and don’t forget to feed your body as well with healthy, nutrient-dense foods. Conscious diet choices can make a positive difference in how you feel.
Editor’s note: Kristen Sherman is a registered dietitian and an international board-certified lactation consultant. She also serves as a nutritional consultant for companies launching educational products. Kristen and her husband, Pastor Michael Sherman, have been CHM members since Jan. 2017 and reside in Muncie, Ind.