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What to Eat to Beat the Winter Blues

Jan 1, 2024 | Nutrition & Health, Recipes | 0 comments

By Jenie Mussallem, MS, CNS, LDN

With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season firmly behind us, now is the time when people start to notice those winter blues kicking in. With January being one of the coldest months of the year, and only getting less than 10 hours of total sunlight, it’s no wonder these winter months are tough to get through. Shorter days and colder weather means less exposure to sunlight, which can cause vitamin D levels to fall. We are also lacking the abundant produce of the summer months, which leaves us missing out on vitamins and minerals that are essential to mood balance. All of this plus the isolating nature of winter can definitely have an impact on mood!

This can all feel a little overwhelming, but don’t worry, there is plenty that you can do to support your mood all winter long! Foods that are rich in vitamin D, omega-3 essential fatty acids, and B vitamins can help prevent vitamin deficiencies that can have an impact on your mood. Below I will take you through a couple of key nutrients for mood, and how you can support yourself throughout the winter season.

 

Vitamin D:

Vitamin D is widely known for its impact on mood, but did you know that vitamin D is actually a hormone not a vitamin? Not only is it a hormone, it also plays a vital role in regulating your other hormones, which can have a major impact on mood. In the winter months, it can be really hard to get vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. Additionally, vitamin D is not found in many foods that people normally eat, so it is pretty easy to become deficient. Be sure to ask your doctor to check this on your annual blood work! Sometimes supplementation is necessary, but not without a current serum level 🙂 Be sure to work with a professional on this one.

Good sources of vitamin D include: cod liver oil, salmon, swordfish, tuna, sardines, beef liver, grass-fed grass-finished beef, and egg yolks.
Dietitian Tip: Grass-fed/Grass finished beef liver is widely considered nature’s multivitamin, and is a great place to start when working to increase vitamin D levels.

Aim for a minimum of 1-3 servings of vitamin D rich foods/week to see the benefits.

 

Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids:

 

Omega-3 essential fatty acids are considered essential because our body cannot make them on its own. Because of this, it is crucial to get these healthy fats through your diet. Omega-3s can easily travel through the brain cell membrane and interact with mood-related molecules inside the brain. They also have anti-inflammatory actions that may help relieve depression.Omega-3 can play a big part in creating hormone balance, primarily because of its anti-inflammatory properties. While healthy fat intake is essential for hormone health, focusing on optimizing your balance of the Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio is crucial. In fact, when your doctor says that you have great HDL cholesterol, you can thank your good old omega-3s for that!

Good sources of Omega-3 include: fatty fish (Mackerel, Salmon, Herring, Sardines, Anchovies), fish oil, oysters, flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, soybeans, pasture-raised eggs, and grass-fed/grass-finished meat.
Dietitian Tip: Pasture raised eggs are a rich source of not only omega-3 essential fatty acids but also vitamin D and B vitamins, along with a number of other vitamins and minerals. Among the most nutrient dense food choices to exist, feel free to enjoy eggs frequently throughout the week.

Aim for a minimum of 1-3 servings of Omega 3 Essential Fatty acid foods/week to see the benefits.

 

B vitamins:

B vitamins are the energetic building blocks of the body! Your body literally creates energy using B vitamins, so they are especially important and need to be consumed on a daily basis. Vitamin B12 (cobalamin), B1 (thiamine), and B2 (riboflavin) are essential for production of energy, proper liver function, creation of red blood cells, healthy brain function, and cellular metabolism. B vitamins are required for the synthesis and regulation of dopamine and serotonin, meaning a deficit in any (or all) of these vitamins will have an impact on mood.

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is needed for maintaining a healthy nervous system. Vitamin B12 along with Folate (B9) are needed for producing norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine.
Good sources of B12 include: fish, poultry, red meat, and nutritional yeast flakes.

Vitamin B1 (thiamine) supports brain health and can naturally give your brain a boost and improve your mood. Vitamin B1 helps to naturally improve your state of mind and can reduce anxiety, fearfulness, and irritability.
Good sources of B1 include: pork, fish, beans, lentils, whole grains, and leafy greens.

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) helps prevent depression, especially in women. Vitamin B2 is required for metabolism of vitamins B3, B6, B9, and B12, so a B2 deficiency could lead to a deficiency of multiple B vitamins.
Good sources of B2 include: organ meats, poultry, fish, eggs, clams, dairy, and leafy
greens.

Most B vitamins are readily found in food, but if you are a vegetarian or vegan this might be tricky for you! Plant-based sources of B vitamins include sunflower seeds, almonds,
nutritional yeast flakes, chickpeas, whole grains, avocado, asparagus, beans, carrots, broccoli, legumes, quinoa, and all dark leafy greens.

Dietitian Tip: Adding in microgreens regularly is a great way to boost your Bs as microgreens contain ALL B vitamins!

Aim for 1-3 servings of B vitamin rich foods per day for healthy levels of all B vitamins.

Now that you have a great list of foods to support your mood ready to go, it’s important to also remember the impact of lifestyle. Having a sense of community is immensely important when it comes to supporting your mood. The winter months are a great opportunity to form lasting connections within your community. Taking a weekly trip to the Farmer’s Market with friends will help to foster a sense of community, connect with others, and support a sense of purpose in supporting your local farming community. Connecting with friends and seeing all of the amazing fresh produce available to you in this community is a mood booster in itself! You can also have the peace of mind that you are purchasing quality products from known sources that are fresh and in peak season. What’s better than that!

Check out the recipe below for a mood-boosting dinner option to try out this winter.

 

 

Mood Boosting Italian Wedding Soup Recipe

Adapted from once upon a chef

 

Ingredients (meatballs):
  • 1 large pasture raised egg
  • 3 tbsp fresh chives, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¾ lb local grass-fed, grass-finished ground beef
  • ½ lb local grass-fed, grass-finished beef liver, finely ground
  • ½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • ⅓ cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
  • ¼ tsp pink Himalayan sea salt
Ingredients (soup):
  • 2 tbsp avocado oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 6 cups local chicken bone broth
  • 2 cups local beef bone broth
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup dry white wine (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup small pasta (ditalini)
  • 4 oz fresh spinach, stems trimmed, roughly chopped
  • Parmigiano Reggiano, for serving

Instructions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment and spray with avocado oil cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, add all ingredients for meatballs and mix until fully combined. Roll mixture into tablespoon-size balls. Should make approximately 50 meatballs. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked through. Set aside.
3. In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, heat avocado oil. Add onions, carrots, and celery and cook until vegetables are cooked through (about 8 minutes). Add wine and scrape brown bits from the bottom of the Dutch oven. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1-2 minutes. Add chicken bone broth, beef bone broth, water, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil.
4. Once boiling, add pasta and cook, uncovered until the pasta is al dente (about 8-10 minutes). Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Reduce heat to low and add spinach and meatballs. Simmer for 3-5 minutes until the spinach is wilted and the meatballs are cooked through.
6. Serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Jenie is a Licensed Dietitian-Nutritionist and has a Master of Science in Human Clinical Nutrition from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. She uses a root-cause oriented approach to care and believes that the best approach to health is through a balanced diet, focusing on nutrition consisting of local pasture raised meats, vegetables, and fruits. As a lifelong Bucks County resident, Jenie has a passion for supporting local farms and businesses within the community.

 

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