eating to beat the winter blues
February 2020

Eating to Beat the Winter Blues

Healthy Eating: February 2020

By Gretchen Heimsoth

Right around this time in the new year- after all the hustle and bustle and stress from the holidays is finished, (and hopefully the decorations are put away!) we can come to a pause after all the festivities where we can feel a lull in energy and focus, as well as low mood and motivation.

eating to beat the winter blues

Shorter days/less sun, chilly and rainy days all add up and can express in a syndrome known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. SAD can affect all age ranges. Children pent up inside when they would otherwise be running around expending energy are no less susceptible the seasonal “blahs” then adults are. Consider the possibility that a large portion of us spent the last six weeks or so indulging in holiday favorites, foods often laden with fat, sugar and calories with little to no nutrients, then the beginning of the year starts looking like a great time to refocus our attention on what we are putting into our bodies so we can continue to get out of our bodies what we demand of them. Make it a family affair and open the dialogue of what healthy eating looks like to your children so they can start to exercise their mental muscle when it comes to food choices! 

There are key nutrients and foods we can focus on during the winter months to support our bodies and help mitigate the effect of SAD. They are easy to obtain foods, especially on this Central Coast of California, in which we are graced such an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies, many of which enjoy a long growing season here. Focusing on these foods can give you and your family a boost that will help them be as healthy as they can through the winter while giving their body fuel to prepare for longer days and warmer weather.

  • Lean Protein- a diet too high in saturated fat right now can potentially lower mood and is hard on the digestion
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids-low levels of omega 3’s have been correlated with low mood in studies. A diet high in Omega 6, from grains and seed oils, without an adequate balance of Omega 3’s also lends to chronic inflammation, which can contribute to a host of issues. Food sources include wild salmon, flax seed and oil and walnuts.
  • Berries- Blueberries, cherries, raspberries and pomegranates (not technically a berry but still included) can help prevent the release of cortisol, the stress hormone.
  • Folic Acid- No healthy eating list would be complete without mentioning leafy greens. They pack a punch with antioxidants, fiber and folate!! Folic acid is also found in oatmeal, broccoli, sunflower seeds, lentils, black eyed peas and soybeans.
  • B-12- If you eat animal products and dairy, then you will be getting a regular intake of B- 12. If you are vegan, there are vegan sourced B-12 supplements derived from seaweed. During the darker winter months, it may be worth considering supplementation.
  • Vitamin D- Such a vital compound for our bodies. It is essentially a hormone the kidneys produce and regulates calcium metabolism. This process is set in motion by our skin having exposure to sun. Try for as much exposed skin as you can handle in the weather for 15 minutes minimum in the sun a day. Aim for that as a goal. Food sources include egg yolks and mushrooms. Bone broth can help boost levels as well.
  • Magnesium- Helps stabilize mood and promote a sense of calm. Foods that contain magnesium are often satisfying and fun to eat. Dark chocolate fits this bill as well as bananas.
  • Broccoli- Broccoli is an antioxidant VIP, housing some of the most potent antioxidants used by the human body, glutathione and sulforaphane. There has been so much recent research surrounding these two compounds. These chemicals support our natural detox processes and assist in slowing down the effects of ageing.

Salads are excellent ways to get a lot of these foods on your plate in one sitting. However, I find salads to be unmotivating at times during these colder months. The last few weeks under the redwoods have been particularly cold. Soups lend themselves to the winter occasion, offering both warm comfort and an aid in digestion with the added liquid as well as the breaking down of plant fibers during the cooking process. Following is a sausage, greens and lentil soup recipe that will bring smiles to even most fastidious little faces!!

Sausage, Greens and Lentil Soup

  • 1 Tbsp oil for sauté, I recommend avocado oil
  • 4 links smoked chicken sausage- Aidell’s for example, chopped (for plant based soup...substitute one pound mushrooms, any mushroom, for sausage)
  • 1 yellow onion chopped
  • 2 ribs celery with leaves, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, any color, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large russet potato, peeled and chopped into small dice
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1⁄2 Tbsp ground cumin Fresh nutmeg
  • 1 bunch greens- Dino kale, spinach or chard. Stemmed and very thinly sliced
  • 5 cups stock of choice. Sub bone broth for extra gut loving benefits
  • 3⁄4 cups lentils
  • 1⁄4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

In soup pot, heat oil and sauté onions, celery and carrots until lightly browned. Add sausage or mushrooms and sauté for another two minutes. Add bell pepper and potato, rosemary, cumin, garlic and salt and pepper. Sauté for another minute and deglaze with one cup of the stock. Let cook 8 to 10 minutes to soften potato and vegetables. Wilt in the greens, season with a few grates of fresh nutmeg, stir in tomato paste, lentils, stock and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer soup until the lentils are tender. About 30 minutes. Salt and Pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh herbs, scallions, some cubed avocado or some grated parmesan and serve!!

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