February can be one of the gloomiest times of year at Northwestern with its cold winds, grey skies and below-freezing temperatures. With such harsh conditions, winter can oftentimes cause a condition called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a temporary depression that tends to hit during the winter months when days are shorter. Feeling blue might make you more likely to reach for that jar of Nutella rather than something healthy, but loading up on sugar and fat can throw your mood even more out of whack. Thankfully, there are a variety of delicious and healthy foods you can eat to help beat the winter blues and get you energized and happy, even when the sun isn’t shining.
Eating a diet rich in whole grains can help boost dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, so keeping those levels up is crucial in the winter. Incorporating foods like whole grain bread, oatmeal and quinoa in your meals will give you the fiber and B vitamins you need to feel good. Make a hot bowl of oatmeal for breakfast to start your day off on the right foot.
Lean sources of protein like turkey, chicken and eggs provide tyrosine and B-12, two vitamins that increase melatonin production, a hormone that affects your sleep cycle. If you’re low on energy, choosing an omelet or a turkey sandwich (with whole grain bread, of course!) for lunch will give you that boost you need to power through your afternoon classes, and will still give you fuel to go out later at night.
Fish, though hard to come by in the dining halls, is also a must-have during the winter. The omega-3’s found in fatty fish like salmon increase your levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter directly linked to mood and feelings of happiness. Grilling a salmon fillet for dinner is a quick and easy way to work towards your recommended daily dose of at least 500 milligrams.
Nuts not only provide healthy fats that will keep your hair and skin healthy in the dry weather, but different nuts also contain minerals that will help you stay upbeat. Selenium, a natural mood enhancer, is found in Brazil nuts, which may seem exotic but are actually easily found in any supermarket. Magnesium deficiency has also been linked to depression; almonds and cashews ensure you get your fix. Throw together a bag of mixed nuts for a midday snack to keep you smiling.
Fruits and Vegetables
The day after pulling an all-nighter, you might feel like you practically need a 24-hour IV-drip of coffee. Instead of relying on caffeine to stay awake, use fruits and vegetables to stay bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Apples, bananas and beets give you the sugar and fiber you need for all-day energy, while dark, leafy greens are loaded with many of the aforementioned vitamins and minerals to boost your mood. Try a green smoothie instead of your daily cup (or cups) of joe.
Foods to Avoid
Unfortunately, some of the tastier things in life are not always the healthiest. Simple sugars, refined flour and alcohol all have been found to lower serotonin levels and lead to blood sugar fluctuations that can cause energy crashes. Try to consume these foods and drinks in moderation during the winter to make sure you feel good by the time spring comes around.
The following recipes combine several of the feel-good foods above to give you maximum power against those winter blues. Try them out any time of the day to feel refreshed, invigorated, and ready to brave the cold.
By using whole-grain bread, this breakfast packs protein, fiber, and the B-vitamins you need to stay energized throughout the morning.
2 slices whole-grain bread
Melt butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Meanwhile, cut a large hole in the center of each bread slice. Place bread in the pan and slide them around to coat them in the butter. Crack an egg into each hole of the sliced bread (one per hole). Let each slice cook for 5-8 minutes, flipping halfway through. Slide your slices onto a plate, add salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy!
Gateway Green Smoothie
Though this smoothie may look a little funky, tropical pineapple and banana hide the taste of the spinach, which is full of B-12. Drink it for breakfast or as a snack to conjure memories of that last beach vacation.
1 cup pineapple chunks (can be fresh or frozen)
1 banana, sliced
2 cups spinach
1 cup water
Sweetener of choice (optional)
Add all ingredients and blend until smooth. Use frozen fruit or add ice for a thicker consistency. For a sweeter smoothie, add agave, honey or other sweetener to taste.
Soy- and Maple-Glazed Salmon
One of my favorite recipes, this is a simple and delicious way to get your omega fix. Serve with steamed bok choy and brown rice for full dinner.
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
1 6-ounce skinless salmon fillet
Whisk together all wet ingredients and pour into a shallow bowl. Coat fillet on both sides with marinade. Let the fish sit in the marinade for 30 minutes, flipping it occasionally to make sure each side becomes equally coated. Cook fish in a skillet or grill over medium heat for 3-4 minutes on each side, then serve immediately. For a tasty sauce to top the dish, boil the remaining marinade in a saucepan over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, or until the mixture thickens into a sauce-like consistency.