When it comes to lifting our mood during the darker months, we need a whole toolkit of tactics to stay upbeat, from getting outside into daylight first thing in the morning, to remaining sociable when all you want to do is snuggle up inside.
What we eat can play a part in our mood too, says nutritionist Charlotte Faure Green, who explains that while our dinner choices aren’t solely responsible for our happiness, our meals of choice can improve our mood.
“It is unlikely, though not impossible, that your diet is the sole cause of your low mood. As such, it’s not going to be possible to simply eat your way out of a depressed state. But that is not to say that changing your eating habits to align with the new season can’t directly impact and elevate your mood.”
Charlotte explains that the hormones that rule our mental state are made up of the minerals and nutrients we consume, giving an insight into the mood-boosting foods we should be filling our plates with.
Which foods will boost our mood?
“Serotonin, our happy hormone, is made up of tryptophan, an amino acid found in almonds, turkey, and bananas,” says Charlotte of what we should be eating more of if we’re struggling with low mood.
“The process of making serotonin is helped along by B6 and zinc, which are found in whole grains, meat and fish.”
“Good dietary fats from avocado, olive oil and oily fish nourish your cell membrane, including those in the brain to ensure it functions optimally,” Charlotte continues.
“If you’re a low-carb babe, now might be the time to consider upping your carbohydrate intake," Charlotte suggests. "Carbohydrates upregulate the creation of serotonin which is vital for feeling happy.”
Can comfort mood make us happier?
When we’re feeling low - and chilly - many of us find ourselves wanting to reach for comfort food - and it can in fact have a positive impact on our mood, according to Charlotte.
“Comfort food can be the ultimate mood-booster – as humans we don’t just eat for sustenance or fuel, we also derive pleasure and joy from what we consume.
“Eating something nostalgic or deeply comforting, regardless of its nutritional component, triggers dopamine in the brain, which we interpret as pleasure."
What should we eat more of in winter?
1. Vitamin D
“The enzyme responsible for creating brain serotonin is activated by vitamin D3,” Charlotte says. “Vitamin D3 is a hormone that is created naturally in our skin in response to direct sunlight – of course, grey skies, winter clothes and more hours indoors means that we are producing insufficient amounts in our skin over the winter months."
2. Vitamin B6
“This member of the B vitamin family is a cofactor for the production of serotonin and GABA (our calming neurotransmitter) in the brain,” Charlotte explains. “Studies show it reduces brain inflammation, another driver of depression.”
You can get your vitamin B6 as a supplement and it's also in many food sources such as fish, poultry, bananas, potatoes, nuts and seeds.
3. Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega 3 fatty acids such as DHA, but in particular EPA, found in oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and trout, have been shown to reduce brain inflammation, according to Charlotte.
“Research indicates that it can even reverse brain atrophy caused by depression! If you’re not a fishy fan then a good quality daily supplement can keep your levels up and your brain happy.”