Shorter days, gray skies, dipping temps and fewer hours of sunshine can put a real damper on things — namely your mood. But what you're putting in your mouth might be affecting your spirits.
It's true: Certain foods play a role in boosting specific neurotransmitters — serotonin and dopamine — which may help us feel a little better this season. However, while these foods may help lift our mood, the winter blues are very different from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that recurs every year for some people.
SAD can impede on other areas of your life like your work and relationships, according to Rush University Medical Center. It's important to note that eating certain foods can't treat SAD and if you feel you might suffer from SAD, speak to your healthcare provider about treatment options.
If you're looking for delicious ways to restore your get-up-and-go spirit, try these flavor-packed winter recipes to help you get through this season.
1. Apple Swiss Quesadilla
This is one of our favorites for a few reasons. First, there's Swiss cheese along with meat, fish and beans, which are sources of tyrosine, an amino acid that makes the feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine. (Is this why we love cheese so much?!)
The recipe also calls for apples, which naturally contain quercetin, per an April 2015 study published in Nutrients. Quercetin is a phytochemical (meaning it's only found in plant foods) that may help increase the amount of serotonin and dopamine in your brain, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
Get the Apple Swiss Quesadilla recipe and nutrition info here.
Read more: 4 Ways Your Food and Your Mood Are Linked
2. Peanut Butter and Blueberry Chia Jam Sandwich
Aside from being a total comfort food that could lift your mood on nostalgia alone, the classic PB and J, when made with some healthier tweaks, could do your mind some good.
The carbs in the whole-grain bread may help your body better absorb the tryptophan (which makes serotonin). This is because the release of insulin after eating the bread allows our muscles to use the other amino acids, so they no longer compete with tryptophan for absorption.
An older January 2003 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when carbs were eaten with protein, the tryptophan ratio was higher. Instead of using a jam made with added sugars, a chia jam featuring your favorite fruit is a healthier pick.
Get the Blueberry Chia Jam recipe and nutrition info here.
3. Middle Eastern Chicken Superfood Bowl
This dish does a great job of pairing tryptophan-packed chicken breast with bulgur, a whole grain that may help boost the absorption of tryptophan in the brain to create the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin.
Chicken also contains tyrosine, the amino acid that helps make the other feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine. The bright red tomatoes and green parsley and other herbs that fill this bowl will brighten any dreary day.
Get the Middle Eastern Chicken Superfood Bowl recipe and nutrition info here.
4. Kale and Onion Whole-Wheat Pizza
The two standouts on this pizza — kale and onions — are some of the best vegetable sources of quercetin, according to 2015 research by the USDA. Quercetin may help boost dopamine and serotonin, and then there's the cheese, which contains tyrosine.
The best part: Each serving of this vegetarian pizza contains only 315 calories while providing 12 grams of protein.
Get the Kale and Onion Whole Wheat Pizza recipe and nutrition info here.
5. Stewed Cajun Turkey, Red Beans and Oats
This feel-good bowl of oats is a great way to start your morning or, really, any time of day. The tryptophan in the turkey and the carbohydrates from the oats may help to increase the absorption of this amino acid by releasing insulin, which allows our muscles to use the other amino acids found from the turkey, therefore reducing overall competition for absorption.
This recipe also calls for red onions, which are an exceptionally high vegetable source of quercetin.
Get the Stewed Cajun Turkey, Red Beans and Oats recipe and nutrition info here.
Read more: List of Foods With Serotonin
- Rush University Medical Center: "More Than Just the Winter Blues?"
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: "Food and Mood: Eating Plants to Fight the Blues"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Effects of Normal Meals Rich in Carbohydrates or Proteins on Plasma Tryptophan and Tyrosine Ratios"merican Journal of Clinical Nutrition:"
- United States Department of Agriculture: "Flavonoid Content of Vegetables"