15 Foods to Cure the Winter Blues

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Being cooped up during the coldest, darkest days of the year can lead to the winter doldrums, when nothing feels better than a trip to the fridge for a comforting treat. "Many people, especially around the winter holidays, have a tendency to consume increased amounts of mood-busting foods such as alcohol and high-fat foods, which can result in feeling sluggish," says registered dietitian Theresa Creamer. "Our mood influences how and what we eat but what we eat can also help us to better control our mood," adds Creamer. Read on to find out which foods might boost your mood in the cold days ahead.

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Flax seeds
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2. Flax, Hemp and Chia Seeds

For anyone who enjoys an extra crunch in meals and snacks, seeds offer a way to add mood-boosting omega-3 fatty acids in plant form, says registered dietitian Sharon Palmer, author of "The Plant-Powered Diet." Sprinkle ground flax, hemp or chia seeds over cereal and salads. Palmer also suggests adding them to the batter of pancakes, waffles, muffins, cookies and bread.

Listen now: How to Calm Down In Under 3 Minutes

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chocolate with almonds
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3. Chocolate

Bet you're excited to see chocolate made the list. Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants which can improve mood. "Make sure to slow down and enjoy every bite to maximize your satisfaction and enjoy the flavors," suggests dietitian Theresa Creamer. "This will help keep you from overindulging." To get the benefits without extra calories, limit servings to no more than two ounces per day, says registered dietitian Rebekah Langford. Her favorite go-to snack around 2 p.m. is a small skim latte, one square of dark chocolate and half a handful of almonds. Yum.

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Poached Eggs on Toast
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4. Eggs

Dark days of winter got you down? Whip up an egg. Egg yolks are among the few dietary sources of vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin. "In winter we make less vitamin D because we aren't exposed to the sun," says Theresa Creamer, RD, "so getting it from foods becomes even more important." The yolk provides the vitamin D, so don't toss it out.

Read more: Eating Eggs and Other 8 Ways to Avoid Vitamin D Deficiency

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Professional chef preparing fruit salad
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5. Citrus

Oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes are perfect winter fare because they're high in folate, a vitamin needed to produce the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, says Rachel Begun, RD. In addition to fresh-squeezed juice, pair them with other winter foods such as carrots, butternut squash and sweet potato dishes. Grapefruit livens up a salad and pairs well with seafood and avocado.

Read more: 7 Surprising Foods to Combat Winter Colds

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fresh spinach
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6. Greens

Dark, leafy greens are high in folate and magnesium, both of which are linked to serotonin production, a brain chemical associated with mood, says registered dietitian Theresa Creamer. Not a fan of spinach? Kale, collards and mustard greens are also high-folate favorites. Registered dietitian Jill Nussinow, author of "The Veggie Queen: Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment," suggests eating greens with garlic or in a Mediterranean-style salad with raisins or currants and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Read more: 7 Surprising Foods to Combat Winter Colds

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lentil soup
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7. Lentils

Had enough of winter? Come in from the cold and have some lentil soup. Actually, anything with lentils may help improve mood. These tasty legumes are high in folate, which the body uses to ward off depression. If you want a more colorful take on lentils, try going out for some Indian food. "My favorite way to enjoy lentils is to indulge in daal at my favorite Indian restaurant," says registered dietitian Rebekah Langford.

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Pumpkin seed
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8. Pumpkin Seeds

Snow, ice and cold can get anyone down. One tasty way to raise the level of the mood-boosting brain chemical serotonin is to enjoy a snack of roasted pumpkin seeds, suggests Trudy Scott, a food mood expert and certified nutritionist. The seeds, Scott notes, provide zinc and tryptophan -- nutrients that have the potential to help reduce anxiousness.

Read more: 16 Snacks That Are OK to Eat at Night

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Juicy grilled steak on green asparagus
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8. Red Meat

Eating red meat may be associated with decreased depression, according to a study published in 2013 in Nutrition. Quality is the key, says certified nutritionist Trudy Scott. Red meat contains amino acids, zinc, iron and omega-3s, all of which are crucial for balancing brain chemicals that reduce anxiety, depression and cravings. Whenever possible, opt for pasture-raised red meat from humanely treated animals, says Scott. She recommends ground beef casserole or a broiled steak with a large serving of vegetables.

Related: 7 Surprising Foods to Combat Winter Colds

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10. Almonds

Almonds are high in magnesium, which may affect the production of mood-influencing chemicals in the brain. For a treat that won't end with a sugar crash, try snacking on cinnamon-roasted almonds, suggests registered dietitian Theresa Creamer. The protein and fat in the almonds, combined with the cinnamon, can help keep your blood sugar steady and reduce sluggishness. Need a quick snack? Store sealable sandwich bags full of almonds in your gym bag, purse and car.

Read more: 16 Snacks That Are OK to Eat at Night

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Grilled sardine fish
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11. Sardines

Rebecca Katz, author of "The Longevity Kitchen," calls sardines "little antidepressants in a can," because they're packed with mood-boosting nutrients such as omega-3s and vitamin D. Eating sardines and other small, fatty fish such as mackerel and herring can help ward off winter blues. Also, if you are opting for canned fish, check to make sure that the cans are BPA-FREE.

Read more: 7 Surprising Foods to Combat Winter Colds

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Healthy walnuts
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12. Walnuts

The omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts help promote heart health and cognitive function. They also help elevate mood, says registered dietitian Sharon Palmer. To boost intake of plant omega-3s, Palmer suggests adding walnuts to a variety of dishes. Sprinkle walnuts over cereal, top a salad with chopped walnuts or stir walnuts into dishes such as risotto, pasta, roasted vegetables and steamed grains such as quinoa or bulgur.

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oatmeal porridge with ripe berries
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13. Oats

Hearty whole-grain oatmeal not only warms a body on a winter's day, it also may lift spirits. Oats promote the production of serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical, says registered dietitian Rachel Begun. "Cooking oatmeal overnight in a slow cooker is one of my favorites," Begun says. "You can make a week's worth of oatmeal dishes in one shot with very little time and effort." She recommends dividing one serving per container so that they can easily be heated up for a quick breakfast at home, the office or on the run. "I try to make a different flavor everyweek, such as apple cinnamon walnut or sweet potato pecan," adds Begun.

Read more: 7 Surprising Foods to Combat Winter Colds

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14. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a rich source of selenium, the deficiency of which could play a role in depression, according to a study published in the journal, Complementary Therapies in Medicine in 2012. Registered dietitian Jill Nussinow prefers the umami flavor found in shiitake, maitake and porcini mushrooms. "They taste great," Nussinow says, "and they also boost your immune system." Her favorite way to serve mushrooms is to meld a mood-boosting trifecta of ingredients. "Imagine a cauliflower and mushroom curry with bright yellow spices," she says.

Read more: 9 Ways to Help Avoid Vitamin D Deficiency

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mashed cauliflower
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15. Cauliflower

It's easy to crave the warmth of mashed potatoes on a cold winter's day. For a mood-boosting treat, sub in the cruciferous cauliflower. Abundant in winter, cauliflower is high in mood-boosting folate and is easy to make -- steam or lightly boil and mash.

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