When the weather turns cold, we often crave hot meals and drinks to warm up our bodies.
Many people who suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder), a type of depression usually triggered in late fall or early winter, will often crave carbohydrates, too. Several studies have found that this is due to an imbalance of serotonin levels. Serotonin is a “feel good” brain biochemical that for some people may dip in winter. Filling up on simple carbohydrates — breads, pasta, cookies, crackers, and other sugary snacks — can quickly give you a boost and make you feel better temporarily.
But simple carbohydrates don’t make you feel better for very long, and they end up making you feel worse in the long run.
Eating too much of these kinds of food can often lead to a higher calorie intake — which in turn can contribute to unwanted weight gain, fluctuations in blood sugar, increased insulin production, and greater mood swings. Ultimately, these simple sugars will also leave you hungry.
Food is not a remedy for SAD or depression. However, what you eat can affect your mood. Next time you yearn for a cookie, go for one of these choices instead:
• Avocado: a healthy fat; contains folate and tryptophan and can help curb cravings.
• Bananas: full of potassium and magnesium; contain tryptophan, which can reduce stress.
• Dark leafy greens: rich in folate, vitamin B-12, and calcium, all of which can increase serotonin levels.
• Lean proteins like salmon: rich in omega-3 fatty acids; can boost dopamine and serotonin, improving mood.
• Nuts, such as walnuts and Brazil nuts, as well as flax seeds: good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
• Turkey: contains the mood calming amino acid tryptophan and melatonin, a hormone that can also level out moods.
• Colorful berries: can decrease cortisol levels, which help control blood sugar levels and regulate mood.
• Complex carbohydrates: rich in fiber and folic acid, complex carbohydrates such as popcorn, whole-grain pretzels, sweet potatoes, lentils, black-eyed peas, soybeans, and fortified cereals may elevate serotonin levels.
• Vitamin D-fortified foods such as milk and yogurt: vitamin D revs up serotonin levels.
Overall, be conscious of your food choices. Many fruits and vegetables can help curb wintertime carb cravings. In addition to the foods listed above, it’s always a good idea to eat a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables each day.
Contributor: Jennifer Davis, MS, RDN