I had been feeling low the past few days and a friend suggested it was probably the weather getting me down. It’s well established that cold and sunless weather affects mood and leaves you feeling low. There’s even a clinical term to describe the condition—seasonal affective disorder—that pushes up Prozac and Calmpose sales in the winter months.
Well, he was right about the weather, but not about the cause for my plummeting mood. What was getting me down was the thought of going back to work after a three-week vacation, but whatever the cause, the treatment for the blues is the same.
Instead of throwing away money on prescriptions and pills that carry the risk of dependence—the kinder word for addiction—I decided to treat myself by spicing up my diet.
Hot chillies are just the thing you need to beat the winter blues. Capsaicin, the natural component that gives chillies their kick, stimulates the mouth’s nerve endings and prompts the brain to release endorphins, the ‘happy hormones’ that act as natural painkillers by producing a temporary high.
Not big on chillies like I am? Opt for low-fat proteins such as chicken and fish that have the amino acid tyrosine that boosts stress-busting chemicals in the brain.
Adding protein to a meal also slows the absorption of sugar and carbohydrate, preventing a sudden dip in glucose levels that may cause depression.
Seafood is also high in selenium, a mineral that counters the affects of stress hormones, and mood-boosters vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids. Shellfish (oysters and crab) and fatty fish such as halibut and salmon, are good sources.
Winter foods like broccoli, mustard greens and soya are high in mood-elevating folate, also found in cottage cheese, milk, eggs, lentils, sunflower seeds and soyabeans.
Magnesium found in bananas also counters irritability and insomnia, but I prefer to get my daily dose from sources such as cocoa— which explains the chocolate high—nuts and beans.
Lastly, having a guava or an amla (Indian gooseberry) a day—oranges and lemons are other substitutes—can boost stress-busting norepinephrine levels in the brain. Vitamin-C deficiency also slows the absorption of iron needed to fight fatigue, and lowers immunity, leading to frequent colds and fever. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, the body does not store the water-soluble vitamin C, so a daily dose is needed to brighten up the winter months.
If you cannot be bothered with dietary changes, go for small meals every five hours to ensure your brain gets a constant supply of energy.