The holiday season brings joy, stress and often the holiday blues. Many people will choose unhealthy foods to chase away the blues or boost energy that actually have the opposite effect. Reaching for sugary foods or some comfort foods provides only empty calories. Worse, in some cases, these foods can increase drops in neurotransmitters compounding the “blues.” Here are some foods to enjoy, and some to avoid, to chase away the holiday blues.
Salmon, seafood, walnuts, ground flax seed and sardines all contain omega-3 fatty acids. Research has shown repeatedly that low levels of omega-3s are linked to lower levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Low levels of these two are associated with mild to moderate depression.
Say the word carbohydrate and expect a variety of reactions. Complex carbohydrates in moderation serve important functions in the body. One of those is providing sources for important B vitamins linked to good mental health. Whether it is stress causing brain fog or overwhelming schedules exhausting you mentally, improving your B vitamin intakes will help. Whole grains sources such as oatmeal, rice and quinoa are good places to start. Also, vegetables and fruit are also good sources of complex carbohydrates. Remember, carbohydrates play an essential role in moving tryptophan (amino acid making up serotonin) across the brain.
Instead of reaching for another cookie, make a leftover holiday turkey snack. While sugar instantly feels gratifying, in reality, it raises and abruptly drops blood glucose levels. This creates a sugar blue sensation. Instead reach for a little turkey. Like all meat, turkey contains B-12, a great energy booster. More importantly, it also contains tryptophan. When paired with a complex carb, this can help elevate your mood rather than making you sleepy.
Need something quick and simple on the go? Grab a handful of almonds. Loaded with magnesium and vitamins E and B, almonds will boost your mood and protect your immune system at the same time. Research in the American Journal of Nutrition has shown seven out of 10 people are low in magnesium. This can result in feeling more on edge.
Pass the sweet potatoes please! Not only are sweet potatoes packed with vitamins A and C, but they also contain lycopene. Lycopene improves mood by preventing the formation of pro-inflammatory compounds, like interleukin-6 that are linked to depression. The benefit does not stop there. Sweet potatoes also contain B-6 and magnesium, both needed to fight off the blues.
Here is a lentil recipe to help fight holiday blues. Lentils are an excellent source of the B-vitamin folate. Folate plays such a strong role in mental health it is often added to anti- depressant medications.
Dr. Dianna Richardson has been serving Jefferson City and the surrounding communities for more than 22 years. She has worked in the field of health and nutrition as a wellness practitioner for more than 30 years. Core to her practice remains use of nutrition to improve health, vitality and quality of life. Richardson holds a doctorate in naturopathy, along with degrees in nutrition and a master’s degree in public health education. She may be found at the Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center, LLC on Dix Road in Jefferson City.
Makes: 6 servings
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped finely
2 carrots sliced
2 stalks of celery
1 ½ cups of brown lentils
3 cloves garlic (or 1 teaspoon powdered)
1 teaspoon tamari (wheat-free soy sauce)
6 cups vegetable broth
1 bunch of kale, torn in pieces with large stems removed
Heat oil in large saucepan. Add onion, carrots, celery, and garlic cloves. Cook, stirring frequently until onions are soft and translucent. Stir in lentils, broth and kale. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer about 20 minutes–until lentils are tender.