Winter Mood Boosting Food

Written by nutritionist, Holly Howard


Last week, out of nowhere winter hit. The temperatures dropped and daylight hours became a distant memory. The daily grind is now less oiled and the thought of hibernating with a bowl of stodgy, comfort food sounds more appealing than ever. But is this high carb, temporary fix the best option for boosting our mood? Not necessarily! 

We'd like to share with you our favourite nourishing food options that will boost your mood and energy levels and prepare for the winter months ahead. 

Firstly, low mood is a result of an imbalance in the brain's levels of neurotransmitters - the chemical messengers that send signals amongst nerve cells. This can be triggered by a traumatic event or just the build up of everyday stress like work load.

There is also Seasonal Affective Disorder that tends to occur during the winter months. It is thought that SAD affects around 2 million people in the UK. The exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, but the good news is there are dietary adjustments that can bring about changes in our brain structure (chemically and physiologically). 

These foods are:

1. Healthy fats

Your body loves essential fatty acids! 

Omega-3s from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel or sardines, nourish our brains and improve cognitive function. Omega-3's also reduce inflammation in our body which is a major culprit of mood disorders. 

Oily fish is also high in the amino acid tryptophan. When tryptophan enters the brain, more of the feel good hormone (serotonin) is synthesised, because of this, mood is improved. 

A good guide is three servings of wild, fatty fish a week. Other great plant-based sources of healthy fats include avocado, seeds (flax, chia, hemp, pumpkin), walnuts, and unrefined, cold-pressed olive oil and coconut oil. 

The serotonin from avocado is exceptionally good for your skin, hair and nails along with folic acid found in spinach. Nuts and seeds are also high in calcium and magnesium; which can be particularly helpful for restful sleep. Always a great mood booster. 

As a side note - in traditional Chinese medicine, walnuts are considered a "warm" food that benefits the spleen (the term for the digestive system) and spirit (the term for brain function).

2. Fermented foods

Did you also know that most of our body’s serotonin is produced in the gut, not the brain? So a healthy functioning gut is extremely important during the winter months.  I would recommend a course of probiotics to help modulate the stress response and improve mood and anxiety symptoms. 

Other than a probiotics supplement, we can make sure our intestines are full of “good” bacteria and are working properly by eating fermented foods regularly. I recommend raw sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, live natural yoghurt and drinks like kefir and kombucha.

3. B Vitamins

Low levels of folate, B-6, and B-12 have been linked to depression. Good sources of B vitamins include legumes, nuts, brown rice, oats, dark green veggies, and nutritional yeast. B-12 is found in lean and low-fat animal products. If eating red meat is not your thing, it would be advisable to take a high-quality B complex supplement. 

4. Blood sugar levels

We can also influence our energy levels by maintaining a balanced blood sugar level. An empty carb meal, like pasta only, creates a high spike in energy levels followed by an even lower drop, that leaves you feeling more tired, bloated and possibly more frustrated than before you ate it. Avoid processed sugar and the associated crashing by eating whole grain carbs such as sweet potato, buckwheat, brown rice and quinoa.

Swap sugary desserts for red berries, especially blueberries, strawberries and raspberries as they contain anthocyanidins and anthocyanins, nutrients that help reduce stress and depression.

Dark chocolate is also a great option as is high in magnesium, a mineral that calms your muscles and reduces anxiety - Woop Woop! 

Don't forget to include drinking green tea as it is full of theanine, an antioxidant which acts as a calming agent.  

Combining all the essential nutrients together, a favourite mood boosting meal would be: 

A grilled salmon fillet on brown rice with a salad made of baby spinach salad, roasted sweet potato, packed with sliced avocado, pomegranate, flaxseeds and toasted walnuts. 

Followed by a blueberry, raspberry and chia seed compote - topped with kefir and a few squares of dark chocolate.

Now you have a refresher on what foods are fabulous for mood and supporting gut and brain function, put into practice one or two suggestions this week.  

  • Add some extra red berries to your smoothie. 

  • Order grilled sardines this weekend for breakfast. 

  • Or perhaps if you are feeling adventurous, have a go at making your own kefir. You can pick up a starter kit from a health food shop, it's rewarding and easy. 

Make one positive change today and see how your body responds. 

Keep warm and enjoy!