The winter weight gain many people experience may not be entirely due to a few too many cookies at holiday parties — there may be larger forces at play.
The short, cold days of winter can be an energy suck. In a recent Women’s Health survey, 63% of respondents said winter weather made them feel tired.
Plus, by some estimates, nearly one in five people have some effects from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. The basic gist: Less sunlight can mean you produce less of the hormones that regulate mood, leaving you feeling groggy and a little depressed.
Exercise is one way to feel better, but nutritionists say shifting the way you eat can also help you feel better, with the added bonus of avoiding expensive weight gain.
We asked them for their top picks to work into a winter diet. Here are six to try:
Kale, spinach and collards “can help boost your mood and lift depression,” says Lindsey Smith, author of “Junk Foods & Junk Moods.” They’re great sources of fiber, protein, iron and various other vitamins and minerals.
Try it: Our $10 dinner challenge has recipes for a spinach-rice medley, and a strawberry chicken salad that could easily be made with spinach instead of romaine.
Salmon, tuna and sardines are particularly rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. “Studies have found they help regulate the neurotransmitters that affect moods,” says nutritionist Rania Batayneh of EssentialNutritionForYou.com. Low levels of Omega 3’s can contribute to depression and pessimism.
Try it: Our watermelon recipe roundup included a pairing of sushi-grade salmon and watermelon-rind pickles.
It’s healthy– in moderation, of course. The benefits come from Phenylethylamine, “which is a feel-good endorphin often released in the brain when people fall in love,” Smith says. Some studies have also found dark chocolate reduces stress hormones.
Try it: Our $10 romantic meals challenge offers up a simple chocolate soufflé.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds can represent rich sources of Omega 3’s and other nutrients. “In particular, walnuts and flax seeds are worth working in,” says registered dietician Tina Marinaccio. Work them into smoothies, salads and other dishes.
Try it: Our pumpkin recipe roundup included roasted pumpkin seed recipes.
“Apples are shown to be just as effective as having a cup of coffee in the morning,” Smith says. In addition to making you feel energized, they’re a great source of filling fiber.
Try it: Our frugal fall cooking roundup included apple-parsnip soup, homemade apple chips and other goodies.
“The liquid yogurt is rich in probiotics that help regulate digestive health and immune function,” says registered dietician Tamara Duker Freuman.
Try it: Sub it in for other dairy products. “I use it instead of buttermilk in pancake recipes to infuse them with healthy probiotics and keep the fat content down,” says Freuman. “I use it instead of heavy cream in my pumpkin pie popsicles for a low-fat, low calorie treat for me and my kids; instead of yogurt in smoothies so they don’t get too thick and gloppy and instead of milk in my mini-muffin recipes.”
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie http://www.twitter.com/mintfoodie.