Winter months is when we begin to feel a little blue - little moody, anxious, and depressed. There’s science behind it actually! Seasonal Affective Disorder, also called SAD is rampant during cold months. Brought on by winter's short days, besides moodiness SAD can also lead to overeating in many people. So if you are feeling blue, whatever you do, don’t turn to junk food to derive comfort. By all means have your favourite comfort food, but try to practice portion control - and to actually beat it, focus instead on eating foods that effectively boost your happiness hormones.
To stay happy naturally boost these two happy hormones - serotonin and endorphin naturally.
Serotonin acts as both a neurotransmitter and a hormone in the body and its low levels are associated with mood disorders, gut issues and other health issues. Raising serotonin levels can help keep us happier, and even solve gut and appetite issues.
- Eating foods rich in tryptophan helps. L-tryptophan is used to make 5-HTP from which serotonin is made. A protein called alpha-Lactalbumin from milk contains more tryptophan than many other proteins.
- Eat probiotic foods as they help restore the gut microbiome which produce tryptophan, from which serotonin is made.
- Vitamin D helps the body make, release, and use serotonin in the brain, so make sure you are not vitamin D deficient.
- Omega 3 fatty acids help neurons release serotonin and improve its activity. So eat 2 servings of fat fish like salmon and mackerel every week and include walnuts and flax seeds in your daily diet.
- Vitamin B (particularly B9 and B6), vitamin C and vitamin E also have a role to play in serotonin production.
- L-theanine, an amino acid mostly from tea leaves also helps raise serotonin levels.
- Safranal, one of the main active components of saffron, increases serotonin availability in the brain, so warm saffron milk is a good option.
- Kava has compounds similar to serotonin and may increase serotonin-like activity.
- Holy basil (tulsi leaves) help boost serotonin levels too, so chew a few leaves every morning.
Endorphins are most commonly released in your brain after exercise, while eating delicious foods, laughing, or having sex. They are chemicals that make us naturally and ecstatically happy. Simplest way to score them is to go sit out in the sun as sunlight exposure increases endorphins in your blood, which are created by your skin (half hour of full body sun will make you happier instantly).
- Cacao stimulates the release of endorphins, as well the happy chemical serotonin, so chocolate and cocoa powder (darker the better) it seems do work.
- Peppers and spicy foods contain a compound called capsaicin, which makes your brain think that it’s in pain. As a response, your brain releases endorphins and dopamine.
- Ginseng tea is a good idea as it has proven brain calming and reducing stress benefits. This it does by modulating the production of endorphins.
- Vitamin C can boost the release of endorphins in the brain, so all the more reason to cram some oranges, amla and guava into your diet.
- Eggs contain a full set of amino acids, which includes those linked to endorphin production.
- The healthy fats found in nuts, avocado, oily fish and seeds help to produce hormones called eiconasoids that support the production of endorphins.
(Kavita is a nutritionist, weight management consultant and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico) and Ultimate Grandmother Hacks: 50 Kickass Traditional Habits for a Fitter You (Rupa).)