Nutrition Tips to Help Beat the Winter Blues

From Chicago to Boston, we’re experiencing some extremely frigid temps this week and our first real blast of winter weather. While it’s been a relatively mild winter here in Chicago, the temps have continuously hovered around freezing and you might find yourself experiencing a winter slump. Don’t let the lack of sunshine and cold air lead you to drop all your healthy habits and reach for calorie-laden foods. Here are a couple tips that may help boost your mood and an energy-packed recipe that will also please your taste buds.

Be Happy with B-Vitamins

Vitamins B6, B12 and folate may help produce mood boosting serotonin. But that’s not all. They also help lower homocysteine – an amino acid linked to higher rates of cardiovascular disease and even depression. Be sure to include lots of foods rich in these nutrients in your diet, including leafy greens (like kale or spinach), avocados, asparagus, broccoli, bell peppers, and protein-containing foods like salmon, chicken, and beef.

Fill Up on Fish

But not just any fish. Cold water fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, help build connections between neurons in the brain. They are one of the basic building blocks of the brain. Brain cell membranes are about 20 percent fatty acids and they seem to be crucial for keeping brain signals moving smoothly. Optimize your omega-3 intake by enjoying fatty fish like salmon and tuna. Or, if you aren’t a fan of fish, include plant oils like flaxseed or canola and walnuts.

Don’t Skip Your Workout

Exercise has multiple benefits beyond staying trim and one of which is helping to improve your mood. Research has linked exercise with higher levels of various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Whether you hit the gym for a serious sweat session or can only fit in a brisk 30-minute walk, either can help.

Power up with Protein

Foods that are rich in protein are naturally high in tyrosine, an amino acid that helps boost dopamine. Protein-containing foods like chicken, turkey, lean beef and tofu are great options–but don’t discount beans. They are a great, economical, source of protein.

One thing I love about winter is chili and this chili is sure to improve your mood – with it’s taste and it’s mood-boosting nutrients. Packed with black beans (protein and B-vitamins) and winter greens (B-vitamins) it’s a delicious dish to simmer on the stove while the snow falls, and falls, and falls. Enjoy and don’t fret – spring is around the corner!

Triple B and Winter Greens Chiliphoto-8
Adapted from a recipe found on epicurious.comMakes about 4-6 main course servings.


  • About 1-2 Tbsp oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and diced (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 2 Tbsp chipotle chili powder (regular chili powder works as well – but chipotle gives a really nice smokey flavor)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1, 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes (fire roasted is great for this recipe)
  • 3, 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • about 5 cups or 1, 10-ounce bag of winter greens (Swiss chard, collards or kale), coarsely chopped


1. Over medium-high heat, heat oil in a large pot. Add onions and garlic and saute until tender, about 7-9 minutes.

2. Add squash and stir for about 2 minutes.

3. Add chili powder, cumin, beans, broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil.

4. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered until the squash is tender–about 15-20 minutes.

5. Stir in greens and cover. Let simmer for about 5 more minutes. Greens should still be bright.

6. Ladle into bowls and serve with sliced avocado and a sprinkle of shredded cheddar and sliced avocado, if desired.


Fuel up! Nutrition for Pre- and Post-Workout Success

As a dietitian and a runner, I’m often asked what I eat, particularly pre- and post-workout. For me, it all depends on the workout. If it’s after work and before dinner, I know I’ll need something to tide me over so that I’m not spending the whole workout thinking about what’s for dinner. If it’s the rare moment I wake early for a 5:30 am workout, typically I go on empty. All in all, I think it depends on you, how you feel and what your goals are. Post workout, I do try to eat a balanced meal that includes lean protein, healthy fat and complex carbs as soon as possible. Why? Research shows it’s beneficial for recovery and rebuilding muscle. Here are some tips and meal/snack suggestions for pre- and post-workout nutrition to help maximize your exercise and performance.


  • Fitting in a quick workout (<30-45 minutes)? Depending on when you last ate, you might be OK going on empty.
  • Stomach growling and you’ve got a date at the gym in about an hour? Stick to a carb-centric snack that’s around 100-200 calories, such as:
    • A granola bar
    • Small bowl of cereal with fat-free milk
    • A handful of pretzels or whole grain crackers and string cheese
    • A slice of toast or medium apple with a heaping teaspoon of your favorite nut-butter.
  • Intense workout planned and you just woke up? The easiest thing for me to eat, even when I’m not hungry, is a large banana. It provides me enough fuel for a relatively intense run. But if I am planning on running for more than 90 minutes, I usually pair the banana with a small bowl of cereal, otherwise I am bound to run out of energy before the run is finished.

Eating too much before you exercise can leave you feeling groggy and sluggish, or worse, with a case of gastrointestinal distress, while eating too little may not give you the energy you need to sustain your workout.Here’s a general guideline for timing your meals before workouts:

  • Large meals – Eat these at least three to four hours before exercising.
  • Small meals – Eat these two to three hours before exercising.
  • Small snacks – Eat these an hour before exercising.

Post-workout chocolate milk

After your workout it’s important to help your muscles recover by replacing their glycogen stores. How? Eat a meal, if possible, that contains both protein and carbohydrates within two hours of your exercise session. If you aren’t hungry after your workout, try a drink that contains some protein and carbohydrates – like chocolate milk. Why? One reason post-workout chocolate milk is beneficial is because of its protein content. Every cup contains between 8 and 11 grams of protein. A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that, when taken immediately after exercise, milk-based proteins promote greater muscle protein synthesis than soy-based proteins. For more science behind chocolate milk, visit:

Other good post-workout food choices include:

  • Yogurt topped with chopped fruit and slivered almonds
  • Peanut butter sandwich
  • String cheese and crackers
  • Nuts and dried fruit
  • A regular meal with a lean meat or vegetarian protein source, complex carbohydrate (like whole wheat pasta or brown rice), and veggies

Don’t forget to hydrate!

One of the worst experiences I’ve had running has been a consequence of being dehydrated. No matter how long your workout, you need adequate fluids before, during and after to prevent dehydration. Here’s what the American College of Sports Medicine recommends:

  • Drink roughly 2 to 3 cups (0.5 to 0.7 liters) of water during the two to three hours before your workout.
  • Drink about 1/2 to 1 cup (0.12 to 0.23 liters) of water every 15 to 20 minutes during your workout. You may need more the larger your body is or the warmer the weather is.
  • Drink roughly 2 to 3 cups (0.5 to 0.7 liters) of water after your workout for every pound (0.5 kilogram) of weight you lose during the workout.

Stick with water–unless your workout is over an hour. Then you might benefit from a sports drink to help maintain your body’s electrolyte balance. I typically switch between water and a sports drink during long runs because I’ve found that if I stick to just the sports drink, I tend to get an upset stomach.

Bottom line

Everyone’s different when it comes to eating and exercise. Pay attention to your body and your overall goal. Are you trying to lose weight? Then keep calories in check and make sure you are burning more than you are taking in. Trying to maximize your workouts? Make sure you are adequately fueled pre- and post-workout. And either way, don’t over-compensate post-workout with extra helpings – it can be tempting – but can also sabotage your efforts. Happy exercising and eating!

Diet Fads to Avoid in the New Year

In the New Year, it’s a good time to reflect – both personally and professionally. It is also the time of year when sneakers get dusted off, gyms see increased activity, and consumers resolve to be healthier.

Each year, a slew of new diets make “too good to be true” claims about losing weight fast with minimal effort. Here are a few that seemed to be pretty popular in 2014 but that you might want to think twice about in 2015.

“Raspberry Ketone” supplementsjan 1

Dr. Oz touted them as being a “Fat burner in a bottle,” suggesting that they can help with weight-loss efforts. What is it? Raspberry ketone is essentially the compound in red raspberries that provides aroma. Some suggest that the compound may block the metabolism of fat but a review of recent research finds conflicting results and the majority of the studies were in vitro or in mice.

Green Coffee Beans

Green coffee beans are simply raw or unroasted coffee beans. Some researchers claim green coffee bean extract can help with weight loss and the supplement has generated a lot of buzz, also making an appearance on Dr. Oz. Chlorogenic acid is the specific compound found in the bean that they feel is responsible.

One widely cited study, published in the January, 2012, Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity journal, followed 16 adults who took supplements at different dosages or placebo for 12 weeks. Participants were encouraged to consume a similar number of calories daily. All were considered overweight. The subjects lost an average of 18 pounds. While these results seem promising, the study sample size was small and even participants taking placebo lost weight. This suggests participants may have felt encouraged to slim down because they were being monitored as part of the study and that the extract may not have been solely responsible.

Juice Detoxes

These diets involve consuming nothing but juice, water and sometimes tea for anywhere from three to 14 days. The claim is that by replacing meals with juices, you will remove toxins from the body and lose weight. But, the body has its own detox system—the liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract—which can and does cleanse the body better than any juice concoction. While research shows that these types of diets may cause temporary weight loss, likely due to water weight, everything returns to normal after returning to food.

Bottom line

There’s no such thing as a quick fix. Even Dr. Oz suggests that in addition to the magic pills, consumers need to also modify their diets and exercise habits to be successful at maintaining a healthy weight. In the New Year, resolve to forget about fad diets and get back to basics with realistic goals for eating better and finding a way to fit in more physical activity.