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.

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

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.

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