Got the Winter Blues? Try These Mood-Boosting Foods

By Katherine Brooking, MS, RD

Cold winter days and a poor diet can leave you feeling tired, cranky and a little down. Today we’re turning the spotlight on foods and key nutrients that can boost your mood.

Omega-3 fats
Multiple studies have shown a connection between omega-3 fatty acids and a lower risk of depressive disorders. Although the research is preliminary, omega-3 fatty acids are believed to influence mood.

Certain inflammatory chemicals in the brain called cytokines can cause feelings of depression. Omega-3 fatty acids block the action of these cytokines. Recent clinical studies have found that patients with a variety of mental health disorders, from bipolar depression to anxiety, may benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. (Before starting any treatment however, always consult with your physician.)

Foods rich in omega-3 fats include: Oily fish (salmon, mackerel and sardines), ground flaxseeds, canola oil, walnuts and omega-3 fortified eggs.

Vitamin D
You’ve probably heard about the benefits of vitamin D for bone health. But research suggests that vitamin D might also help relieve mood disorders. Scientists have found that vitamin D can boost serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters responsible for mood. In particular, vitamin D seems to help the type of depression called “seasonal affective disorder (SAD),” also known as the winter blues.

Vitamin D can be obtained from moderate sun exposure, depending on where you live and what the time of year it is. But don’t overlook food sources of vitamin D: Fat free and low-fat dairy, fortified soymilk, fatty fish and egg yolks. Because vitamin D-rich foods are limited, it may help to take a daily multi-vitamin, which provides 600 IU (800 IU if you are over age 70).

Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12, along with other B vitamins, appears to play a role in mental health. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to some serious health problems, including anemia and nervous system disorders as well as impaired mental function and depression. Observational studies have found that as many as 30 percent of patients hospitalized for depression are deficient in vitamin B12.

Foods rich in vitamin B12: Shellfish (clams, oysters, crab), wild salmon (fresh or canned), fortified whole-grain breakfast cereal, lean beef, cottage cheese, low-fat yogurt, milk (skim, skim plus, 1% reduced-fat) and eggs.

Another important B vitamin, folate, may help boost your mood and reduce fatigue. Scientists believe that folate is used by the body to create the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter seratonin. As with vitamin B12, observational studies have shown that patients with depressive disorders are more likely to have folate deficiencies than those without depression.

Foods rich in folate: Leafy greens like kale, broccoli, spinach, and also fortified whole grains, beans and lentils, sunflower seeds, wheat germ and oranges.

Not only does a healthy breakfast give you energy to start the day, studies have shown that eating breakfast can lift your mood. People who eat breakfast report feeling less tired and irritable than those who don’t. A balanced breakfast has also been found to improve concentration, job performance, and even help manage weight. Now that’s definitely something to feel good about.

A solid breakfast should contain complex carbohydrates (from whole-grain cereals like oats, wheat or bran) and protein (from eggs, low fat dairy and nuts). For a good start of your day, try some whole-wheat waffles topped with nonfat (or low-fat) Greek yogurt, fresh berries and walnuts, or a veggie omelet with a side of whole-grain toast.

Katherine Brooking, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian, writer and expert contributor to numerous television programs. She has appeared on The TODAY Show, Live with Regis & Kelly, The Early Show on CBS, Good Morning America Health, and many others. She covers health and wellness topics in SELF Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and New York Daily News. For more information go to

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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