Defeating Winter Blues with Food and Exercise
If you are like me, the cloudy days of winter are not as energizing as waking up in the spring and summer to beautiful sunshine. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, extreme cases of the winter blues are known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, causing low energy and a feeling of sadness. Even if you are only occasionally affected by the winter blues on those cold and cloudy days, there may be a few changes to your daily routine that can help.
Health experts agree that exercise improves overall health. Studies show that moderate exercise can improve mood, which would include walking at a moderate to fast pace for 30 minutes each day. Exercise releases powerful chemicals known as endorphins that make you feel good. Exercise isn’t the only thing that can positively affect your mood.
I adopted a new lifestyle based on whole food nutrition several years ago, and my mood during the winter months has dramatically improved. What you eat not only affects your physical health, it can also alter mood.
A British study by Blanchflower, Oswald and Stewart-Brown (http://www.nber.org/papers/w18469) published October 2012 showed that seven servings of fruits and vegetables per day improved mood. There have been many other studies that show similar results, but I point out this study because it involved 80,000 randomly selected individuals. If you think you can’t eat seven servings of fruit and vegetables each day, think again. The key is the serving size, and this study used 80 grams or just under three ounces as a single serving. A typical apple or tomato is more than 80 grams. A half-cup of berries or a little more than one cup of kale would be about 80 grams. I know you are not going to eat seven apples in a day, but two cups of the Sweet Potato Kale Soup recipe in this article would account for nearly three of your seven servings. Add a half cup of berries with your breakfast and a large salad for lunch, and you have reached seven servings with ease. French fries do not count!
In addition to eating more fruits and vegetables, a 2012 study by Beezhold and Johnston published in the Nutrition Journal showed that the elimination of arachidonic acid from the diet can improve mood (www.nutritionj.com/content/11/1/9). Arachidonic acid can cause inflammation in the brain, resulting in symptoms of depression. Chicken and eggs are the foods that contribute most of the arachidonic acid in the standard American diet (https://epi.grants.cancer.gov/diet/foodsources/fatty_acids/table4.html). No, chicken isn’t as healthy as you have been led to believe, which will be the topic of a future column.
Perpetual Motion or Perpetual Nutrition?
When it comes to snacking, studies have shown that people who are in a better mood choose fruits and vegetables over processed snack foods. This means when you eat more fruits and vegetables, you will feel better about yourself; thus you will begin to choose more fruits and vegetables as snacks. This reminds me of being a child and wanting to invent a perpetual motion machine, I view this concept as perpetual nutrition for health. Take a walk during lunch and eat your fruits and veggies and life will be great!
Sweet Potato, Kale and Black Bean Soup
2 teaspoons Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sweet potato (about 1 1/2 to 2 cups diced)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder (more or less to taste)
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 can low sodium black beans (14 ounce)
1 can low sodium diced tomatoes (14 ounce)
1 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
2 cups chopped kale, packed
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
Your favorite hot sauce for garnish as desired
Wash the sweet potato and remove any blemishes, keeping as much of the skin as possible. Dice the sweet potato into ¼ inch cubes. Drain and rinse the black beans.
Heat olive oil in a 4 quart pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for about 2 minutes until they become soft. Add the diced sweet potato, garlic and spices, cooking for about one minute while stirring to lightly toast the spices. Add the vegetable broth and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the black beans, diced tomatoes, and corn. Bring back to a simmer and cook for another 5 minutes.
Stir in the chopped kale and cook for an additional minute to soften the kale slightly. The kale should retain some texture and not be fully wilted. Serve while hot, garnished with chopped cilantro and hot sauce as desired.