As the weather gets chillier and the dark nights get longer, it may feel like you're struggling to maintain a happy disposition. This is pretty normal, but luckily, we can take simple measures to get ourselves back to baseline. One of the best ways to do this is with the food you eat.
Feel sunnier all winter with this list of mood-enhancing foods!
Yogurt activates the hug hormone.
You can chase away grumpy moods—and reduce your risk of winter blues by 33%—simply by adding 1 cup of sugar-free yogurt to your daily diet. That’s the word from British research- ers, who say the rich stores of probiotic bacteria in this healthy snack prompt the release of oxytocin, aka the “hug hormone” that helps you feel all warm and fuzzy.
Spinach calms the anxiety center.
This nutritional powerhouse is packed with magnesium, potassium and vitamin K—nutrient dynamos that soothe the brain’s anxiety center (the amygdala) to prevent the holiday stress hormone surges that rattle nerves and dampen moods. Enjoy three cups of this leafy green weekly — toss it into smoothies or on a pizza — and Yale University researchers say you’ll dial down anxiety by as much as 52 percent.
Berries energize brain cells.
The rich, eye-catching color of berries comes from anthocyanins — antioxidants that stimulate brain cells, improving mental energy, focus, and clarity by 45 percent if you nosh on 1 cup daily, say Stanford University researchers. More great news: Studies prove that the frozen berries that are readily available year-round contain just as many anthocyanins as the berries that are picked fresh during the summer.
Sesame seeds rev melatonin output.
Sprinkling two tablespoons of sesame seeds over your dinner could help you sleep 35 percent more soundly — and that’s great news since Cornell University researchers say waking up well-rested makes your risk of daytime blue moods and anxiety plunge by 66 percent.
What gives these tiny gems their superpowers? Their blend of copper and B-complex vitamins prompts the brain to ramp up its production of sleep-inducing melatonin. Simply munch on the seeds within four hours of bedtime.
Lentils elevate levels of feel-great dopamine.
They’re mild-tasting, easy to cook and rich in three nutrients (molybdenum, folate, and L-tyrosine) that trigger the release of the happiness-boosting brain chemical dopamine, say researchers at Connecticut’s University of Bridgeport. Sneak a half cup of lentils into your daily meal plan (add them to slow-cooking soups or stews), and you’ll lower your odds of having the winter doldrums by 55 percent.
Green tea ups blissful alpha brain waves.
Green tea contains a unique amino acid (called L-theanine) that hikes up your brain’s production of mood-boosting alpha waves. No wonder Japanese researchers say drinking three to four cups of this brew a day helps women feel 55 percent happier and more content — often within 30 minutes of the first sip!
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.