From PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine):
Beat the Wintertime Blues with a Mood-Boosting Plant-Based Diet!
During winter’s dark days, many people find their mood shifting, and they begin to fall into a cold-weather slump. The lower temperatures cause people to stay indoors. This inadequate exposure to natural sunlight disrupts melatonin production, which can affect sleep cycles. A disrupted sleep cycle can hinder productivity, making you feel sluggish and tired. Another side effect of poor melatonin production is lower levels of serotonin, a hormone responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness. Fortunately, evidence shows that following a plant-based diet can restore normal melatonin production, significantly increase serotonin, and help you beat the cold-weather blues.
Dr. Michael Greger, from NutritionFacts.org, discusses in his lecture series how plants have high levels of dopamine, serotonin, and melatonin, which can help boost levels in the human bloodstream. While serotonin cannot cross the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain, the precursor for it, an amino acid called tryptophan, can. When most people hear about tryptophan, they think about Thanksgiving turkey and the post-dinner food coma that comes with it. However, researchers at MIT proved that myth wrong about a decade ago. Plant-derived tryptophan is much easier for our brains to absorb and utilize.
In an observational study looking at vegetarian Seventh-day Adventists versus omnivore Adventists, the vegetarian group reported better moods and lower levels of depression and anxiety. In a second study conducted by the same research team, subjects were assigned to different diets for two weeks. After the two weeks were over, the subjects in the vegetarian group increased their mood scores, but those on the omnivore diet did not. As we know, plants are high in antioxidants, and while most people only correlate antioxidants with cancer and illness protection, they also protect the brain from oxidative stress. Higher levels of oxidative stress are associated with higher instances of depression, and the antioxidants found in plants can help fight this stress and its side effects.
Another study from October 2012 collected data on the dietary choices of 80,000 individuals and then asked these participants to take a life satisfaction questionnaire. Scores were based on how many fruits and vegetables they consumed every day. Even after adjusting for many other constraints such as employment status, marital status, income, illness, education, and other dietary variables, greater fruit and vegetable consumption was strongly associated with greater life satisfaction scores.
So this winter, if you’re struggling to adjust to the cold days with less sunlight, reach for mood-boosting plant foods to help feel happy and healthful!
For recipe and meal ideas, click here.