Shorter days, less sun and chilly temps have a way of bringing you down. The winter blahs are real and for some people, it may develop into seasonal depression. Food is not a fix. However, a growing body of research suggests that your diet and certain healthy superfoods may influence (and even improve) your mood.
One recent study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found symptoms of depression dropped significantly among a small group of young adults who ate healthier for three weeks—which meant, in part, increasing their intake of fruits, veggies, whole grains and fish.
In the peer-reviewed journal Psychiatry Research, a meta-analysis of 21 studies from ten countries investigated the connection between diet and depression risk. They found that a healthy eating pattern high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and low-fat dairy products may decrease the risk of depression, whereas a diet high in red or processed meat, refined grains and fat may increase the risk of depression.
The evidence is preliminary and much more research is needed to understand how diet influences mental health. But what we do know, according to Cleveland Clinic, is that certain foods and nutrients affect brain chemicals that influence how we feel. We’ve rounded up 10 of our favorite healthy superfoods that have been shown to have positive effects on mood. An added bonus; they can all easily fit into your Nutrisystem weight loss program!
Here are 10 healthy superfoods to help you beat the winter blues:
These little jewels may be tiny; but don’t let their size fool you. According to research, published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, blueberries are jam-packed with flavonoids. The journal Genes & Nutrition explains that flavonoids perform antioxidant functions and have been shown to boost brain health and protect brain neurons from damage.
Antioxidants have also been studied as a potential way to treat anxiety and depression, according to the Indian Journal of Psychiatry. Another study, published in the journal Nutrients, found that adults and kids who drank a “flavonoid-rich” blueberry beverage experienced a positive effect on mood.
One cup of blueberries counts as one SmartCarb on the Nutrisystem program. Enjoy them in these tasty blueberry recipes >
Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, along with a variety of other vitamins and minerals, says Healthline. According to Science Daily, research from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center suggests that low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood is associated with symptoms of depression.
Salmon also contains vitamin B12, which is involved in creating brain chemicals that impact mood and other brain functions, says Mayo Clinic. They also explain that low levels of vitamin B-12 may be linked to depression.
Two ounces of salmon counts as one PowerFuel on the Nutrisystem program. Get double the mood-boosting benefits with this Blueberry Glazed Salmon recipe >
According to Harvard Health, bacteria in your intestines may play a role in brain and mental health. This theory is known as the brain-gut-axis. Though the potential connection isn’t fully understood, scientists do know that probiotics in foods like yogurt can help boost good gut bacteria. This may be important in the processing of brain chemicals like serotonin that regulate mood. A review of early research, published in the Annals of General Psychiatry, found that people who took probiotics reported mood improvements and decreased stress levels.
Yogurt falls into the PowerFuel category on Nutrisystem. Start your morning on the right foot with this delicious Berry Delight Yogurt Parfait >
4. Leafy Greens
From spinach and kale, to collards and chard: Among plant foods, leafy greens are packed with the highest amount of nutrients that may play a role in mental health, according to the World Journal of Psychiatry. One of those nutrients is the powerful folate. A report, published in the in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, found that people with depression had lower blood levels and dietary intake of folate when compared to those without depression.
On Nutrisystem, leafy greens are considered an unlimited non-starchy vegetable. Get more greens in your diet with our four simple tips >
Oysters make this list of healthy superfoods due to their amazing nutrient profile. According to the World Journal of Psychiatry, there are 12 specific nutrients that “relate to the prevention and treatment of depressive disorders.” Oysters were among the highest scoring animal foods containing these vitamins and minerals.
One of these vital nutrients is zinc. The highest amount of zinc within the body is found in the brain, says Medical News Today. They further explain that a deficiency in zinc may cause symptoms of depression, trouble with learning or memory and more. And just like salmon, this seafood delicacy is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12, says Healthline. Oysters fall into the PowerFuel category on the Nutrisystem meal plan.
Nuts are nutritional powerhouses packed with energy and nutrients. According to research, published in the journal Nutrients, walnuts might reduce the risk of depression. Survey results from more than 26,000 adults found that those who regularly consumed walnuts had significantly lower depression scores—meaning they felt less hopeless, more energetic and had a greater interest in doing things.
On the Nutrisystem plan, walnuts are a healthy PowerFuel option. Bake these Nutrisystem-approved Maple Walnut Cookies >
The amino acid tryptophan—which is found in turkey and often blamed for post-Thanksgiving dinner naps—is used by the body to make the feel-good chemical serotonin, says Medical News Today. Similar to salmon and oysters, turkey and other poultry also contain the potential mood-boosting vitamin B12, says Healthline.
Three ounces of turkey counts as one PowerFuel on Nutrisystem. Check out this fool-proof way to cook a delicious turkey >
8. Whole Grains
Oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, whole wheat bread and brown rice are unrefined grains that are a good source of filling fiber and other nutrients, says Healthline. According to Cleveland Clinic, choosing them over refined grains, such as white flour cereals, bread and sugary cookies, may help improve your mood. That’s because, according to Healthline, eating highly-processed refined grains cause your blood sugar to spike, then drop shortly after. High-quality grains, however, are healthy superfoods that keep blood sugar steady and provide long-lasting energy.
Whole grains fall into the SmartCarb category on Nutrisystem. Check out these six super-grains you should be eating >
9. Dark Chocolate
You know eating it makes you happy. We’ve got the science to back up why: Eating dark chocolate has been shown to increase levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin, says the Archives of Internal Medicine. According to the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, cocoa and cocoa products also contain flavanols, which are antioxidants that may benefit brain function.
Plus, research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that study participants who enjoyed an antioxidant-rich, dark chocolate drink every day for a month reported significantly improved moods. Of course, chocolate can be high in sugar, so watch your portions and choose low sugar or stevia-sweetened options.
Dark chocolate is considered an Extra on the Nutrisystem meal plan. For a healthy way to get your chocolate fix, try one of these 15 Decadent Recipes for Chocolate Lovers >
10. Green Tea
Sipping on this warm brew has been shown to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, according to Nature.com. They explain that drinking at least a half-cup of green tea each day has been shown to decrease the risk of depression. According to Psychology Today, part of the benefit may come from polyphenols—powerful plant chemicals in green tea that help increase the availability of dopamine (a hormone that influences positive mood).
Unsweetened green tea will count towards your required daily water servings on Nutrisystem. Check out these other reasons to drink to green tea >